Everybody knows about Saved by the Bell. Even if you weren’t alive to experience the magic firsthand, you’ve undoubtedly heard tales of one of the greatest Saturday morning programs of all time from those who were lucky enough to be there.
What you might not know is that before he was on Saved by the Bell, Zack Morris, the hero of the show, was on a somewhat similar show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss (as were Screech, Lisa and Mr. Belding).
While the shows had some similarities (characters), the differences (mind-bending) are glaring and lead to a startling truth:
Good Morning, Miss Bliss
Zack attends middle school in a boring Indiana suburb. He’s a minor troublemaker whose plans are always stopped by the intelligent Miss Bliss. Zack’s had to deal with being embarrassed in front of classmates, and has had problems with girls. His friends, Mikey and Nikki, won’t hesitate to put him in his place. Zack is a child of divorce, and has a brother.
Saved by the Bell
Zack goes to Bayside High in sunny California, where he is everyone’s favorite everything. He’s the most popular kid in school, and excels in everything: sports, music, casual racism, whatever. He’s free to plot and scheme since the only authority is Mr. Belding, who has the IQ of ham (not the good kind, the shitty one that comes from a tin). Zack is the alpha in his circle of friends. Mikey and Nikki are not even mentioned as people that exist. Slater, initially Zack’s rival, becomes his lackey. Screech, already his lackey, builds a capable and sentient robot buddy.
And probably talked mad shit about it in a tell-all book years later.
Jessie loves him like a brother. Kelly loves him like someone she would have sex with. Kelly disappears without mention and is replaced by Tori, who eventually disappears without mention. Zack and his friends do everything (write songs) and go everywhere (Hawaii) together. Zack’s parents are happily married, and as an only child he receives a lot of attention. Mr. Belding wants nothing more than to be his friend. Zack does terribly in school but manages to get an SAT score of 1502, a score that is literally not possible. Oh, he also has the greatest superpower of all time.
The Truth: Saved by the Bell Never Happened
It’s nothing more than the escapist fantasy of a disillusioned young man named Zack Morris. Oddities or failures (Tori, Kelly dumping him) are simply signs of his subconscious trying to break through. Any problems he has in real life disappear when he’s in his dream world. The show even tells us, once every episode, what Zack’s real life is actually like in the theme song. The lyrics tell the tale of a day in the life of a high school student, stumbling through an unpleasant world of consequence. He starts in a panic:
By the time I grab my books, and I give myself a look, I’m at the corner just in time to see the bus fly by …
And then later:
If the teacher pops a test, I know I’m in a mess, and my dog ate all my homework last night.
Riding low in my chair, she won’t know that I’m there.
As a summary of the show, the theme song makes no sense. Zack has never had a bad day at Bayside in his life. He’s never in a mess. Everything bounces off of him. If he’s unprepared for a test, he doesn’t ride low in his chair like some depressed teenager; he gets the teacher to turn the test into a bake-off, and then wins the bake-off by cheating.
It only starts to make sense when you look at the structure. The song begins with a bell taking the narrator out of his dream world:
When I wake up in the morning, and the ‘larm gives out a warnin’ …
The middle of the song takes us through the narrator’s miserably realistic life at school. But then at the end of the song, right before the show about Bayside starts, he gets saved by the school bell, which frees him to go home, to a world where …
… tomorrow it’ll be all right. It’s alright ‘cause I’m saved by the bell.
Thus, the song ends with Zack being released from the harsh realities of life by escaping to the one place where everything is all right for him. A place that exists in the border between today and tomorrow: the night time, when you sleep.
Each Saved by the Bell episode begins with a theme song that tells us what is literally happening in the real world in the time between episodes. Zack is riding low in his chair, not liking how he looks in the mirror and generally eating shit like any other high school student. Then the song’s chorus (and the title of the show) releases him to the fantasy world that both he and the show’s audience like so much better than real school: the infinite dream world of Bayside High. That dream world constitutes every episodes of Saved by the Bell, and it only exists in the mind of some awkward, pimply faced version of Zack Morris who can’t catch a break.