This is material adapted from my book, So Excited, So Scared: The Saved by the Bell Retrospective, in which there’s about 160,000 more words about Zack and co. More info at the bottom of the post.
With Lisa running up a huge bill of $386 on her dad’s credit card; which may not seem like much, but I can assure you, in 1989 was enough to fund an entire space program; the kids need to make some fast buck. Zack’s plan? Pimp her out. For a dollar a pop, Bayside’s horny nerds purchase tickets entitling them to a kiss from Lisa, who’s neither been made aware of the flesh-sale, nor given her permission.
Consequently, Lisa; a girl who’ll increasingly go onto demonstrate signs of PTSD from years of Screech’s protracted stalking; spends the lesson shrieking with fright and fending off the molestations of Zack’s customers. Of course, Screech buys a fistful, and at a later clothes auction, purchases some Lisa-worn lingerie, proudly announcing that he’ll sleep with it every night.
And FYI, Lisa’s father is called Dr. Turtle, which sounds like a desperate pitch by a cartoon exec who’s one more failed pilot from having security carry him into the street.
Zack and Kelly; history’s greatest ever love story, right? Not so much. In reality, Zack and Kelly (or, if you’re a shipper, Zapowski) are a valuable case study into abusive, controlling relationships. This is the Zack who so felt entitled to ownership of Kelly, that he once entered a dance contest to stop she and Slater pairing up, purely because he didn’t want Kelly and Slater’s names touching on a trophy. Their names.
Though this is far from his worst Kelly-based behaviour, regard the moment that he finally tries to nail her down as his property by popping the big one; “Wanna go steady?” By the time Kelly’s finally made up her mind, Zack’s caught sight of the hot new school nurse, and cruelly blows off Kelly’s yes with a none-more-cold “that’s great; so what was the question?” before literally strutting away.
Later, realising that won’t stop other guys from touching ‘his’ Kelly, he tries to sell her on the wonders of an open relationship, leaving him free to hit on Nurse Jennifer, and Kelly some gross, Screech-picked nerds. What a Romeo!
Before Zack and Kelly hooked up, Slater was the big man. He had the muscles and the driving license, and every scene featuring Zack and Slater saw them sword-fighting their dicks over the Kapowski-shaped trophy. When Slater’s army-man father gives his son the option of moving to Hawaii, Zack sees this as his chance to get rid of his rival, and move in for the kill on Kelly. But how to convince Slater to ditch Bayside? Tell him how great Hawaii is and what a wonderful time he’ll have there?
Nah. Zack tells the girls that Slater’s dying of a rare disease; Mumbioquadralationosis, a fatal brain disorder. The only clinic that can treat it is in Hawaii, says Zack, but Slater loves his friends so much, he’d rather be with them, even though it’ll kill him. The only way to save his life is to let him know that he’s not wanted, and that everybody hates him, so that he’ll leave. “If you care about Slater at all, treat him like dirt.” Jesus, dude.
A full-fledged piece of cruel theatre, the entire gang bully Slater with cutting insults like pea-brain and brillo-head, making it clear that nobody wants him around, causing smelly dumb jock dunce Slater to storm off, yelling that he hates this stupid school. A triumphant Zack basks in the glow of a successful hate campaign, as a forlorn Slater, his self esteem systematically broken by everyone he cares about, announces that he’s moving to Hawaii. In the end, he doesn’t. But with a bff like that, he really should have.
It’s no surprise when a class on subliminal messaging perks up the interest of Rapex Predator, Zack Morris, who’s like those PUA creeps with no sense of boundaries who buy a teach-yourself-hypnotism book thinking it’s the magic key to making girls drop their knickers.
In Bayside’s own MKUltra, via a series of tapes more disturbing than those of David Parker Ray, Zack sets about mind-molesting the chicks of Bayside, entirely for grubby sexual purposes. First testing that it works by subliminally brainwashing hot girls into making out with some grotesque, hover-hand nerds, whom the girls slobber all over and call “master,” he then plants hidden messages into Kelly’s Bo Revere album. Roping perennial perv-case Screech into the deal, he triumphantly proclaims “Kelly and Lisa are gonna be ours forever!”
And indeed, it works, until Zack’s scam gets twigged, and as revenge, the entire school pretends to be in lust with him, as he’s chased through Bayside’s halls by his fellow students, a sixty-something teacher, and Mr. Belding, all faking The Thirst for laffs, because the sort of brainwashing of female victims that’d make Charles Manson proud is nothing if not chucklicious.
When movie hunk Johnny Dakota randomly rocks up to Bayside, Zack’s desperate to buddy up to him, figuring Hollywood celebs are always surrounded by beautiful women with low self-esteem. Zack did some terrible, terrible things to push himself onto girls over the years; like abusing his responsibility as a helpline operator in Teen Line — where the desperate and alone could bravely confide in the untrained, unqualified schoolkids about such topics as CHILD ABUSE and SUICIDE PREVENTION — to ask out the first girl who called in for advice. Although, he later found out she was in a wheelchair, and behaved like a Ricky Gervais character confronted with the social minefield of a black person (“We don’t know how to interact with them do we guys? Guys?”).
In comparison, his actions in No Hope with Dope may seem like a minor crime. Not true. Look at the state of the rap he uses to lure Dakota into shooting his anti-drugs commercial at Bayside; a rap so white, it moves beyond the visible colour spectrum.
“We’re Bayside students, and we’re no fools,
We don’t use drugs, ‘cos they’re not cool,
So if you get the offer,
Make sure you refuse,
When it comes to drugs,
Just. Don’t. Use.”
It’s the worst thing to happen on a staircase since the fuck scene in A History of Violence, and all because Zack wants a little of Johnny Dakota’s casting couch overflow.
