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Saturday, June 28, 2014

100 Episodes I Hate: #1. "Teacher's Strike" (Saved by the Bell) (Season 4, Episode 15)

I genuinely like Saved by the Bell, and, for some of you, that makes me immediately untrustworthy.  Look, I like documentaries, Shakespeare and gay marriage too, so please don’t let my un-ironic enjoyment of TNBC’s flagship program lead you into thinking I’m some kind of anti-intellectual dope.  I’m an OG Saved by the Bell fan, meaning I was doing it way before syndication.  I watched it every Saturday morning, and usually stuck around for California Dreams and Hang Time while I was at it.  Never got into City Guys, though I did watch the few seasons of The New Class that didn’t involve the return of Screech to Bayside High.  Oh, I also watched The College Years, or rather, the College Half-Season.  And both of the movies, Hawaiian Style and Wedding in Las Vegas.

My love (there, I said it) for SBTB does not, however, blind me to the fact that it is a horrible mess of a television show.  Its storylines are laughably unrealistic, the sets are shoddy, and the characters are across-the-board obnoxious, but there’s still something about it that keeps me coming back even as a 35-year-old man whose high school career in no way resembled that of Zack Morris' and the gang.  By all rights, SBTB’s stupidity should enrage me enough to rip my PS3 (how I access Netflix, the current home of every SBTB episode that doesn’t have Haley Mills in it) out of my TV and huck it out the nearest open window.  Here is a woefully short list of some of SBTB’s stupider moments:

--Zack and Slater kidnap a Russian exchange student, steal his clothes, tie him up with ropes and abandoned him in a locked janitor’s closet to win a chess bet they made with Valley, Bayside’s rival.

--Screech spends the night in the mall so he will be first in line to buy U2 tickets, but promptly loses his place when asked if he wants seats in the balcony or mezzanine, and he leaves the line to ask Zack.  Screech also spends this same episode in a superhero costume, complete with foam muscles, for some unexplained reason.

--Mr. Belding has no idea he isn’t actually hearing Bayside’s talentless glee club perform in front of him as they lip synch to a live recording (made by Zack) of a college glee club singing “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

--Because they apparently don’t understand how acting works, Kelly and Slater actively sabotage Bayside’s production of “Snow White and the Seven Dorks” and Jessie and Zack rewrite it without telling anyone.

--Every single moment in “Day of Detention.”

This list doesn’t even begin to log the non-stop stupidity allowed to run rampant through original recipe SBTB’s four year run, but, oddly enough, I’m not really bothered by any of these things.  There is an episode, however, that makes me blood boil, fills my guts with a burning rage and limits my speech to mostly four-letter words.  That episode is “Teacher’s Strike,” and I had to watch it twice (TWICE!!!) to write this review.
Let me give you the quickest of plot descriptions, and then I’ll go ahead and list my many problems with this 22-minute festival of hot garbage.  In “Teacher’s Strike,” Zack and Slater successfully push Bayside’s teaching staff to strike, making it possible for them to get an early start on an unsupervised ski trip.  The strike also puts the Academic Bowl, a quiz competition in which Bayside and Valley are the only participants for some reason, in jeopardy.  Discovering that this rightfully disappoints their friends—who comprise the Academic Bowl team, of course!—Zack and Slater end the strike and the Academic Bowl is saved!  Unfortunately, Screech is too sick to compete, so Zack takes his place, and through cheating, Bayside is victorious. Hooray for cheating!!!

Sounds like a fairly typical SBTB episode, wouldn’t you say?  Well, it isn’t.  It is a million times worse than any SBTB episode before or after.  Want to know why?  Here’s 12 reasons:

1.  Why is Lisa on the Academic Bowl team?:  I get why Screech and Jessie are involved, they’ve been established throughout the series as Bayside’s top students, but Lisa has only ever been portrayed as a vapid shopaholic with very little interest in anything but gossip and MC Hammer (Remember when she wanted MC Hammer for her birthday?  Oh, and she screwed over Jessie’s step-brother for MC Hammer tickets?  Or the episode where MC Hammer showed up at The Max because his tour bus had broken down outside, and Lisa had a heart attack and died?  That was advertised as a “very special” SBTB, if I’m not mistaken.).  SBTB has so many secondary nerd characters, why weren’t any of them the third member of Bayside’s Academic Bowl team?  Stupid!

2.  Why would you need to know African zip codes?:  As the episode opens, Screech is quizzing Lisa on the zip codes of Africa.  What?!  Is this the kind of question that might pop up during an Academic Bowl?  Full disclosure, I was never involved in anything like this when I was a young man, mostly because I hated school and wanted nothing to do with it once the last bell chimed.  (Spoiler Alert: All of the questions asked during the Academic Bowl scene are painfully easy, having nothing at all to do with the zip codes of Africa or any other continent for that matter.)

3. Jessie is filling in for Kelly at The Max: This would, literally, never happen.  I know a lot of people have issues with the fact that Mr. Belding’s office opens into the hallway and doesn’t provide the buffer of a secretary for students sent to see the principal; and that the movie theater our heroes frequent provides folding chairs for its patrons; and the fact that Zack possesses the ability to stop time, but this time you’ve gone too far, Saved by the Bell!!! Jessie doesn’t work at The Max, so why would she fill in for Kelly?  Why wouldn’t one of Kelly’s fellow employees fill in for her while she’s gone?  This isn’t a simple shift swap going on.  Jessie, who as far as we know is untrained as a waitress, is covering Kelly while she’s out of town.  And where the hell is Kelly?  It’s the middle of the school year!!! 

