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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sat A.M. - Saved By The Bell "A Home For Christmas"

It's a bit of a rarity for me to devote a blog entry on a single episode of a live-action Saturday morning show...particularly one on a show that I've already done a previous entry on.

I know that I've done the episode spotlights on TGIF days, but this episode spotlight on a Saturday is something new to me, so I hope I do it justice.

I know some of you might be scoffing at the idea of me doing an entire episode spotlight on the NBC Saturday morning sitcom Saved By The Bell, but there's a reason why I wanted to do this.

It's because for what the show was, and how cheaply produced it was, it managed to churn out a rather enjoyable holiday show. In fact, I'm going to say that they managed to make a pretty enjoyable hour of programming, as the message behind it was a good one.

I know when I first saw it around the age of ten, I liked it.

The topic for today's blog entry is about the one and only Christmas themed episode the original Saved By The Bell series did back in 1991. Yes, I know that Saved By The Bell: The New Class had Christmas themed episodes too, but I didn't think any of them were all that memorable. The one they did in '94 was a Christmas In July episode. How festive. The one they did in '95 was a basic retelling of the holiday show the original cast did four years earlier. How plagiaristic. And don't even get me started on Christmas 1996 when they BURNED DOWN THE MAX and replaced it with something that a Crayola crayon box barfed up!

And yes, I did do extensive research on this show, including the lame spin-off, and yes, after all that, I stand by my opinion that the original Christmas show was the best of them all.

Before we get into this episode's discussion, let's talk a bit about the original version. The show was actually a retooling of the show 'Good Morning, Miss Bliss', which had debuted in 1988. In 1989, half the cast (including Miss Bliss) were let go, and the show was changed to the name 'Saved By The Bell'. It ran for four years, the last episode airing in May 1993.

One of the reasons why the show was so popular for kids who grew up during that time period was because of the characters. The six main characters of the show each had their own distinct personalities and quirks, so that everyone who watched the show could identify with someone on the show.

You had Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), the blonde, preppy-dressing, girl-crazy guy who was a lazy student but incredibly street smart...well, provided his plans didn't blow up in his face. There was A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), an army brat used to moving around from school to school, who was the typical jock of the series. Samuel “Screech” Powers (Dustin Diamond) was the intelligent, but socially awkward teenager who had an easier time understanding quantum physics than relationships. Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) was your stereotypical pep squad leader who always managed to put on a happy face, and whose worst insult in her vocabulary was 'jerk'. Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) was the rich girl, whose parents were in the country club scene, and who loved designing clothes almost as much as buying them. And Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) would have made a great feminist during the 1970s, but found her environmental beliefs and women empowerment views to be largely ignored at Bayside High School.

Quite the motley crew of teenagers, aren't they?

I'd probably say that out of these six, I'm most like a weird hybrid of Zack and Screech, with maybe a smidgen of Kelly mixed in for flavouring. But, that's just me, I suppose.

Now that you know who the characters are and what the show is about, we can continue.

If you want to watch the show before reading the detailed description, you can do so in these following links. Each word in the following sentence represents one part in the story...I just hope that it's not regionally blocked.  So, just click on here!

The episode spotlight that I want to talk about is the episode entitled “A Home For Christmas”. It was originally a two-parter, with part one airing December 7, 1991, and part two airing on December 14, 1991. It's Christmas in Los Angeles, and Zack and his friends arrive at Zack's house for a small party to kick off their Christmas vacation. And after Zack's mother surprises them with homemade gingerbread cookies, we learn about how the gang plans to spend their holiday.

Slater, Kelly, and Jessie managed to get part-time jobs at a shopping mall. Kelly got a job working as a sales clerk at a men's clothing store, Slater got a job at the gift wrapping kiosk (which he does a poor job at), and Jessie took on a job playing one of Santa's elves, and failing miserably at it. I would have suggested that Jessie would require Prozac to get through her shifts as an elf, but then I thought about that caffeine pill freakout, and realized that it probably wouldn't have been a good idea.