Half the stuff Zack pulls is straight out of the Jimmy Savile playbook. As the King of Bayside, he can do whatever he wants — albeit as a teenage boy Mary Sue whose victims are only too happy to be sleazed on, leered at, and groped — but how will he act while sat atop the actual throne of authority? If your answer is “like Joffrey with a permanent throb-on,” then you win.
During Student Teacher Week, the worst motherfucker in Bayside’s history gets made acting principal, with all the powers and responsibilities of Mr. Belding. With free reign to do whatever he wants, Zack announces that his top priority is to “enlarge the peep-holes in the girl’s locker room.” So far, So Savile.
In Principal Morris’ office, now decorated with basketball hoops and posters of Salt-n-Pepa, LL Cool J, and Guns N’ Roses, this former hub of educational authority has been transformed into the headquarters of a hedonistic warlord dictator, ready and willing to bleed dry the resources of his island nation. And bleed it he does, calling in two hot, blonde students over the speakers, and tutting knowingly that their records say nothing about boyfriends. Sure, they’re giggling now, too afraid to speak out, but once he’s in the ground, the victims will finally find the courage to talk. In their thousands. How’s about that, then?
Put in charge of the never-before-mentioned school store, Zack turns around business by selling girly calendars, featuring voyeur snaps of his female ‘friends’ in their swimsuits, taken via Screech with a long-lens at swim practise. Like something from Reddit’s infamous Creepshots forum, they’d fit right alongside your shoe-tying downblouse, or sneakily-snapped Starbucks sideboob. It makes me uncomfortable to imagine how Zack Morris would have abused the era of smartphone technology, as the show is littered with ‘cheeky’ references to shower peepholes or periscopes, and he’s not above bugging the bedrooms of his female buddies.
The success of the calendar attracts the attention of Adam Trask, a grown man who wanders into the school looking for the 15-year-old schoolgirls he saw in a set of hidden-camera swimwear photos, and it’s all just fine. Trask, who has the look of a snuff photographer, is editor of Teen Fashion Magazine, which sounds like a periodical that counts Ian Watkins among its subscribers, and is moments away from having its offices raided by the FBI. Incredibly, Zack still manages to be the sleaziest bad guy of the episode…
After setting up a photoshoot in the school, during which a power-suited Jessie shakes down her hair like a secretary gone bad, and Adam Trask hoots “Yeah! School’s out!”, Trask announces he’s whisking Kelly off to Paris for a month to live with him on a yacht, unchaperoned, while he takes pictures of her.
Zack is appalled, and vows to stop it. Not because she’s clearly being nonced up, but because she’ll forget all about him when she’s gone. His plan involves the kind of abusive, manipulative behaviour there are full-blown advertising campaigns warning against nowadays, first by alienating her from all of her friends, who she’ll be letting down if she abandons them for Paris. Poor Slater will have no partner for his science project, while poor Screech has cancelled his birthday, and the poor swim team will definitely lose their upcoming meet without her. How can Kelly be so self-absorbed?
Then it’s time to paint himself as the only one she can trust; the only one who cares; by telling her he’ll invite all her friends to a farewell bash. But then he tells them that Kelly doesn’t want them there, and shows up alone, informing Kelly that her friends didn’t want to say goodbye to somebody so selfish. She’s heartbroken with the guilt of what an awful person she is, but when Zack owns up to all the lies, the years of controlling psychological abuse have eternal victim Kelly misinterpret his actions as a grand, romantic gesture, because he wouldn’t have done it unless he’d cared, right?
Selling Lisa’s body to his classmates was freshman hijinx compared to the outright sex-trafficking of Video Yearbook. Using the footage he shot of Bayside’s female students while making the titular yearbook, Zack has Screech edit together a dating tape. Lonely fellas; like what you see of these unsuspecting, underage teenage girls? Then here’s their phone number, so why not give them a call?!
Zack rakes in the cash selling the tapes all around the city, but being Bayside, the girls are all thrilled to be getting hundreds of phone calls from strange, almost-definitely-masturbating men at all hours of the day, setting up dates that’ll end with the discovery of their broken bodies inside a dumpster behind a Wendy’s. What could be more flattering?
Eventually, they do manage to be conjure up some slight umbrage at Zack for literally pimping them out to LA’s pervert community. This causes him to address them from a TV via an ‘apology’ video, during which falsely pretends to be leaving Bayside forever, while secretly in the room watching their reactions, disguised as a lady, in the assumption they’ll fall to their knees and weep. You know, like all meaningful apologies.
As graduation looms, Zack finally realises what everyone’s known all along. When he leaves Bayside, his legacy will be that of the biggest monster to have ever walked its halls. As the senior year decide to write a new school song as a parting gift, Zack sees this as his chance to make amends and be remembered for something decent. But what better way to cement his name than with sole songwriting credit?
School Song sees Zack Morris at his most duplicitous; tempting Jesus in the desert with a sugary Ecto-Cooler; as he sabotages his friends’ efforts, turning them against each other, while we’re made unwillingly complicit by his constant fourth-wall asides, with one in particular that’s pure Devil in its acceptance, finally, of who he is.
“Now I know this seems pretty low, but if I wanna be remembered as a great guy; can’t take any chances.”
He tinkers with the piano, poisons the others’ minds until they’re not even speaking, and when facing a vote-off against Screech’s song, invites nerd-girl, Louise, to dinner — an act played as comically vile, with watchers dry-heaving, because she’s wearing glasses; gross — and bribes her with a kiss (while holding in the vomit) to get the nerd voters on his side.
“No-one wants to be remembered as the school’s biggest goof off,” he says, downplaying the far worse truth of a sociopathic, career sex-pest.
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