Saved by the Bell may be the quintessential ‘90s teen sitcom, but Bayside High hasn’t stayed trapped in the past. The new version of Saved by the Bell that’s premiering on Peacock on Nov. 25 gives the franchise a 21st century makeover that honors the show’s roots while also reflecting the modern world. And that’s one of the reasons why original cast members Elizabeth Berkely and Mario Lopez were eager to return to Bayside as Jessie Spano and A.C. Slater, respectively.
“The show was so multi-generational, and it was really important to maintain and embed that in the DNA of this show,” Berkely tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Tracey Wigfield, our showrunner, had grown up with the show, and she really wanted to make sure to honor and celebrate [it], but also represent something fresh and progressive.” (Watch our video interview above.)
Lopez attributes the success of the ‘90s version to Bayside’s diverse student body, giving viewers characters that “everyone could relate to a little bit.” That’s an example that the 2020 series follows with the introduction of the franchise’s first transgender character, Lexi, played by former Disney Channel star, Josie Totah. The actress came out as transgender in 2018, and her own experience is integrated into her character, a popular cheerleader who also has her own reality show... and a serious crush on Jessie’s teen son, Jamie (Belmont Cameli).
“She’s a seasoned pro, and she’s only 19,” Berkley says admiringly of Totah. “She also just brings such a beautiful authenticity as a human being to every interaction she has. She’s really got a deep soul and she’s incredible at comedy, so we are lucky to have her on the show. We have a beautiful cast that is diverse and represents our world.”
But the new Saved by the Bell also gives fans of the original series the chance to see familiar faces in fresh ways. Slater, for example, is Bayside’s gym teacher and he welcomes the first female player onto the school’s football squad. “I love sports, and I think it adds a lot and teaches you a lot as far as discipline and self-respect,” says the actor, who made his own athletic background part of Slater’s character. Meanwhile, Jessie has become an accomplished psychologist who gives back to her alma mater by providing guidance to the new class of students. “Jessie was always the voice of reason and the advice giver, so it was the perfect way to bring her back to Bayside,” Berkley says.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Saved by the Bell without Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski, and both Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tiffani Thiessen have recurring roles on the show. Lark Voorhees is also returning as Lisa Turtle after initially being left out of the class reunion. “Bayside without Lisa Turtle would not be Bayside,” says Berkley. “We are so thrilled to have Lark back in the role of Lisa that she so beautifully played. The original show was a huge success because of her incredible contributions and talent, and she’s still as radiant and beautiful and talented as ever. This was an incredible way to bring her back home with us.”
One classmate who you won’t be seeing is Dustin Diamond’s Screech, and the actor isn’t happy about his omission. Screech isn’t mentioned in the first few episodes of Saved by the Bell available for preview, but Lopez says that might change. “I think we definitely will hear about Screech,” the actor teases, adding that he hopes Diamond appears on the series at some point. For her part, Berkley says that the actor could be welcomed back in future seasons. “We’ll see, right? Hopefully we’ll get to do more, and who knows.”
Saved by the Bell premieres Wednesday, Nov. 25 on Peacock.
— Video produced by Jon San and edited by John Santo
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