Oct 14, 2016

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Saved by the Bell

Mario Lopez has been unfailingly pro-gay (except for a tweet proclaiming his love for love for Chick-Fil-A, which was quickly removed).  But what about his Saved by the Bell buddy Mark-Paul Gosselaar?

He hasn't been quite as vocal in his support, but he seems cool with gay fans: "There are people out there who desperately want me to be gay. I don't have the heart to set the record straight."

My friend Infinite Chazz claims to have dated him.

Born in 1974, the child star burst -- literally -- into teen idol fame in 1989 when he was hired to play one of the supporting players in the Hayley Mills vehicle Good Morning, Miss Bliss, about a caring junior high teacher.

But after a year it became Saved by the Bell, with Zack Morris, Mark-Paul's glib teen operator the undisputed star.  It lasted for four years, spawned two spin-off series and innumerable Saturday morning clones, and gained 24 Young Actor Awards nominations.

The plots of Saved by the Bell mostly involved demonstrating that the teens were heterosexual -- falling in love with the wrong person, deciding if the kiss meant anything, having two dates on the same night -- with a smattering of minor social problems, like smoking or cheating on tests.

 But same-sex desire was always lurking just beneath the surface.  Zack, gay-coded as blond, pretty, stylish, fashion-conscious, and vain, is often the butt of jokes about misdirected or misinterpreted desire.

When Zack qualifies for the track team so they can beat Valley High, Principal Belding (Davis Haskins) hugs him and cries "I love you!"  Seeing the suspicious looks from passing students, Belding backtracks into an arm-clasp and "I like you!"  More suspicious looks, so he backs off altogether and says "Uh...I mean good job, son."

There's a knock at Zack's bedroom door.  Thinking that it's his girlfriend, Zack opens it wide and exclaims "I love you!"  The school weirdo Screech walks in, waits for audience howls to die down a bit, and says "I love you too...but only as a friend."

Strangely, none of these jokes involve Zack and his constant companion, sullen jock Slater (Mario Lopez).  Maybe they can't occur with passionate partners, or they would bring their unstated romance too close to the surface.

After Saved by the Bell, Mark-Paul played mostly conventional, even old-fashioned heterosexuals: a horny college boy in Dead Man on Campus (1998), a computer exec who moves back to his quaint small town in Hyperion Bay (1998-99); plus the standard detectives and cops.  His Detective John Clark on NYPD Blue (2001-2005) had a number of risky sexual encounters with women to assuage his grief after his girlfriend dies.

And there was very little beefcake, at least on screen.  An accomplished athlete, Mark-Paul was often photographed swimming, scuba diving, and engaged in other sports that involve bulges or bare chests.

In Franklin and Bash (2011-2014), Mark-Paul returned to buddy-bonding, playing Detective Bash to Brecklin Meyer's Detective Franklin.  Though both are horndogs, the homoerotic subtext is strong and obviously intentional, an attempt to cash in on the 2000s bromance fad.

Truth Be Told (2014) was a buddy comedy starring Mark-Paul and Tone Bell as odd-couple best friends.

And fans got to see more of Mark-Paul's still impressive physique than they have in twenty years, in spite of  TV Guide's  heterosexist assurance that he goes shirtless only "for the ladies."

See also: Infinite Chazz is Dumped by Mark-Paul Gosselaar.