Saved by the Bell is a series that really doesn't need an introduction, but seeing as how convention demands one, here's a quick rundown anyway. It began life as a Disney Channel original series called Good Morning, Miss Bliss, a vehicle for Hayley Mills, the star of a number of Disney's most successful movies of the 1960s. The series was cancelled fairly quickly, and producer Peter Engel and company retooled the concept, transplanted some of the more popular characters from Indiana to Los Angeles, and moved shop to NBC Saturday mornings. The result, Saved by the Bell, was a phenomenon, running for several successful years and inspiring a slew of spin-offs and TV movies.
|"I'm so excited! I'm so excited! I'm so...scared!"
-- Jessie Spano, from the immortal "Jessie's Song"
The series stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar (N.Y.P.D. Blue) as Zack Morris, an overly-moussed slacker who always keeps an eye out for a quick buck and a cute girl, often ensnaring his geeky best pal Screech Powers (Dustin Diamond) in his hee-sterically zany schemes. The object of Zack's affection is Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen, back when she still had the 'dash-Amber' appended to her first name), an indescribably popular and cute-to-boot cheerleader. Zack dukes it out for Kelly's heart with his rival A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), an athletic Army brat recently settling into Bayside High. Rounding out their group of friends is the tall, studious Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley; Showgirls) and the wealthy, mall-crazed Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies), the reluctant apple of Screech's eye. Also frequently embroiled in their wacky misadventures is Principal Belding (Dennis Haskins).
This five-disc box set of Saved by the Bell collects all thirty-four episodes of the series' first two seasons, presented more or less in their original broadcast order. Some episodes from the first season were held over and remained unaired for a year or two, but they're tacked onto this set anyway. Though Saved by the Bell isn't exactly a continuity-heavy show -- actually, it's riddled with inconsistencies -- production order seems to be a little more preferable. It's a little awkward, f'r instance, for Slater to be introduced in episode sixteen, when he and Zack have had fifteen episodes of spats over Kelly up to that point. In any event, the episodes are...
|"Buddy bands. Hey, they work."
-- A.C. Slater, from the not-quite-as-immortal "The Friendship Business"
- Dancing to the Maxx: Casey Kasem guest-stars as the host of a dance competition at the local hang-out, The Max. Zack challenges A.C. to a dance-off to determine who will dance the night away with Kelly, but there's :gulp!: just one problem -- Zack can't dance!
- The Lisa Card: An overly-enthusiastic Lisa racks up a $400 charge on her father's credit card, and Lisa's pals help her try to cover the debt before Pops flips out.
- The Gift: Mr. Testaverde's nearly unpassable exams border on legendary, but Zack and company have an ace up their sleeve -- Screech, who was recently hit by lightning, has the ability to peer into the future.
- Fatal Distraction: Wanting to catch a glimpse into the secret world of girls, Zack and Screech bug the ladies' slumber party. When they find out, they decide to toy with Zack, convincing him that Kelly is a homicidal maniac.
- Screech's Woman: In an attempt to cheer up a lovelorn Screech, Zach pulls out his best Southern belle impression and inadvertently sets his buddy's heart a little too aflutter.
- Aloha Slater: Slater has a long-awaited chance to move to Hawaii, and wanting to reclaim his throne as the big man on campus, Zack cobbles together a scheme to make sure he doesn't want to stick around at Bayside.
- The Substitute: The guys feel ignored when Kelly, Lisa, and Jessie fall for the new substitute teacher.
- Cream for a Day: Kelly thinks a barely noticeable blemish might spoil her shot at homecoming queen, but the unexpected side effects of Screech's miracle cream may be even tougher to overcome.
- Pinned to the Mat: Slater can't decide on a career, but reasonably sure that wrestling isn't it, he quits the team just as Zack has a huge bet riding on a big match.
- The Beauty and the Screech: Kelly takes a shining to Screech when he tutors her for a big exam, much to Zack and Slater's chagrin.
- The Friendship Business: The gang comes up with an idea to sell friendship bracelets for a class project, but Zack's aggressive executive dreams tear the group apart.
- The Mamas and the Papas: Mock marriages for yet another class project pair the group into couples, which turns out to be a tougher assignment than expected.
