“In five years, we’ll all either be working for him, or be dead by his hand.”
So, the other morning, I caught Saved By The Bell, but it was from the era that many seem to have missed out on: The College Years. Everyone seems to know about the Miss Bliss stuff, even if they don’t realize that it never really “happened”. The same could be said for the Tori era, as every 20-something has gotten drunk with friends, and the topic eventually comes up, met with a “What the fuck was up with that? Where were Jessie & Kelly?” Sadly, though, most of my generation jumped ship at The College Years/New Class era. It seems they had just had enough. I’m not sure if the College Years attrition was due to the move to prime-time, or sheerly the fact the Bill Cosby was right, and that college truly is a different world from where you come from.
I’ll admit, the college season certainly blew the wind out of our sails. I think the producers had a lot to answer for, as they made high school seem like a veritable wonderland, where everyone was cool and even the nerds were popular. I think I speak for all of us when I say we were quite pissed off to find the contrary to be true. In terms of the college season, though, they were finally honest with themselves. No one was safe. Remember how Zach was the coolest kid on Earth in high school, with his cool hair and his time-out powers? Not so much in the college years. He was doughy, needed a haircut (his longer hair wasn’t even that stylish for ’93), and his schemes just didn’t work anymore. Our hero was now a mere mortal. And it wasn’t fun to watch.
One thing that the college years couldn’t do as well as the original series was the “very special episode”. I remember the Johnny Dakota anti-drug episode, with NBC’s then-president, Brandon Tartikoff. Everyone remembers the “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so…scared” episode. But did anyone see the College Years’ entry into the field? No? Well, allow me to tell you about it.
Seeing as how college is all about “finding yourself”, SBTB:TCY decided to focus on identity development. There’s an episode where this Latina has a thing for Slater, and begins flirting with him in Spanish. Unfortunately, poor Albert Clifford doesn’t know what the Hell she’s saying. He’s wondering why she thinks he knows Spanish, while she it muy disappointed that he doesn’t know his native tongue. She tries to convince him that he’s from the Southern hemisphere, but he just ain’t hearing it. Let me point out that she’s one of those campus revolutionary chicks. You know the kind…she’s hot because she’s got passion, and usually some weak guy will end up chaining himself to the student union, in some poor attempt to impress her and get into her hemp panties. Who am I kidding? Those chicks don’t wear panties!
So, A.C. calls home and confronts his dad, the good solider, about the crazy things this chick is saying. Well, it turns out that A.C Slater is actually A.C. Sanchez, as his father changed his name when he joined the Army. Apparently, it would help him blend in and move up the ranks better.
Now, A.C.’s got some soul-searching to do. I’ve written about it before, but it’s the whole Bill Cross Model of Minority Identity Development. That was Slater’s “encounter”, so next he throws himself into the cause, and turns on his Zach and Screech because they “just don’t understand”. Eventually, they have one of those sitcom endings, where Slater realizes he’s gone a bit overboard, while his friends reassure him that they’ll accept him regardless of his background, and that they’ll all get through it together.
Here’s what always got me: how the Hell didn’t Slater know he was Latino? How many other Jheri-curled, silk shirt & parachute pants-wearing kids were there are Bayside? None. Now, Slater never exactly acknowledged his geneology in the past, but he once referred to Bolivia. Now, he was an Army brat, so maybe he got confused. However, he couldn’t have thought he was White! First off, he was the only one who could dance. He was even better than Lisa, and her lame-ass “The Sprain”.
In a way, I want to blame Bayside. It was never a bastion of diversity. As far as black kids, there was Lisa Turtle (who doesn’t really count), and there was the Black nerd who had the Wolfman Jack voice. Now, I commend Peter Engel for going with a Black nerd, as opposed to the obvious Asian choice. Then again, there were no Asians at Bayside. I think someone better call the school board! Anyway, the black kids increased their numbers when that old-looking freshman popped up senior year, and asked Lisa to the Welcome Back dance. Man, was she embarassed! But I digress…If Slater had grown up in a more diverse environment, perhaps this revelation, or “revelación”.
It was a heavy-handed attempt at best. On the one hand, I want to commend SBTB for thinking outside the usual box. No zit-before-prom episodes. No we-got-ripped-off-buying-class-rings” episode. Not even a “I-get-radio-signals-through-my-dental-work” episode. The writers were moving to bigger and better things, but it fell with a thud. I’ve always wondered what we might have seen had the show continued another season. Maybe the “Screech celebrates Passover” episode. Or the “Alex has an eating disorder (College Years character; look her up). Or, maybe even the “Zach deals with his collegiate douchebaggery” episode. I’ve got to be honest: Bayside Zach was the kid that we all wanted to grow up to be, while California University Zach isn’t very likeable. Let’s face it, College Zach had “date rapist” written all over him…