Surprisingly enough, Lisa, who was normally known for being the self-absorbed one, decided to spend her time volunteering at the hospital as a candy striper, and was a key figure in organizing a Christmas party for the sick kids there.

As for Zack and Screech...well...they'd end up having a Christmas adventure of their own. While Screech was showing off a doll that apparently drank all the water in the entire city of Los Angeles, Zack quite literally ran into a young woman who was making her way to work. The woman was a bit put off by Zack at first for making her late for work, but she did volunteer two pieces of information. Her name was Laura, and she worked at one of the many stores in the shopping mall. But first, Zack had to get Screech dried off.

It was in the men's room that the next piece of the puzzle fell into place. A middle-aged man happened to be in the restroom at the same time that Zack and Screech were there, and taught Screech how to get dried off in a hurry. But then Zack seemed to notice that the man was applying shaving cream on his face to shave in the mall's restroom, and came to the conclusion that the man was homeless. After leaving the man some money in the restroom, Zack and Screech continued their search for Laura.

Luckily, Laura's place of employment was at Moody's Store For Men, which was the same store that Kelly worked at, so finding Laura was quite easy for Zack. Zack immediately asked her out, and Laura was reluctant, but Kelly went to bat for Zack, telling him that she could trust him...provided they ate near a security guard. But then when the man that Zack and Screech helped passed by the store, and Zack was telling the group that he hoped that the money he left him would be used for food, and not on drugs and alcohol, Laura's mood chilled, and she turned Zack down cold. Zack was left confused about the whole thing, and the fact that Slater and Lisa were making fun of him over the snub just made the whole thing smart more.

Luckily, after Laura happened to pass by the food court, and after Screech helped Zack convince Laura to give him a second chance, Laura warmed up to the idea of going on a date with Zack...even if she had an unusually voracious appetite. But, hey, maybe the idea of dating a female Jughead appealed to Zack.  As a finale to their date, Zack and Laura went to visit with Santa (after a bruised and exhausted Jessie let them in at the front of the line), where Laura had a rather huge wish to give to Santa. Zack questioned Laura about what she wished for, but she wouldn't even give Zack a hint. Eventually, Zack let it go.

But later on, Zack, Slater, Screech, and Jessie come across a disturbing sight as the man that Zack and Screech helped earlier has now passed out on the floor. Luckily, Zack and Slater managed to revive him, and the ambulances took him to the hospital. But when the gang headed off to Moody's to pick up Kelly for the hospital Christmas party, and they fill her in on what happened, Laura has a rather weird reaction to it all. Why would she feel so strongly about this?

All is revealed at the hospital party. Turns out our homeless man was taken to the same hospital that the party was held, and with help from Lisa, Zack manages to find out where the man's room is. So with Slater and Screech tagging along, they wander through the corridors of the hospital to find the room, and are shocked to see that Laura is by the man's bedside.

And it is here that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. The man is Frank Benton. The girl is Laura Benton. They are father and daughter. Which means that Laura was homeless too.

Now it all made sense...her turning Zack down the first time, her reaction to his hospitalization. The reason why Frank passed out was due to malnutrition, and once he started feeling better, Zack and his mother invited the Benton family to dinner at their home, where Frank explained how he and Laura ended up homeless. Frank was let go from his job, and was unable to keep up with his bills. He and Laura headed off to California in hopes of finding work, but the economy back in late 1991 wasn't that great. Besides, with only one rumpled suit and no forwarding address, it made the search for work all that much difficult. Laura's job at Moody's was the only income that they had. In that moment, Zack decided that he really wanted to help Frank and Laura out, simultaneously realizing how lucky he and his family were in the process.

