Ridin’ Low in My Chair: “The Substitute”

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January 30, 2014 by billysparrow

“The Substitute”

Aired: September 30, 1989

In a haiku nutshell: An English teacher/Makes all the girls lose their minds/The guys are ticked off

Trivia that will impress, well, no one: Q: When mentioning that girls are attracted to poets, what three musicians does Zack cite as examples? A: Jon Bon Jovi, Axl Rose, and Jazzy Jeff

The inevitable intersection between “Saved by the Bell” and Shakespeare finally is reached in the seventh episode, which, as is fast becoming the norm, begins and ends at The Max, but not before an opening credit sequence that features several different photos from the opening in the first six episodes. Needless to say, I was taken aback by this development. But I somehow managed to soldier on in my viewing to provide you with this piece of literary magic. And speaking of magic, Max manages not to do any in his appearances in this episode, and a grateful nation applauds his (and the writers’) restraint.

Anyway, most avid “Saved by the Bell” viewers will mark this episode for the appearance of dashing substitute teacher Tony Crane (not to be confused with Ithaca College journalism professor and noted skeptic Ben Crane), who wins the girls’ hearts with his sparkling smile (complete with sparkling sound effect) and willingness to, it seems, bring a costume to change into when given a substitute assignment. I do not recall this level of commitment from any of the substitute teachers I had, so I salute Mr. Crane’s pursuit of academic and fashion excellence.

But as much as I admire Mr. Crane’s dedication, I would prefer to save most of my applause for the teacher whose back injury resulted in Mr. Crane’s services being needed. I am speaking of the debut of the woman I would have to call my favorite among the Bayside faculty (narrowly edging out Mr. Tuttle), the partially deaf Miss Simpson (as played by Pamela Kosh). I’m not sure why I find people who misunderstand or mishear things so funny, but I do (the only thing preventing me from going off into a soon-to-be-patented “Ridin’ Low in My Chair” tangent on the “mens rea” scene in “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” is that I’ll be covering that in an “At 25” installment later this year). Perhaps it derives from the Sigman family classic (which likely took place shortly before “Saved by the Bell” came into the world), where, as my sister, parents, and I were seated at a table at Bobby Jean’s in Cairo, NY, my sister said, “I need film,” to which either my mother or father (I’m old…I forget details) replied, “You better not be; you’ve got a whole plate of ravioli coming.” This exchange is brought up at least once a year, or whenever someone is eating ravioli. Yes, I realize that’s a “you had to be there” story, but, look, you’re reading a 37-year-old man’s thoughts on “Saved by the Bell,” so you probably have a high threshold for nonsense. And I thank you for that.

So, yeah, Miss Simpson (the closing credits list her as Mrs. Simpson, but that is wrong, and I hope someone was fired for that). This marks the first of four appearances she makes in the series. Well, I suppose, if you go by the order in which the episodes should have aired, this would be her second appearance. But let us leave that can of worms unopened for the time being. Let’s just say that this is Miss Simpson’s coming-out party, a party that will reach its peak in a later episode that at least partially recycles the plotline here, with Zack falling in love with the school nurse mimicking Lisa, Jessie, and Kelly’s infatuation with Tony Crane. I would like to note (and I will note it, dammit) that the girls’ decision to cast the boys aside in favor of Mr. Crane, and their subsequent shared dream sequence in which they ponder wedded bliss with Mr. Crane, is treated much more gingerly and favorably than Zack’s nurse obsession. But perhaps we should table that in-depth discussion of gender politics in “Saved by the Bell” until we get to that nurse episode. I don’t know how you’ll be able to deal with the anticipation of that, but I wish you all the best.

For those looking for how the situation with Mr. Crane is resolved, let me tell you that he winds up having to perform a real-life “F, Marry, Kill” with the three girls, which ends in Jessie’s grisly demise (shown in vivid detail on screen), an off-screen romp in the bathroom of The Max with Kelly, and a tasteful wedding with Lisa, presided over by Mr. Belding.

OK, you got me. That doesn’t happen at all.

Instead, Mr. Crane, after catching on to the boys’ plan to hire an actress to pose as Mr. Crane’s fiancée and thus repel the girls’ attraction, assures the boys, “I have no intention of taking your girls from you.” This seems to come as a great relief to them, which indicates they thought this was an actual possibility. Zack and Slater seem like they might be dummies, but I expect more of Screech. I’m also not even sure why Screech is upset, because Lisa hates him anyway. Am I being too logical? Yes, I suppose I am.

So, Mr. Crane takes matters into his own hands, inviting the gang to The Max (which is an odd thing for a teacher to do, but, then again, Mr. Crane’s a little free with the touching, too, so maybe things are looser in California) and basically follows through on the boys’ plan to make it seem like he has a fiancée by showing up with Vicki at The Max. This seems like an unnecessary plan, for as Mr. Crane tells the kids as he leaves with his fake fiancée, Miss Simpson will be back the next school day and he’ll be gone. But, no matter, all is resolved at the end, and we never hear from Tony Crane again.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say. Long live Miss Simpson.

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