Full disclosure: I have not seen a screener of The Unauthorzed Saved by the Bell Story, which premieres tonight on Lifetime (9 ET/PT). I have, however, seen many clips and promos, most — if not all — of which are on the movie’s website. This includes the first five minutes and a clip where the gang is taking promo pictures and bickering in a very juvenile way. This is all to say that I know probably just about as much as anyone else about this movie (which I do plan to watch tonight), but I thought I’d pass on some early reactions nonetheless.
I was a Saved by the Bell fan. I never really cared all that much about what happened behind the scenes. Sure, you could guess that there were drugs, alcohol, parties, and sex, and while I’d love to convince myself that child actors are different, well, that’d just be naive. (It’s actually, rather sad, but we won’t go into that. I’m sure Bieber and Lohan fans all over the world have written enough about that.) But anyway, if you’re going to hand me the story in a neat little Lifetime package, I’m going to take advantage of it. That being said, I think it’s going to be a horrible train wreck… in the best possible way.
Let’s start with the casting. If you watched the first five minutes, you’ve already discovered that our SBTB narrator, Zack Morriss, is not the narrator of this particular tale. While this movie swings the spotlight in another direction, I must admit that I find the actor who plays Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Dylan Everett, a terrible pick. I can’t speak to his acting chops (like I said, I’ve only seen a few clips), but for such an iconic character, he just doesn’t look like him and the voice doesn’t match. He’s too short. His face is too wide. Beyond the blonde hair, brown eyebrows (which SBTB costar Dustin Diamond relentlessly mocks in his book, of all things), and comically large cellphone, you wouldn’t really know it was supposed to be Gosselaar at all. That’s not to say Everett isn’t going to do a good job, but he’s certainly going to have to convince us more than the others. It’ll be a tough hurtle.
On the other side of the spectrum is Taylor Russell McKenzie, who plays Lark Voorhies. Because I read Diamond’s book, I know that Voorhies was a rather quiet one on the set (he called her boring, but given the tone of the entire disaster of a book, I’m a wee bit skeptical). So between her look and her demeanor, she might just be a good choice. All that being said, it will be interesting to see what she does with the role — and what Lifetime does with the part. We don’t want any boring characters, even inadvertently. I wonder what she’ll get herself into.
Next comes Slater and Screech — er, Mario Lopez and Dustin Diamond — played by Julian Works and Sam Kindseth, respectively. Here, looks play a large role, but in the little bit I’ve seen of the movie, they seem to have nailed their roles (here’s hoping they don’t nail much else, particularly the character of Diamond; his book gave me enough ick factor there). They should be standard doppelgangers of the characters we enjoy, so I’m expecting a solid performance.
Rounding out the cast are Tiera Skovby and Alyssa Lynch, who play Elizabeth Berkley and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen. Honestly, as long as you stick one in terrible, high-waisted jeans and the other in mid-drift tops, all the while making sure the hair matches, I think you’re set. These two don’t add anything to any clips I’ve seen, and there’s not really much to say. I don’t know what to expect. But from what I’ve seen, they make me yawn.
As for the story, well, there are a lot of questions. Personally, with all the clips I’ve seen, I really wonder how they’ll fit everything tantalizing, interesting, scandalous, and funny into one two-hour movie with commercial breaks. It takes us from auditions to fame to bickering and back — and that’s just in promos. What else is there to see? What story is to be told? Screech existed to fans for 10 years, if you include The College Years and The New Class (which I assume will not be in this movie — or at least I hope not). Even if you exclude those, that’s almost a decade worth of material for six characters (plus Mr. Belding) to fit into a two-hour TV movie. Can they do it?
Considering all these reservations, I don’t expect it to be all that quality. But then again, are we really watching this for the quality? As I’ve mentioned before, Lifetime movies are a guilty pleasure of mine, and a lot of the fun is seeing how bad pieces of a particular movie can be. I’m not saying I’m hoping for failure; I don’t want to be disappointed or bored. Given all they have to work with — actors playing actors playing characters with some potentially unbelievable plot lines — it’s sure to be entertaining in some way.
*photos by Sergei Backlakov and courtesy of Lifetime