The following is a sample from my new Kindle book, So Excited, So Scared: The Saved by the Bell Retrospective, which is AVAILABLE TO BUY RIGHT NOW. There are chapters like this on each of the other 85 episodes, as well as detailed sections on the history of the show, what happened next, and a bonus chapter about the Lifetime TV movie. More ordering links can be found at the bottom of this post.
“I’m hummingbird droppings.”
This is another episode where I find myself surprised at how labyrinthine the plots are. I imagined a 25-year-old kids show, running at twenty minutes minus the credits, would be a simplistic A-B, easily surmised in a handful of sentences. Not so, and Screech’s Woman reads like an end of the pier farce, with misunderstandings, double bluffs, and a tangled web of lies that ends up strangling its weaver.
After the perversely-tinged antics of the previous episode, what better way to open than on Jessie and Slater’s spunking papier-mâché volcano, which suggestively pukes a bubbling wad of lava from its opening like something you might see on Chatroulette before your finger reaches the F5 key? Said cardboard volcano signals this week’s ticking clock, Bayside’s upcoming Science Fair. We didn’t have Science Fairs over here, and I know them only from chucklesome internet pictures of awkward kids standing in front of displays investigating Moon Babies, or goldfish who’ve been kept in a tank of Pepsi, or positing the question “Could you poop your butt right off?” My personal highlight of science lessons was when our real-life Screech turned the gas tap on full blast before lighting it, causing an in-classroom recreation of the end of the Gulf War, and our sudden evacuation through the fire exit.
There’s only four days until their projects are due, and Zack’s been letting Screech do all the work on their entry, a giant circuit-board with blinking lights and revolving antennae that exerts control over nearby canaries. But Screech can’t keep his mind on the job, as he’s obsessively pining for Lisa. When she embraces another guy who’s an actual adult and not some shrieking, eight-year-old Harpo Marx, he slinks out of The Max, head down like Charlie Brown.
Mopey, heart-sick Screech is the epitome of that wretched sitcom trope, where moon-eyed losers spend season after season trailing behind the female character they’re desperately smitten with, and usually fated to end up marrying. Ross and Rachel, Niles and Daphne; the “keep plugging away and you’ll get her in the end” storyline doubtless encourages stalker behaviour in the sort of guys who believe in the existence of the Friendzone, and feel like they’re owed reciprocation for being a ‘nice guy’. No matter the never-give-uppitude of their quest, they won’t get the happy ending television tells them will come their way if they persist with the emotional blackmail and misguided grand gestures. For the televisual sacks of shit upholding the fallacy, at best, “no” just means “try again next week; maybe you’ll finally break her.” The many-versed ballad of Screech and Lisa is possibly fiction’s most one-sided, unbelievable ‘will-they-won’t-they?’, to which the answer is a solid “Of course not. Just look at the fucker.”
Ladies man Zack coaches Screech in the ways of being cool, and tries to break him out of his funk by feeding him chat-up lines to help him land a girl of his very own. But in the hallways of Bayside, the obvious age difference between Dustin Diamond and everyone else just makes it weird, as the pubeless wonder hits on girls who look like they should be in college. Even if he wasn’t half their height, everyone knows highschool girls like creepy older guys with motorcycles; at least they did back in the pre-Bieber days; so Screech gets shot down, time and again. As the audience showers him with patronising awws, a distraught Screech climbs into the nearest locker and shuts himself inside.
Out of ideas, Zack tries to set him up with Jessie, who, when sat across from him at The Max, looks more like Screech’s babysitter than his classmate. Though lefty, socially-conscious Jess is appalled at the way Zack’s nameless friend has never been given a chance by a girl, all because he looks different, and chirpily volunteers to take him out herself, when she finds out it’s Screech, she almost vomits. In desperation, Zack tells Screech that a secret admirer will call him on the payphone at 3pm.
