Mark-Paul Gosselaar, one of the stars of the sitcom Saved by the Bell (1989-93), has reflected on the show’s subject matter. While many of the episodes were fun and easygoing, there were some that, in today’s context, simply wouldn’t fly. Discussing the matter on several podcasts, the actor has positioned himself in the unique camp where he recognizes that they were inappropriate, while still appreciating the thing that brought him fame.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar started a podcast about Saved by the Bell
Saved by the Bell first aired in 1989 and ran for four seasons, until 1993. The sitcom centers around a group of American high school students and their principal, generally keeping a lighthearted approach to conflict, yet sometimes touching on difficult topics like substance use, death and women’s rights.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar starred as one of the show’s lead characters, Zack Morris, landing the part when he was just 15 years old. Since then, he’s teamed up with Dashiell Driscoll, writer of the show’s 2020 reboot, to create the Zack to the Future podcast.
On it, the pair rewatch old episodes, with Gosselaar viewing them for the first time in over 25 years. For some, Gosselaar had a hard time watching, later calling discussions about them a “fragile tightrope,” as both hosts clarified that they didn’t agree with the subject matter or how it was covered, but adding that they also didn’t intend to badmouth the show.
There were two episodes Mark-Paul Gosselaar feared the most
Mark-Paul Gosselaar joined the hosts of Pod Meets World – Danielle Fishel, Rider Strong and Will Friedle, all stars of the coming-of-age series, Boy Meets World (1993-2000) – who asked to discuss which episodes he feared rewatching the most. At first, the actor joked, “Pretty much any scene I was in. I hate watching myself.” However, he quickly got serious and revealed two episodes that were certainly problematic.
“In terms of storylines, there was a few,” he explained. “There was one where I was basically w*****g out Lisa Turtle. I charged people to kiss her without her consent, that was a tough one.” The episode in question is “The Lisa Card,” and it was the second ever to air.
“I feel a little conflicted by this particular episode. It wasn’t as carefree and innocent as the last episode,” he revealed on his own podcast. “We had to preface the [podcast] episode by saying, ‘We do not condone this, we’re just here to discuss it.’”
The other problematic episode is titled “Running Zack,” which aired in 1990 and saw his own character, Zack Morris, wearing traditional Native American attire during a school family heritage presentation. “Seeing Zack Morris in a full headdress… That was one we had to be a little sensitive on, there’s things that you just would not film these days,” Gosselaar said.
“My mother’s Indonesian and my father is Dutch, but I cringed seeing myself portray Zack Morris, who is this all-American blond-haired White dude, in a Native American headdress,” the actor continued, before adding, “This episode would never get made in current times and rightly so.”
Going about things differently nowadays
With hindsight being 20/20, Mark-Paul Gosselaar says that, if he, as a seasoned actor, were approached with storylines similar to these today, he would “protect” not only himself, but also the character he was playing.
“This would be one of those times where I would have a dialogue with a writer, producer and have a discussion and say: ‘I think we should look at this a little deeper. Is this going to reflect well for me, for the character, for the future of the show?’”
When it came to the podcast, Gosselaar was clear that, while it was important to talk about these controversial episodes, Saved by the Bell and Zack to the Future were intended for enjoyment.
“We’re not going to say that we don’t see some of the morally abhorrent or dated situations and responses to certain things. But we’re also here to give you a fun podcast, it’s a celebration of Saved by the Bell,” he said.