- - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Most newspaper columnists are intrigued by the events that shape our world. They’ll write about anything from breaking news stories, to subjects that are outside the box.

There are also topics that columnists say they’ll either never tackle, or never have the opportunity to tackle. In my case, an intellectual examination of the 1990s teen show “Saved by the Bell” never really crossed my mind.

Until last week, that is.

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Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” held a surprise reunion of the gang from the fictional Bayside High School during a Los Angeles taping. Cast members Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack Morris), Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (Kelly Kapowski), Elizabeth Berkley (Jessie Spano), Mario Lopez (A.C. Slater) and Dennis Haskins (school principal Mr. Belding) appeared in an eight-minute skit with their “forgotten” classmate, Mr. Fallon.

The skit was brilliantly done. There was a carbon copy of the old “Saved by the Bell” set. “Tonight Show” writer Mike DiCenzo masterfully included a half-dozen memorable scenes from the show, along with some current news items. The cast didn’t skip a beat, and reportedly did the whole thing in one take.

Mr. Fallon, to his credit, was a perfect fit. The 40-year-old comedian, who is the same age as most of the younger “Saved by the Bell” cast members, is a pop culture enthusiast with a soft spot for Bayside High. He had proposed this reunion in 2009, but the original attempt never got off the ground.

It appears many people were pleased it finally happened. It’s only been a week, and there are more than 25 million views of this skit on YouTube.

Yet, it does beg an important question. Why would this TV reunion have struck such a chord with so many people?

“Saved by the Bell “ran on NBC from 1989 to 1993. It was a retooling of a Disney Channel series, “Good Morning, Miss Bliss” (1988-89), which had originally been broadcast on NBC as a failed TV pilot. The show had a significant fan base, graced the covers of many teen-youth magazines, and spawned two spin-off series and various merchandise.

Alas, “Saved by the Bell” wasn’t a work of art. There were occasional moments of humor, but it was generally hit-and-miss. Some storylines dealt with serious issues, but there was more concern about fashion and personal appearance. Awards weren’t a priority, and what they acquired was few and far between.

Like Mr. Fallon, I’m in my 40s and grew up with this show. I was never a fan, but I found it mildly amusing at times.

As crazy as it might sound, I do believe there are genuine reasons why “Saved by the Bell” has had this long-lasting nostalgic appeal — and fans on all sides of the political spectrum.

The political philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is curiosity.” This important principle can be identified in one of the show’s unique traits: its incredible presence.

“Saved by the Bell” was wholesome in nature. It spoke to a certain age demographic in ways that no other teen shows have ever truly duplicated. It discussed life lessons about drugs and sex. It produced a “real” look at the high school experience — in a dramatized fashion — for naturally curious young people.

Meanwhile, teenagers identified with the characters. They saw elements of themselves in Zack (preppie, intelligent, schemer), Kelly (cheerleader, all-American girl), A.C. (jock, sports fanatic) Jessie (attractive, intelligent, hard working) — and the two missing leads, Lisa Turtle (wealthy, fashionable) and Screech Powers (stereotypical nerd).

The show’s influential role in shifting teen opinions and values in certain directions was awe-inspiring. The writing and acting left much to be desired, but the themes, conversations and introspective perceptions etched a permanent mark in the childhood memories of those between 35 and 45 years of age.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” Aristotle said. Hence, I’ve often marveled at the social impact of “Saved by the Bell.” As a conservative, I long for these types of shows. They were badly misunderstood, and weren’t overtly political or left-wing. Rather, they were silly, upbeat, memorable — and above all, fun.

Few TV shows of any genre have ever accomplished this, and left such a memorable footprint in the landscape. That’s why Mr. Fallon fought so hard for this reunion. His decision to ring the “Bell” one last time has paid off.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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