Written by Peter Engel and Tom Tenowich; Directed by Don Barnhart
An episode where Zack and Kelly’s relationship was the centerpiece was never not going to be No. 1 on this list, maybe that should have been said upfront.
But the reason it is “The Prom” is because it provides the moment where Kelly chooses Zack over Slater — yes, she has true agency in the decision — and it’s also the start of his elaborate, romantic gestures. First he says he’s going to get “a bit stretch limo with a CD, TV and m.e,” but then when she says she can’t go to the dance after all because she doesn’t have the money, he creates their own private, casual prom outside the real one. They have a candlelit dinner — complete with cake he wrestled away from Alan (Dion Zamora) — and they can hear the music drifting out from the school. The prom’s theme may be “dancing under the stars,” but it is only Zack and Kelly who are truly doing just that.
The episode is also special for advancing the other relationships in the show, from Jessie and Slater first bonding while setting up for the dance and actually dancing, to Lisa actually agreeing to go on a date with Screech and annoying him the whole time, which allows him to reject her for a change.
It set up that fancy gowns and elaborate up-dos are not what make the prom memorable: being with someone you care about — and who really cares about you — is. Capitalism wept. And so did young viewers who were dreaming of someday having a high school romance as sweet and pure as Zack and Kelly’s.