4. Students only care if there’s a strike: Zack and Slater are jonesin’ for the slopes, but they want to leave on a Friday and, OOPS, Friday’s a school day, like every Friday EVER!  How are they going to get to those sweet, sweet snow slopes one day early?  That’s easy: manipulate every adult that stands between them and the snow bunnies they crave.  How do they do it? Well, they start by visiting Mr. Belding’s office to interview him for the school paper, which they suddenly write for now. Tape recorder in hand, Zack first asks about how the teacher negotiations are going.  And Belding tells him.  WHAT?!?  I wrote for my high school paper, and, granted, I went to a private school and there are no teacher’s unions in this state, but I know what high school students want to read about, and it ain’t boring teacher stuff.  No teenager cares about wage negotiations and the like.  Teenagers only care if there is gonna be a strike, and if there is, then, hellllooooo, sleeping in ‘til 2:00 PM and having Pop Tarts for lunch!

5. The dumbest adults in recorded history:  Obviously, Slater and Zack doctor their taped interview with Mr. Belding, leading Mr. Tuttle—he of the ever increasing rotundness— to honestly believe that Belding has no intention of compromising with his employees, and, in fact, believes them all to be “spineless jellyfish” that need to be “crushed,” mere minutes after they've come to an agreement.  Dumb.

6. Welcome to the party, racist jokes: Zack and Slater are successful in their strike scheme, and, therefore, get to leave early for their ski bunny ogle-fest.  They even allow Screech to tag along, after all, they do need some dork they hate to lug their gear around.  Why does everybody on this show hate Screech so much?  He literally does any and everything they ever ask him to do for them, and still they spend the majority of each episode shitting on him mercilessly.  But, anyway, when the boys get back from their trip, Screech is horribly sick.  How did Bayside's Academic Bowl Ace-In-The-Hole fall ill, you ask?  Well, apparently a gust of wind blew him down the mountain while he was wearing his underwear (???).  Slater mentions that Screech made it to the bottom of the mountain in record time, earning himself a spot on the "Polish ski team."  Yep, a Polack joke!  Great job, SBTB writing staff!

7. Teacher's lounge-less: We learn at some point in "Teacher's Strike," that Bayside does not provide a teacher's lounge for its staff.  I subbed for years, in counties both rich and poor, and every school I ever worked at had a teacher's lounge.  Bayside employees, maybe, five teachers at a time, so it's not like they'd even need a very big room.

8. Belding is a puss: In what I find to be the most egregious moment in the episode, Zack and Slater cement themselves as supreme overlords of Bayside High, by removing all of Mr. Belding's already dwindling power, and offering the teachers his parking spot (so they can all be one spot closer to the front door), his office (for teacher-style lounging) and his year-end bonus (for the staff Christmas party).  Belding protests, but not so ardently that he doesn't cave to Zack and Slater's strong-arm tactics.  But, hey, the strike ends, so, yay?

9. And playing the role of Screech...: The Academic Bowl is back on, but, oh no, Screech has taken a turn for the worse and is now in the hospital.  Who's going to take his place???  Zack Morris, of course!  Why wouldn't Zack, Jessie, Slater and Lisa decide who takes Screech's place on the Academic Bowl team?  Why should Mr. Tuttle print out a couple of sign-up sheets and tack them to the bulletin board to find a replacement when he can simply rely on the members of Zack Attack (Oh, that's a bad episode too, but still not worse than "Teacher's Strike.") to make the decision for him.

Quick aside: The scene in Screech's hospital room is marginally entertaining.  MARGINALLY!

10. Academic Bowl rules?: Per Mr. Belding, who is not only the principal of Bayside High, the host school for this year's trivia competition, but also the Academic Bowl's Alex Trebek, in the last round of the game, the controlling team--which is, I would assume, the team with the most points--can pick any subject within the final category.  Somehow, Zack is aware that this year's final category is "Sports," so he has Slater tell Valley's team that Bayside will be requesting questions about football...CAN YOU FOLLOW THIS?!?  I watched this thing two times (TWO TIMES!!!) in order to write this post, and I still can't follow the Bowl rules.  Here's what I don't understand:

a) Zack assumes that Bayside will be the "controlling team," therefore, they will be the team picking the subject, and Valley just goes right along with that!

b) If the "controlling team" chooses whatever subject they want from the final category--which I've already established is "Sports"--that means Mr. Belding has a set of question cards for EVERY SPORT EVER!!!  WHAT?!?!?!?

11) None of that matters...:  When it comes time for "Sports," Bayside is losing bad, but that doesn't stop them from getting to choose the subject (Huh?  Wha?).  And, you guessed it, they choose "Basketball."  Uh oh!  The Valley nerds crammed their heads full of football knowledge!  Too bad!  Dumb.

12. But none of that matters either...: To win, whichever team buzzes in first must answer the following question or do the following thing or who cares: "Name the planets in order from their distance from the Sun."  Hold on, did we just wander into a 5th grade Academic Bowl?  This is the final question in an Academic Bowl competition for 18-year-olds???  OK.  Anyway, Zack does it, Bayside wins, and the promise of end credits reassures me that life is, in fact, worth living, and I take the gun out of my mouth.

And that's "Teacher's Strike," maybe the worst episode of television ever.  You can watch it streaming on Netflix if you want, but I'd hide and/or lock up all the sharp implements and bullet delivery systems you keep in your home before pressing play.  Have fun!

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