For the next few weeks, Vulture is holding a High-School-TV Showdown to determine the greatest teen show of the past 30 years. Today, Alan Sepinwall awarded Freaks and Geeks an apparent win over Saved by the Bell. In honor of today’s loser, Vulture ranked every episode of the staple of both Saturday morning and syndication.
Saved by the Bell is evidence that nostalgia alone can keep a pop-culture artifact’s flame burning endlessly. A monster hit for NBC’s Saturday-morning programming during its run from 1989 to 1993, the teen sitcom featured little in terms of innovation or quality — its plots were well-worn in cliché, the acting ranged from competent to deplorable, there were very few high-wattage guest stars, and the jokes possessed a staleness that Generation X would presumably wretch at a few years later. The strongest case you can make for the show’s legacy is that it provided a basic bedrock for the success of teen shows that were to come, from the high-stakes melodrama of Beverly Hills, 90210 to the legion of imitators that followed in its wake (we’re looking at you, California Dreams).
Despite it all, though, Saved by the Bell has persisted. Syndication in a pre-streaming era deserves a bit of credit for this unlikely feat, as endless early-morning and late-afternoon airings on TBS in the late ’90s provided plenty of palatable entertainment for breakfast TV sessions and latchkey-kid hangs alike. We as a culture, inexplicably, retain a level of fascination with Saved by the Bell: human-meme-generator Jimmy Fallon has hosted not one, but two cast “reunions” on his late-night programs in the past five years, while the extremely public flameout of Screech actor Dustin Diamond has provided the kind of car-crash entertainment that the realSaved by the Bell only gave us sparing tastes of (we’re looking at you, overly caffeinated Jessie Spano).
The entire series is still on Netflix, too — meaning that there are most likely teenagers applying the “Netflix and chill” ethos to a show whose characters would’ve preferred a trip to the video store and some root beer. For those interested in digging through Saved by the Bell‘s more estimable moments, we’ve ranked every episode of the original series from worst to, well, least-worst.
A few notes before we begin: We’ve combined two-parters into single episodes, ditched Saved by the Bell‘s short-lived precursor Good Morning, Miss Bliss, and ignored clip-show episodes with one notable exception (just wait for it). Also, we’ve numbered the episodes by air date — Saved by the Bell, for whatever reason, initially aired out of order and with little to no regard for continuity, so discerning episode numbers in any other fashion gets messy.
Want to see the list? Got the drop on Vulture . . .