After Slater gets done chatting up an Italian girl on the phone, Screech answers to find Zack’s “friend” Bambi on the other end. She’s seen him around, she says, and she likes him; eliciting swoons of delight at his finally finding validation. Bambi, of course, is Zack, hiding in the bathroom and putting on a high-pitched voice, in catfishing incident #2. Luckily this pre-dates the internet, saving us the indignity of Screech interfering with himself as Zack cybersexes him over AIM as LimpBizkitGrrl69. As Zack reels in his buddy, Mr. Belding – who’s in the pupils’ bathroom reading a newspaper while taking a dump for some reason – overhears every word. From inside the cubicle, he assumes Bambi’s flirtatious come-ons are for him, nervously slamming his knees shut like she’s about to kick in the door and go straight for the prostate. A flustered Belding tells “Bambi” how flattered he is, and that it’s natural because, “…rock stars, ball players, principals. Heck, we excite people.” Unknown to him, Zack/Bambi has already exited, while Slater’s entered to overhear Belding’s rejection of the girl over the cubicle door.
The following morning, Screech is full of the joys of young love, as he and Bambi were up all night talking. Consequently, Zack’s nodding off at his desk. With Screech eager to meet his new chatline girlfriend in the flesh, Zack’s forced to make excuses, sending Screech into an instant depression, and slinking out of the room with his chin to his chest. A random extra soon runs in, announcing “everybody come quick, you’ve gotta see this!” They rush into the hallway to find Screech hanging… but sadly only by his wrist, having chained himself to a locker as a demonstration of his love for Bambi. Importantly for Zack, a handcuffed Screech can’t finish their science project, and he refuses to unchain himself until he meets with Bambi in person. Now, that’s a nice little narrative conundrum.
As Belding gives Screech a talk in his office, the camera pulls back to reveal he’s still attached to the lockers. On mention of the enigmatic Bambi, Belding perks up – “The Bambi?” – and orders Zack to bring her to The Max to meet Screech or he’ll make his life a misery. We all know where this is headed, right? A couple of notes about this scene; Kelly casually enters, uses her locker, and leaves without saying a word, and the bit closes with Screech telling Belding he has to use the bathroom. As Belding goes to his desk, I’m 100% sure he’s about to grab the waste paper bin so Screech can do his dirty business in it, but instead he just phones the janitor.
Unsurprisingly, we were all right, as Lisa and Jessie play dress-up at Zack’s with a big box of dresses, make-up, nail varnish, and a razor for his legs. Screech arrives for his date at The Max in the sort of comically oversized suit wacky characters are legally required to wear, and holding a bunch of dead flowers, which Max replaces with some fake ones he pulls out of thin air, the magician prick.
Zack enters in full drag and a lady’s wig, weirdly dressed like a conservative forty-year-old lawyer who falls asleep with a glass of wine in her hand every night, filled with regret over how readily she sacrificed family for a career. Why would hip, young fashionista Lisa Turtle own such an outfit? Within 0.5 seconds of walking through the door, Bambi’s immediately hit on by a background extra, while every male character in the vicinity gives her the sex-eye. This had to happen, as part of the long-standing tradition where dudes forced to drag up for plot reasons are flirted with and goosed by every man they come into contact with, who find them so irresistible, they’re driven mad with lust. Of particular note in this cliché is Sid James in Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head, who makes for an absolutely grotesque woman – seriously, he looks like a bollock in a bonnet – yet still sets the hearts a-fluttering.
To flesh out the character of Bambi, Zack uses a “Well, I do declare” Southern Belle accent, but it’s never clear what age she’s supposed to be. She dresses and talks middle-aged, yet is simultaneously entangled with a forty-something principal and a twelve-year-old schoolboy. Screech introduces Bambi to Slater, who – of course – priapicly leers at her, loving what he sees, until he twigs that it’s Zack, and suggests that she and Screech kiss to make Lisa jealous. They don’t, as Bambi’s not that kind of girl, and she lays out her ground rules for dating; her “rules of livin’ and lovin‘.” If Screech wants a piece, first he’ll have to straighten and dye his hair, get rid of his pets, and most importantly, stop being friends with Zack Morris. Ooh!
Despite his aching heart, Screech tells Bambi that he wouldn’t trade Zack for anything in the world. The two have an amicable parting of the ways, with Screech feeling like he’s grown emotionally – though he’ll have forgotten all about it come the next episode – and the relationship having given him a big confidence boost. As the episode ends with the dress-wearing Zack trying to follow Kelly into the girl’s bathroom, presumably to watch her piss, Screech is left none the wiser about the con, nor the likelihood that his sexual awakening consisted of a dozen violent tommy tanks over his best friend.