Ridin’ Low in My Chair: “Fatal Distraction”

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January 18, 2014 by billysparrow

“Fatal Distraction”

Aired: September 9, 1989 (hooray, a Saturday!)

In a haiku nutshell: Slumber party talk/Turns Zack’s whole world upside down/Girls can be so cruel

Trivia that will impress, well, no one: Q: What movie star does Kelly think is a “hunk”? A: Dennis Quaid

The fourth episode of “Saved by the Bell,” and if the DVDs are to be believed, the first to air on a Saturday, really piles on the pop-culture references. Zack tries to extract information from Lisa with a Bon Jovi ticket, Lisa reveals that she’s looking for a boy with the qualities of Michael Jackson (which leads Screech to dress up as the Gloved One), Kelly and her fellow slumber partygoers bond over their appreciation for the hunkiness of Dennis Quaid, and Screech drops a Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling reference into a conversation. I imagine that last one is the biggest challenge (among many) for parents today who want their children to share in their love for “Saved by the Bell.” It’s not something you probably want to show them on YouTube. (I would like to take this opportunity to point out that G.L.O.W.’s Queen Kong clasped me to her ample bosom at a wrestling convention when I was younger. Yes, it is quite a life I have led.)

Following on the pop culture tip, since we’ve already explored the anti-nuclear bent of the poster art on Jessie’s wall, let’s take a look at what fills up Zack’s walls. The first interesting thing to note is that Zack Morris is surely the only boy in the world who has posters of both Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians and Robocop on his wall. Zack being a Robocop buff comes as little surprise, but I would not have pictured him whistling “What I Am” (or maybe one of the deeper cuts since he was such a big fan) in the hallways of Bayside. Perhaps there’s more to Zack Morris than meets the eye. Or maybe the set designers had a leftover Edie Brickell poster and an empty space on Zack’s wall. Hard to tell.

Further evidence of the possibly mysterious nature of Zack Morris can be found in the two flags in his bedroom. The American flag that hangs over Zack’s bed, a patriotic gesture that no doubt places Zack Morris as one of our finest Americans, is certainly an understandable objet d’art. But, wait, what’s that on his door? Is that an Australian flag? Really? Does Zack carry a deep love for the land Down Under? Does Australian blood course through his veins? Does he place late-night calls on his giant cell phone to Yahoo Serious? We never do learn the answers to these questions. Such a mystery that kid.

Anyway, Zack is the main focus of “Fatal Distraction,” as Zack and Screech’s plan to bug the girls’ slumber party (which, in addition to Lisa, Jessie, and Kelly, features two nameless girls who get a surprising amount of screen time) to find out if Kelly is going to ask him to the girls’ choice dance backfires when Jessie finds the microphone. After an awkward girl huddle, the girls hatch a plan to scare the bejeesus out of Zack by making him think that Kelly is a violent psychopath who might kill him. A bit extreme, I would argue, but hats off to the gang for their elaborate plan, which also includes Slater feigning a broken leg at the hands of Kelly, along with Jessie and Lisa sneaking into Belding’s office to plant a note indicating that Kelly spent time in a home for the criminally insane (slightly unhinged Jessie risking being caught sneaking into the principal’s files? Wow, she must really hate being secretly recorded.).

Fatal_Distraction_7_Ronda

“Fatal Distraction” is also noteworthy for the introduction of Rhonda Robistelli, a tomboyish bruiser who is in hot pursuit of her “Zackie” in the days leading up to the dance and seems to be the only girl who truly frightens Zack. Tragically, due to the scheming of his friends, Zack winds up going to the dance with Rhonda and receives the expected physical (and perhaps mental) bruising.

Rhonda is played by Kirsten Holmquist, who now goes by Kirsten Kemp Becker and, it turns out, did not grow up to be a husky tom-man but instead became a decidedly feminine real estate expert who has hosted two shows on TLC (“Property Ladder” and “Hope for Your Home”).

A “Saved by the Bell” success story, the first of many we’ll be addressing in the months ahead. Stay tuned.

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