Peacock: "Saved By The Bell" Circa 2020 Rings with Voices of Inclusion

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Since debuting some 30 years ago, the Saturday morning TV series Saved by the Bell has achieved cult status. In its initial run, the series was usually dismissed as teen fare, despite having a diverse cast and gently dealing with topical issues like addiction. Originally airing from 1989 to 1993, the series spawned two spin-offs, the primetime Saved by the Bell: The College Years (1993–1994), and a new version for Saturday mornings, Saved by the Bell: The New Class (1993–2000), as well as two made for TV movies: Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style (1992) and Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas (1994). Now, thanks to NBCUniversal's streaming platform Peacock, the kids from Bayside High are back, receiving the Fuller House reboot treatment (rather than the Beverly Hills 90210 FOX delivered last year). The new series will feature familiar faces like Mario Lopez (A.C. Slater), Elizabeth Berkley Lauren (Jesse Spano), Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack Morris), and Tiffani Thiessen (Kelly Kapowski), integrated with a diverse mix of newcomers, all eager to tackle hard hitting subjects head on, like gender identity, while paying homage to the original.

"So many people come up saying the original show has so much meaning," shared Berkley Lauren during the virtual Television Critics Association Press Tour panel to promote the series. "The meaning of this show and the love they have for it is so palpable and so meaningful. What better time to bring something back that means so much and is a part of their childhood, but then introduce it to a whole new generation with this amazingly talented cast. When I saw [the team] Tracey (Wigfield) was putting together, her creativity and her angle on bringing this back with a whole new reimagining, and something really relevant for now, I was in immediately."

Wigfield is a devotee of the original series, and while researching it she realized there would be issues dealing with some of the comic elements easily relied upon in the original for a laugh, (pre-things like school bullying) now condemned. "Re-watching the whole show and enjoying it, you realize watching any old show the problematic things," she said. "Like poor Screech (Dustin Diamond) and all the nerds were shoved into lockers and Slater (Lopez) would put them in a garbage can. That's not great to do now. I guess Haskiri Velazquez (Daisy) is sort of the kinder ambitious driver, so do you feel like you're being mistreated as a nerd on our show?"

"Honestly no, I don't feel like I'm being mistreated," admitted Velazquez. "I think if anything Daisy kind of rubs off on everyone else and you get to see that throughout the series and how she's this loving and charismatic person. She's ambitious and trying to find her voice. So it's not really much about how smart she is, rather finding her voice and advocating her fellow classmates who come into Bayside. She wants to make sure that they're not feeling out of place in this new school."

Many of the new Bayside High students remember the original series fondly through re-runs and recall it a starting point for inclusion on television. "Mario (Lopez) was one of the first Latinos that we saw on screen and one reason I loved the show," admitted Alycia Pascal-Pena, who plays Aisha. "Lisa (Lark Voorhies) was one of the first multi-dimensional black women we saw on a show. I have so much love and admiration for this [new] show because we get to progress conversations that need to be [had] in a transparent form. The show deals with these issues in such a beautiful way, specifically my experience of getting to play an Afro-Latina. It's a blessing as for most of my life as an actress, there were never roles written from my experience and I dealt with the erasure of my experience in my community within television and film. I love Tracy and Franco (Bario), and the network, for essentially rewriting this role and making her an Afro-Latina. The fact I can represent little girls, and women, and a community that looks like me, speaks my language, as an immigrant first language Spanish speaker, it's honestly one of my favorite parts of being part of the show."

"Everything you said, I would like to say as well," concurred Velazquez. "Daisy inspires me even in my day-to-day life. In high school I was more focused on acting rather than school, so I get to live my second life as Daisy. Where I grew up, there wasn't much focus on the educational system, so being able to go to a school like Bayside with all these amazing opportunities, you don't get to see that. Now I play a character that can inspire other girls, as well as girls in my neighborhood, who don't see themselves."

A sentiment echoed by Josie Totah who plays cheerleader Lexi. "As a trans person growing up I had never seen myself, or anything that made me ever feel truly accepted by the world, "she explained. "So getting to be handed a role by Tracey that showed a trans character that wasn't everything about her identity. My character is so many things, she's in theater, she's evil, she's the popular girl in school, but happens to be transgender. I feel like getting to do that is like such an incredible opportunity and I can't wait for people to be able to see themselves on screen and that way."

"Also you have two very different Latina's on the show, added Pascal-Pena in closing. "You get to enjoy how multifaceted and different we are and then specifically talk about all these other beautiful, diverse, communities that deserve to be empowered and seen more. Whether it's LGBTQI, [there's] a multitude of ethnicities in our show, so we're just immensely blessed to be able to represent and continue this conversation with it."

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