"Glee": This Generation's "Saved by the Bell"?

If I were still in school, I would be writing a term paper this semester about how, though airing decades apart, Saved by the Bellandglee are really the same show. You might think that's ridiculous-- first that I could even be enrolled in a class that would allow such a thing but also that since both Saved by the Bell and glee take place in high schools and are aimed at the tween and teen demographics, of course there will be inherent similarities. Not exactly newsworthy! You could even point to the fact that both casts are made up of eclectic kids who manage to come together as friends despite being jocks, brains, pretty people, and of varying socioeconomic upbringings. And they all manage to have an uncanny ability to sing. At least with glee, that is the shared interest over which all of these varying characters can bond; when the Saved by the Bell kids did an episode in glee club and another about their garage band, Zack Attack, after never even so much as humming in the halls, even the most infatuated eight year-old (i.e. me) called it a stretch. But none of that is enough when it comes to emperical evidence. There is oh so much more!

Look at the characters themselves: the popular guy (Zack/Finn), the macho jock who goes by his last name (Slater/Puck), the perky cheerleader (Kelly/Quinn), the precocious one (Jessie/Kurt), the sassy one (Lisa/Mercedes), and the dork who is cool by association with the others (Screech/Rachel). There's even the same token recurring characters like the dumb jock (Moose/Brittany) and the new girl who no one likes with our 'hero' but who the show puts with him anyway-- at least temporarily (Tori/Santana)! It's like they've been cut from some same mold!

It was common for the SBTB gang to pick up different interests and then dispose of them just as quickly after the needs of any particular week's episode were met. Slater managed to be on the wrestling team when it suited the story line, as well as the football team, and the same with Zack and basketball and track. When glee returned for the spring half of their freshmen season, suddenly football hotshots Finn and Puck were also on the basketball team!

But perhaps the best example of the SBTB syndrome was when Kurt was kicker for a glorious forty-four minutes or when Rachel decided to quit the club in favor of a drama production (then again, she's always threatening to quit glee!). Kurt and Mercedes joining the Cheer-ios may prove to fit in here, as well, though as of last week they were still strong team members, so it remains to be seen just how short-lived wearing a uniform will be for them.

And sure, Saved by the Bell never had anything as serious or long-term as a pregnant cheerleader headlining a story, but its arcs that spanned multiple episodes were the same "on-again/off-again" couple issues. Zack & Kelly, Slater & Kelly, Kelly & Jeff, Slater & Jessie, Zack & Jessie, Zack & Random Guest Star Girl have now been switched out in name only for Finn & Rachel, Rachel & Jesse, Puck & Rachel, Puck & Quinn, Finn & Quinn, Finn & Santana & Britanny. The incestuousness that comes from dating within your close circle of friends in high school still rings just as true, but moreover, the shows very clearly highlight who the power-couples you should be rooting for are from early minutes and then spend the season throwing obstacles-- and other potential make-out partner-- in their way episode after episode. For all the partner-swapping, though, SBTB kept it pretty damn chaste, whereas glee pushed parents with their recent, somewhat surprisingly racy for primetime television "Like A Virgin" number.

But that's probably just a sign of the times! SBTB came at a time when shows aimed at kids still had to be somewhat preachy and have a very clear cut message in every episode (rather than today, when salacious sells!). Oddly, no one on SBTB ever dated a rival from Valley the way Rachel and Jesse first hooked up on glee; after all, a lesson in loyalty seems right up their alley!

SBTB did episodes about caffeine pill addiction, parents remarrying, and saying no to drugs, all in a way that taught kids it was "hip to be square." Glee has done all of the same themes, but with a new millenium/new generation twist. Body image and crash diet episodes have a slightly humorous twist to keep the tone light and fun, even while still trying to impart a message; parents date each other, which raises the stakes of the incestuousness; instead of telling their peers to stay away from marijuana, they use it to sell more brownies when they need to raise money for a handicapped accessible van.

If this was an actual term paper, I would dissect at least two episodes, scene by scene, to point out similarities. It would be enough for a dissertation (or at least an academic unofficial guide to the series)! But this is a mere blog, and my entries are pushing it, length-wise, for most attention spans today, as it is. So I will leave you only with generalities and one more point...

The key to both shows, though, is that the core characters are squeaky clean and don't actually use drugs themselves. They're set up to be role models to the young kids of America. On SBTB, the gang drank once and it cost them dearly when they got into a car accident; on glee the most we see that is beverage related are Slushie attacks. Not exactly your typical high school kids any way you look at it! Let's just hope that if glee lasts long enough to grant us a College Years, it won't be nearly as watered-down as the original!

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