January 22, 2014 by billysparrow
Aired: September 16, 1989
In a haiku nutshell: Screech is feeling blue/So cross-dressing is needed/He has very weird friends
Trivia that will impress, well, no one: Q: What 1960s TV show does Bambi reference when asked about her time in the Brownies? A: “F Troop”
Say this about the writers of “Saved by the Bell”: they waste little time in introducing cross-dressing into the Bayside mix. In Episode 5, Zack is forced to dress up as “Bambi,” a fictional woman he has created to lift up his pal Screech’s spirits (so that Screech can finish the science project he and Zack will be graded on). And, say what you will about Zack (and, surely, as he notes in the final scene, he dons a wig and dress at least partially out of self-preservation), but, guys, when was the last time you were willing to dress up as a woman, walk into a popular hangout, and flirt with your friend in an effort to show him that he is desirable to a member of the opposite sex? Really? That recently? OK, fair enough. You’re a good guy, too.
Anyway, aside from the sight of Zack dressed as a Southern lady, “Screech’s Woman” is notable for the first team-up between Slater and Jessie, who are working together on their own science project at the beginning of the episode (which, of course, has to be a volcano). There is no romantic chemistry yet, just the first tiny spark that will eventually turn into the burning ring of fire that consumes the two and leads to much banter about the battle of the sexes. At the time of the episode’s airing, the world was just a few short months away from seeing Paula Abdul dance with MC Skat Kat, but Jessie and Slater already had begun exploring the theory that opposites attract.
And, as a completely unnecessary aside, while looking for the release date of the “Opposites Attract” video, I discovered the 1991 pro-recycling anthem “Yakety Yak (Take It Back”),” which features MC Skat Kat, Pat Benatar, Bugs Bunny, Al B. Sure, Ozzy Osbourne, Tone Loc, Randy Newman, and Charlie Daniels, among many others, in a (barely) musical plea to save the earth.
That’s quite an array of talent, no?
Back to the episode. In both this episode and “The Gift,” we see a Screech that is miles and miles away from the abrasively wacky and audaciously dressed nerd that eventually emerges later on in the series’ run. These episodes showcase a sensitive, likable underdog who, in this writer’s opinion, is unfairly maligned by Lisa (and, in this episode, by Jessie, who seems thoroughly repulsed by the idea of going on a date with Screech when Zack proposes the idea). Sure, he’s a little annoying at times, but so is Max, and it appears that we’re supposed to think he’s amazingly cool (the magic is really starting to wear thin by this episode — and now they come with cartoon sound effects). At this point, Screech seems like the person I’d most want to be friends with, a lovable loser with a good heart whose success you want to root for. This may say more about me than him. So be it. (And I should point out that by the end of the series, I was rooting for no one and would be just fine not ever coming in contact with any of them, though perhaps Screech most of all.)
Screech’s fine qualities and loyalty to his friend Zack come to the forefront at episode’s end, but not before Slater hits on Zack-as-Bambi and then gets a little too grabby even after realizing that Bambi is Zack in drag. He also seems awfully interested in seeing Zack and Screech kiss (and, while am at it, Mr. Belding’s beckoning of Zack to his office via a PA announcement of “Zack Morris, I need you” surely raises an eyebrow or two). But, hey, I’m not here to judge. God bless him if that’s what he’s into. Maybe that’s the real reason why he and Jessie eventually break up (sorry, should’ve Spoiler Alerted that one).
So there’s Episode 5, in which “Saved by the Bell” has settled into its Saturday-morning time slot and is well on its way to making history. And I’m still keeping on pace to get about 80 more of these things done before the end of the year. Let’s take a moment to sit back and be impressed. Or depressed. One of the presseds.