- Save That Tiger: Jessie joins the cheerleading squad as a prank war erupts between Bayside and Valley.
- The Election: Jessie runs unopposed for class president, but after discovering an unannounced trip for the winner to Washington DC, Zack tosses his hat into the ring.
- The Zack Tapes: After learning about subliminal messaging in one of his classes, Zack uses his newfound knowledge to try to manipulate Belding and Kelly.
- King of the Hill: In the, erm, belated series premiere, Zack begins the school year with his eye on Kelly, but a new student causes him to stumble every step of the way.
- The Babysitters: It's picture day at Bayside, and Lisa, Slater, Zack, Screech, and Jessie secretly watch and...whoops!...lose Kelly's baby brother at school while she's getting ready for her close-up.
- Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind: Zack snaps a shot of Screech decked out as an alien for a trashy newspaper, and the reporter that comes to Bayside to investigate isn't all he seems to be either.
- Slater's Friend: Slater introduces the Bayside gang to his very best friend...his chameleon Artie, leaving his pet in their hands as he spends a weekend in San Diego. Artie mysteriously passes away, and Zack and company try to cover up his death so Slater won't be heartbroken.
- Screech's Birthday: Screech shows just how miffed he is that his friends forgot his birthday when he uses his new powers as hall monitor to toss 'em in detention.
Readers who have never caught an episode of Saved by the Bell should probably close their web browsers and seek out something a little more familiar. The series is very much a product of its time, and the questionable acting and excruciatingly bad puns will probably leave the uninitiated wincing on their couches. Some of what passes for humor is baffling. "If you guys stared any harder, your eyes would pop out of your head like Slinkies!" It's a corny, goofy show, but that's all part of the appeal for those of us who grew up with Saved by the Bell. It can't be intended to be taken all that seriously, considering the lack of anything approximating continuity, the numerous fantasy sequences, Zack's constant winking at the camera, and his ability to freeze time at will. (I guess my biggest question is that if Zack possesses this sort of mastery over time, why not use that to get out of most of his jams? Thinking is a bad thing when directed towards Saved by the Bell.) The cheesy comedy and laughably outdated fashions are all part of the fun. This set captures the series at its best. The dismal Good Morning, Miss Bliss episodes have been left by the wayside, and the slip in quality in seasons three and (especially) four haven't kicked in. This set from Lion's Gate is a great way for fans to catch up with some of their favorite episodes, although the lack of extras and some annoying video hiccups may come as a disappointment to many.
- The Prom: Romance is in the air, but Kelly's prom plans are dashed when her father loses his job.
- Zack's War: Zack learns about the value of leadership and determination when he's drafted into an ROTC course.
- Save the Max: Zack and company use a newly-rediscovered Bayside radio station to rally support for The Max, which is on the verge of closing.
- Driver's Education: Everyone's impressed with Slater's new ride, and Zack schemes to knock him down a peg by sabotaging a driver's ed joy ride.
- House Party: Screech's parents head to Graceland for their anniversary, and while they're away, his mom's beloved and pricey Elvis bust is accidentally shattered.
- Model Students: Zack puts together a swimsuit calendar to drum up business for the school store, attracting the attention of a fashion photographer and landing one of the girls a modeling gig on the other side of the globe.
- Blind Date: Zack is blackmailed into taking Belding's niece on a date, which...uh oh!...just happens to fall on the same night at Kelly's birthday party.
- Rent-A-Pop: Zack comes up with the idea of holding a carnival to raise funds for the students' ski trip. Disappointed with Zack's less-than-stellar grades, Belding wants to meet Zack's father, which could put the kibosh on the slopes. To steer around the problem, Zack hires a budding actor to take his pop's place.
- Miss Bayside: Slater and Zack have a She's All That-ish bet about being able to make anyone into the next Miss Bayside, and Slater's unconventional choice has Zack's work cut out for him.
- Jessie's Song: In one of most fondly remembered episodes of the series, Jessie battles a drug addiction. Okay, over-the-counter caffeinated no-doze pills, but hey, it's Saturday morning.
