"Saved by the Bell" Star Mark-Paul Gosselaar Calls Out "Morally Abhorrent" Storylines
The former teen idol said he "cringes" re-watching offensive episodes.
The hit '90s teen series Saved by the Bell is generally remembered for being a light-hearted sitcom—and for its "very special episodes" tackling more serious topics. (Who can forget the infamous caffeine pill storyline?) But the comedy was also a product of its time and included some offensive, dated content that likely wouldn't make it to TV today. Saved by the Bell star Mark-Paul Gosselaar, the most recent guest on the Boy Meets World podcast Pod Meets World, opened up to his fellow former teen idols about reckoning with some of "morally abhorrent" storylines he was involved in as his character, Zack Morris.
Read on to see which specific episodes the 49-year-old actor called out and how it feels for him to rewatch them today.
Gosselaar called some of the episodes "morally abhorrent" and "dated."
Gosselaar hosts the Saved by the Bell rewatch podcast Zack to the Future with Dashiell Driscoll, a writer for the 2020 Saved by the Bell revival series and the writer of Funny or Die's video series "Zack Morris Is Trash", which humorously dissects the character's more troublesome decisions.
As reported by BuzzFeed, on an early episode of Zack to the Future, Gosselaar and Driscoll discussed the series' second episode, "The Lisa Card," which involves Zack getting students to kiss classmate Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) without her permission for money.
"I feel a little conflicted by this particular episode, it wasn't as carefree and innocent as the last episode," Morris said on the podcast. "We're not going to say that we don't see some of the morally abhorrent or dated situations and responses to certain things, but we're also here to give you a fun podcast, it's a celebration of Saved By The Bell."
He also called out an episode for cultural appropriation.
On the new episode of Pod Meets World, Gosselaar and hosts Danielle Fishel, Ryder Strong, and Will Friedle talked about the experience of rewatching their '90s series. Gosselaar pointed to two storylines that presented some sensitivity issues in terms of discussing them.
"There was one where I was basically whoring out Lisa Turtle, you know, to charge people to kiss her without her consent," he said of "The Lisa Card" episode. "That was a tough one, which we had to, you know, preface the [podcast] episode by saying, 'We do not condone this. We're here just to discuss it, but this is in the past.'"
He said they had to be similarly careful about the episode "Running Zack," in which Zack claims that he is Native American. "Seeing Zack Morris in a full headdress … That was one we had to be a little sensitive on," the actor explained. "There's just things that you just would not film these days."
He's said he doesn't remember filming "Running Zack."
The Mixed-ish star said on his own podcast that he blocked out memories of donning a stereotypical interpretation of Native clothing for Saved by the Bell.
"I cringed seeing myself portraying a white dude being Zack Morris, who is like the all-American, blond-haired white dude in an Indian Native American headdress," Gosselaar said (via People).
"This is one of those that I don't, I don't like remember putting on the headdress. I don't remember putting face paint on," he said. "I don't remember standing in that awkward way that I was standing where my arms are folded and like a very stereotypical way … This episode would never get made in current times, and rightly so."
He publicly apologized for the episode.
In 2016, Gosselaar apologized for the "Running Zack" episode.
"The one part of the episode—well, there's probably more parts—that I think specifically deserves an 'I'm Sorry About That': He gives a—I'm doing this in air quotes—'presentation' that consists of putting war paint on Screech [Dustin Diamond] and giving him a toy tomahawk—and he has Screech stagger around and grunt at people," he told Entertainment Weekly. He added that even when Zack took the presentation more seriously, "Of course, he gets into full Native American costume with face paint and a headdress. That's another 'I'm Sorry' moment."
He revealed how he would have handled the material today.
According to BuzzFeed, on the episode of Zack to the Future about "The Lisa Card," Gosselaar talked about how he would handle being presented with an offensive storyline today.
"This is one of those things now, being the actor that I am, I would protect myself as well as my character," the actor said. "This would be one of those times where I would have a dialogue with a writer, producer and have a discussion and say: 'I think we should look at this a little deeper, is this going to reflect well for me, for the character, for the future of the show?'"
The revival series poked fun at the original.
In 2020, Saved by the Bell returned for a revival series that includes most of the original cast members, including Gosselaar, either as main characters, recurring characters, or in cameos. The show, which lasted for two seasons, focuses on present-day students at Bayside High, which is shaken up when students from a recently closed underfunded school join Bayside's mostly white and rich population. The first episode reveals that Zack is now the governor of California, a position he ran for as a way to get out of a parking ticket. The show also features him making some bad decisions that have far more wide-ranging consequences than the ones from his high school days—such as cutting the state's education budget.
As noted above, Driscoll from "Zack Morris Is Trash" was a writer for the revival. In an interview with TVLine, Gosselaar said that he was a "huge fan" of the webseries about his character. "And some of that is in [the revival], which I absolutely love: Zack Morris being a little offensive and sort of not being on the right side of things," he said.
"It's way more current," Gosselaar said of the new show. "Script-wise, these aren't the scripts we got [31 years ago]. I don't think you could do that. That's sort of just across the board with television: There's a lot of things we did [then] that we're not doing now… and I don't know necessarily that it would be appropriate [to do things the same way]."
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