Interviews TV

Caffeine For A New Generation – An Interview With Saved By the Bell’s Elizabeth Berkley

Remember the joy of the ’90s; sitting down as a kid to watch Saturday Morning cartoons, playing on your Nintendo Gameboy, and following the antics of Saved By the Bell. While Zack Morris proved just how trash like he was, Lisa Turtle had dreams of becoming a fashion designer, you watched as others were dealing with their own lighthearted situations. “Will Zack and Kelly ever get back together again?”

Then in November of 1990, everything changed for Saved By the Bell when the world of Bayside was rocked by the nefarious… caffeine pill. Titled “Jessie’s Song” the Very Special episode saw Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) needing to study to get into Stanford while also needing to rehearse for her music video of The Pointer Sister’s “I’m So Excited.” Overcome with stress and the obligations of being a high schooler, Jessie did the unthinkable and took over-the-counter caffeine pills to help her stay awake. Pretty soon the once level-headed student started popping pills at school, at the Max, and in her bedroom. No place was sacred as her friends worried about her.

Soon Jessie’s life of pills and potions started to become something harder to hide as the pressure for perfection caused a mental breakdown. It was at this moment, Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) stopped being trash and became a friend when he found Jessie passed out on her bed. She had cracked under the pressure and insisted the only way forward is—fisting more pills. She collapsed in Zack’s arms screaming, “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so… scared!” And we as a society were scared for her.

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Now the iconic show is back and stepping into 2020 with style, diversity, and even more antics as the real world clashes with the fantasy bubble of Bayside. Zack Morris (Mark‑Paul Gosselaar) who is still trash is now governor of California and has cut $10 billion from the education budget resulting in underfunded public school closures. As a result, the affected students must now attend the most well-funded schools in the state – including Bayside High. The influx of new students gives the privileged Bayside kids — who never had a problem that couldn’t be solved in 22 minutes — a much-needed dose of reality.

The Koalition spoke to Elizabeth Berkley about returning to Saved By the Bell, Jessie Spano’s fear of caffeine, how the show balances paying homage to the original while carving out its own path, and more. 

“For many years, of course, different generations have come up to all of us from the original show. Just the meaning of the show and the love they have for it is so palpable, it’s so meaningful for them, and I mean what better time to bring something back that means so much to so many people and is a part of their childhood and joy, but then introduce it to a whole new generation with this amazingly talented cast. To me, this was the right time. So when [people ask], “Was it a tough sell?” it was obviously the team, the creative, and while there had been other thoughts about kind of revisiting it, this was the one.”

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“When I was approached by the studio and sat down with my first meeting with showrunner Tracey Wigfield, it was to me just a done deal on the spot. And the fact that Franco Bario also was joining forces — he was one of our original producers — and to just know that this team that Tracey was putting together and her creativity, her angle on bringing this back but with a whole new reimagining, something really relevant for now but still maintaining and embedding the things that people loved about it, just her take on it, I was in immediately.”

The show returns to its roots, in the halls of Bayside where the original cast has returned (aside from Dustin Diamond’s Screech who is now living with Kevin on the International Space Station), to teach and mold the minds of a new generation. Jessie Spano now a mother, works as a school counselor trying to help the new students of Bayside forge their own path and bust the clueless bubble of the privileged. 

While the show does an excellent job at making things look and feel unique (you don’t have to watch the original series to enjoy the reboot), it also sneaks in some classic lines and update classic scenes. And with three decades separating the episode’s original air date and 2020, Berkley is still proud of the infamous caffeine scene and the roles it played in pop culture.

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“There’s a great episode, I don’t wanna give too much away, that really pays homage to that moment where Jessie still has some interesting feelings about that time. And of course, one of the most kind of loved episodes is the “I’m So Excited” caffeine pill episode that to this day, people come up to make and just say those three words, not “I love you,” “I’m so excited.” So we, of course, I mean, there are a few ways that Tracey brilliantly embedded that into some of the scenes, and I can’t wait for you to see it. That’s a perfect example of having fun, a little wink, and just kind of still honoring the things that people loved, but then putting it in this modern, new way.

“Just by virtue of the returning cast members from the original where we are grownup, by virtue of us being grown up, that’s extremely different and just kind of understanding where we were. So, I got to look back at a lot of episodes to just remember the trajectory of maybe what Jessie, in my case, has done all these years that has led her back here was really important now being a mother to Belle’s character, Jamie, and her role and function at the school as the guidance counselor, after having a career it was just interesting to go back to understand what drove her and then what made her return home. There’s no place like home, Bayside.”

“I mean [Saved By the Bell] such a beloved part of people’s lives and a certain touchpoint to when things were more simple and happier and just still, even with the new kind of let’s say edge, and all of that, there’s a heart at the core of everything still. This is something that people also loved about it. The human connection, relationships, and dynamics that really were at the heart of it, all the hijinks and everything. But we still maintain that heart with all the humor. So it can bridge both the people who were nostalgic and then the new generation.” 

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“Tracey Wigfield really beautifully created this where it can really just bridge both new teens that will be falling in love with these guys, and they’re so amazing, I can’t say it enough, and then also the people who are nostalgic, they will get fed all those little gems that they’re looking for even in the most subtle ways, there are often things that I do even in wardrobe or things that are just a little wink, a little nod, without hitting it over the head, if they know what’s up if they’ve been a longtime fan.”

The Saved By the Bell reboot is currently streaming on NBC’s Peacock.

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