- 1-900-CRUSHED: Zack sets up a teen advice line, but when Lisa solves everyone's problems, business starts to drag. Zack and Screech respond by firing her and dispensing lousy advice. One of the callers is Kelly's kid sister, who has an unbelievably huge crush on Zack.
- Running Zack: Bayside's greatest hope for demolishing Valley at the track meet is Zack, who's tripped up by an assignment to speak about his heritage. When things finally seem to get back on track (zing!), a tragic loss dampens "Running Zack"'s spirits.
- From Nurse to Worse: The day after asking Kelly if she wants to go steady, someone new catches Zack's eye -- the school nurse! Slater isn't quite as smitten, steering as clear as he can from being jabbed by a needle for a mandatory flu shot.
Video: The shot-on-video Saved by the Bell never really looked that great, even during its original broadcasts on NBC. For the most part, these full-frame DVDs don't look much different than what I remember: a bit soft, at times a little noisy... There are some definite issues with compression at times, most noticeably starting around halfway through the set. Portions of the image, generally in posters, signs, and banners in the background, have an unstable appearance, unavoidably catching my eye in "Slater's Friend" and "Screech's Birthday" and continuing into season two. A bit of shimmer was spotted intermittently as well, such as Kelly's striped shirt in "The Prom" and a pattern in a shirt of Zack's in "Model Students". There are several instances in season two where clothing with fine patterns suffers from MPEG discoloration, moire effects, and similar annoyances. Some episodes, such as "Zack's War" and portions of "House Party", have an artificially sharpened appearance, with haloing creeping around some edges as a result. Motion also struck me as awkward in "Zack's War". These authoring issues are extremely distracting and really shouldn't have made it past any sort of decent quality control process. There are also brief video blips, but nothing major. Its flaws aren't significant enough for me to recommend passing on a purchase, but portions of this set are a definite disappointment.
|Brief but unbelievably poor compression issues in "Save the Max".
Audio: On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio (192Kbps) is at least a slight improvement over what I'd expect from a broadcast of the series. The music scattered throughout sounds rich and full, packing a decent low-end kick. The emphasis is placed on dialogue, and there are no issues whatsoever with intelligibility. "Blind Date" and "Miss Bayside" have some shrill audio quirks (192Kbps mp3; 66.7K), though they're not pervasive throughout the series.
Each episode is closed captioned, also featuring subtitles in English and Spanish.
Supplements: Saved by the Bell: Seasons One & Two doesn't include any extras, just the episodes themselves.
The set comes packaged in a fold-out digipak, similar to the packaging Fox has used for some of their multi-disc television releases, only without a slipcase. Also unlike Fox television box sets like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which have been notorious for discs shifting around in the packaging and getting scuffed en route, the hubs used for Saved by the Bell seem to hold each of the five discs snugly. None of my discs were loose when I tore off the shrinkwrap, and I haven't seen any complaints along those lines, which is a plus. One complaint I do have, however, is that the sticker seal was affixed to the cardboard packaging, and despite pulling it off slowly and carefully, I still couldn't get it off without some of the yellow cover art coming off with it. The interior of the package is colorful, with the portions holding each disc centered around primary colors, and the flipside including promotional photos of the cast and a rundown of the episodes on each disc. No insert has been provided, despite a flap that seems intended to hold one.
|Spurned romantically for the better part of a season, Screech and Zack turn to each other for comfort.
The discs' sports a set of 4x3 animated menus with the Saved by the Bell theme playing underneath. Each episode is its own chapter, and the main menu on each disc has the always-welcome "Play All" feature to save fans a few clicks of their remotes.
Conclusion: With TBS having dumped Saved by the Bell in the early morning hours, this DVD box set is probably the most convenient way for fans of the series to catch their favorite episodes from the first two seasons. The lack of extras is a very mild disappointment, but having all these episodes at my fingertips at a reasonable list price make that those sorts of minor quibbles a little easier to overlook. There shouldn't be as many flaws with the visuals as there are, but as noticeable as they are, they aren't severe enough to make watching Saved by the Bell anymore of a painful experience than it may already be. Viewers who are somehow intrigued but haven't seen the show before would be better off checking out a couple of episodes before plunking down their credit cards on a purchase, but for established fans, Saved by the Bell: Seasons One & Two is definitely Recommended.