Ridin’ Low in My Chair: “Save That Tiger”

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March 22, 2014 by billysparrow

“Save That Tiger”

Aired: November 11, 1989

In a haiku nutshell: Cheerleading battles/Can lead to nasty prank wars/Mascots aren’t safe

Trivia that will impress, well, no one: Q: Ronnie Schell, who plays Valley principal Elliot Stingwell, played Duke Slater (no relation) in what 1960s sitcom? A: “Gomer Pyle: USMC”

(image from savedbythebell.wikia.com)

(image from savedbythebell.wikia.com)

If I am to believe this episode of “Saved by the Bell” (and what reason would there be not to believe this or any other episode?), cheerleading competitions can get pretty heated. The City Cheerleading Final involving Bayside and their bitter rivals, the Valley Bulldogs (as well as the rarely mentioned Polytech Bears), is the impetus for a prank war between Bayside and Valley that winds up picking up everyone in its path, including the students, Valley’s bulldog mascot, and even Valley’s principal, Elliot “Stinky” Stingwell (Ronnie Schell, who has the best cackle this side of Frank Gorshin).

The war eventually spirals out of control when Screech, who, of course, wears the tiger costume as Bayside’s mascot, is kidnapped by Dan (C.W. Hemingway) and Stan (Mark Clayman), the Clegg cousins, in an attempt to sabotage the Bayside cheerleading squad (led, naturally, by Jessie, Kelly, and Lisa…Jessie is a late substitute because one of the other cheerleaders got chicken pox). But the wise Zack and Slater are able to save the day (a rare instance where Zack is involved in a successful plan) when Screech escapes the clutches of Valley and tells them that the guy in the tiger outfit is really Dan Clegg. Zack and Slater, in the only natural reaction to such skullduggery, then stick a bunch of ants in the tiger costume right before Bayside’s big cheer. And, of course, we know what happens when ants start crawling over your body. Yes, that’s right…you do several perfect cartwheels and some impressive backflips at exactly the right moment in a cheer routine you’ve never seen before. So, once that’s done, Bayside wins, though, if we’re being honest, Valley’s routine was better. And, c’mon, Valley should win something at some point. It’s supposed to be a heated rivalry, but from what we’re seeing in these episodes, it’s more of a Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals thing than an actual competitive fight.

This episode also brings the return of Rhonda Robistelli (Kirsten Holmquist), who puts in an unsuccessful tryout for the cheerleading squad. It’s a shame she didn’t make it; I think they dismissed her too quickly. Other notable things in the episode include Kelly’s darker hair color (what, I’m the only one who noticed?) and the director’s apparent determination to do scenes in one take. Early on, after Valley TPs the hallways of Bayside, Screech clearly stumbles over a line, but it seems that it wasn’t worth it to give him another shot. And in this episode’s fantasy sequence, where Zack imagines his humiliation at finishing last in the prank war, both Dan and Stan Clegg are having a hard time not laughing while receiving their medals, and Zack seems downright giddy while having a pie smashed in his face and then washed off courtesy of a seltzer bottle. I’m guessing it’s Principal Stingwell’s cackle that they were having trouble fighting through. Understandable.

I wouldn’t place this one among the series’ best, but props to Ronnie Schell for his cackling work, which saves the episode from being a complete clunker. Hey, as hard as it may be to believe, even “Saved by the Bell” stumbles a bit. And we’re still a good ways away from the show really hitting its stride. Yes, wise ass, there was a stride. We’ll get there together.

Well, I’ll get there. I suspect you’ll probably be busy doing other things.

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