As a diehard fan of the classic 90s sitcom Saved by the Bell, I was stoked to find out that Roar Comics was releasing a comic version for today’s young readers. Alas, my excitement turned to disappointment as I revisited my old pals at Bayside High. While the artwork is great, the stories are, at best, forgettable and, at worst, full of outdated sexism. Now, don’t get me wrong, the television show was certainly full of outdated sexism, but it also aired over two decades ago. I had hoped that in updating the show for a modern audience the creators would have done more than merely throw smartphones and vlogging into the mix. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Instead, we get plot lines revolving around the exploitation of female bodies—several times, in fact. The comic is set-up much like a television show, with small episodic chapters. In one “episode” a video of Jesse with her skirt tucked into her underpants accidentally gets uploaded to “Baytube” and instead of taking the video down as Jesse requests, Lisa uses the video to boost hits on her vlog, causing Jesse extreme embarrassment. In another episode Kelly convinces the other girls, even the (arguably) feminist Jesse, to do their fund-raising car wash in bikinis to get more customers. When her plan works it serves to reinforce the idea that female bodies are a commodity. And, in yet another episode, Zach prints and sells calendars of Kelly without her permission (or even her knowledge), using one to land her a modeling gig and again highlighting the male gaze and the selling of sex.
This and other issues, such as a lack of real introduction to the characters and inappropriate humor, made me wonder what audience the creators were attempting to appeal to with this comic. While the publisher age rating is listed as middle grade (ages 8 – 12), I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t a fan of the original series enjoying this title. Additionally, some of the humor in the comic is likely to either go over children’s heads or be a bit inappropriate, such as when Principal Belding asks a student in detention if he knows why he’s there and the student replies, “Yeah! My mom and dad had too much to drink one night.”
The publisher describes the comic as “the perfect starting point for newbies” but without an understanding of each character’s established personality from the original show, certain aspects of the comic would likely confuse new readers in the beginning, such as why Jesse gets so offended when Slater offers to carry her books (“Are you implying women are weak?” she asks). Fans of the show know that Jesse is a feminist (at least, by Saved by the Bell standards), but in the comic Screech just told Slater that Jesse is a “traditional girl [who] just wants to find a nice guy and get married.” Without tone of voice to suggest that Screech is setting Slater up, this scene is a bit confusing.
Ultimately, while some fans of the show may enjoy the comic as a throwback, I fail to see it being a hit with modern children, the supposed target audience. Much of the plot is recycled from the show and given a modern twist, which of course leads fans to compare the two, in which case the show is clearly on top. Where the show succeeded in being humorous and generally risque-free, the comic ends up being boring and too overtly sexual for children, at least in this reviewer’s opinion.
As mentioned previously, however, the artwork is fantastic, despite the comic’s flaws. The bold, bright colors lend a nostalgic 90s feel, while the characters’ clothing and hairstyles have been updated for a modern audience. Additionally, the characters have extremely expressive faces, bringing the scenes to life. Unfortunately, even the great artwork can’t make up for the overt sexism that dominates Saved by the Bell.
Saved by the Bell
by Joelle Sellner
Art by Chynna Clugston Flores and Tim Fish
Roar Comics, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8 – 12