So it turns out “The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story” is really just Lifetime for “Sharknado.” The network opted not to screen the movie in advance, presumably assuming the nostalgia/live-tweeting factor would only be undermined by the realization this wasn’t so much a movie as a music montage interrupted by reenactments from a mediocre but improbably long-running ‘90s Saturday-morning show. Told primarily from the perspective of Dustin Diamond (who doubles as a producer), the project explores the age-old insecurities of young actors and challenges of sudden stardom, but in such a tedious, empty way the bell couldn’t come soon enough.
Diamond’s memoir about the show (which he later disavowed) was said to have provided only partial inspiration for this account, but since Diamond (as played by Sam Kindseth) narrates the movie, periodically breaks the fourth wall to address the camera and generally guides us through this not-so-magical history tour, that sounds like a distinction without a difference.
As related by Diamond, who played nerd supreme Screech, the movie follows the birth of a show (out of the ashes of a jettisoned Disney Channel series), casting of the principals and near-cancellation before the program caught on. Even in success, however, Diamond clearly feels under-appreciated, grousing that during a promotional tour the others were shipped to glamorous cities while he was dispatched to a rec center in South Carolina, where he promptly got drunk and embarrassed the producers.
Other than the outcast status Kindseth brings to Diamond – who, among other things, must deal with a stern father – the rest of the cast is largely lost under wardrobe and hairstyles. As for the salacious stuff, it’s all inordinately tepid – nobody rounds first base – even if one of the adults muses (seemingly more for promotional purposes than anything else), “ Well, the network didn’t kill us. The hormones might.”
Written by Ron McGee and directed by Jason Lapeyre, as history “The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story” doesn’t pass the smell test on more than one occasion. Among the more questionable moments, Diamond waltzes unannounced into the office of then-NBC Entertainment chief Brandon Tartikoff (Adam Greydon Reid) to shoot the breeze, and Elizabeth Berkley (Tiera Skovbye) references “MASH” as a guidepost while lobbying the cast to join her in insisting that the show incorporate more relevant (think after-school-special territory) plot lines.
Of course, from Lifetime’s perspective, this is more about demography than drama, hoping the audience that watched “Saved by the Bell” as kids and teens – now situated firmly in the 18-49 age bracket – will tune in out of curiosity, with little regard to the actual content.
Given that, the one scene that rings moderately true finds the young and exceedingly naïve actors lamenting the negative reviews that greet the show’s premiere, with Mario Lopez (Julian Works) calling the critics “douchebags” and Diamond dismissing them as irrelevant.
As defense mechanisms go, the more things change, the more they stay the same.