The next day, Zack's mother was planning the annual mall Christmas play, a retelling of the Charles Dickens classic 'A Christmas Carol', and Laura expressed interest in acting in the play with Zack and his friends, but knew that Mr. Moody wouldn't let her off work to act in it. To put it mildly, there wasn't a whole lot of personality difference between Moody and Ebenezer Scrooge. Kelly tried to get Mr. Moody to change her mind, and let it slip that Laura was homeless, but Mr. Moody wouldn't budge, even going so far to say that if he had known she was homeless, he never would have hired her, as he had the belief that all homeless people were thieves.

What a class act of a guy, huh?

Of course, Zack came up with a brilliant (if not totally commercial) idea to get Laura in the play, which was to give Moody free advertising during the play in exchange for Laura being allowed a role. Sigh...I guess there's commercialism in everything, isn't there. But, seeing as how happy it made Laura, I guess we can overlook it.

But Laura's happiness wouldn't end up lasting. For when she arrived back at Moody's, Mr. Moody accused her of shoplifting a sportsjacket, and threatened to call the cops on her, prompting Laura to flee the mall, visibly upset. Oh, but lest you think that Laura pulled the wool over our eyes, Mr. Moody was the one who acted terribly. Turns out that the sportsjacket that Laura was accused of stealing wasn't stolen. Kelly had put it away on the store's newly created layaway plan. As in, Kelly had another salesgirl put it aside so that she could buy it for Laura's father, as Laura had told Kelly that the sportsjacket was what Frank needed for job interviews. Kelly had planned to pay for it after the play was over, but ran late trying to get changed, and she and Zack arrived at the store just seconds after Laura ran away. And neither one of them were happy with Moody at all. I know I wouldn't have been.

A search throughout the whole mall progressed as Zack, Kelly, Zack's mother, and the rest of the gang split up to tell Laura that they believed in her. It wasn't until Zack and his mother arrived at a Christmas tree lot that they happened to come across Frank and Laura, who were planning to spend Christmas Eve in the back of their car. Of course, Zack and his mother weren't going to let that happen, and after explaining the circumstances behind the sportsjacket scandal, Frank and Laura were convinced of their friendship, and accepted their offer to spend Christmas Eve with them.

The next scene takes place at the Morris family living room where Frank and Laura are enjoying a nice Christmas with Zack and his friends, with the exception of Kelly. Turns out that Mr. Moody had asked Kelly to work late on Christmas Eve, which makes everyone else roll their eyes in disgust, claiming that Moody hadn't learned anything from the experience.

But then Kelly came in, with Mr. Moody following behind her carrying a present!  Turns out that Mr. Moody suddenly had a change of heart, and was terribly sorry about misjudging Laura. He wished her a merry Christmas, offered her some prime shifts for the after-holiday sales, and left...but judging by the grimace he uttered, I have a feeling that Kelly might have twisted his arm a bit in making him come. Whatever the case, Laura ended up with the sportsjacket, which she happily presented to her father for a Christmas present, and Zack surprised them with the news that the Bentons could stay with the Morris family as long as they needed until Frank found a job.

The ending was simple, yet perfect, as it had the whole gang singing 'Silent Night'.

So, what lessons can we learn from a Saved By The Bell Christmas? Well, I think one lesson is to not judge a person based on what they might have heard from others. Upon first glance, would you have thought that Frank and Laura were homeless? No. They looked a lot like any average person who passed through the mall. Zack had no idea that Laura and her father were homeless when he met her. But when he found out, did he run away or judge her? Not in the slightest. In fact, he actually tried to help her, and got his friends to open their arms up to her and Frank. Which is what the whole point of the holidays is about.

I guess if there's one thing we can take out of a Saved By The Bell Christmas, it's the pleasure and joy that Zack and his friends got out of helping someone who had fallen on bad luck. Because when you look at it, and if you were in a dire situation as Frank and Laura Benton were in, wouldn't it be nice if someone went out of their way to help you, as Zack did with them?

Think about it and reflect on that for a second.

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