Nov 15, 2012

The Clones of "Saved by the Bell"


During the 1990s, as advertisers were squabbling over the affluent teen market and cable stations were struggling to fill slots, Saved by the Bell-like teencoms appeared regularly: Welcome Freshmen (1991-92),  California Dreams (1992-97), Running the Halls (1993), Saved by the Bell: The New Class (1993-2000), Hang Time (1995-2000), Breaker High (1997-98), USA High (1997-99), City Guys (1997-2001).

The formula was easy: take six to eight beautiful people, three or four boys (schemer, hunk, nerd, and ethnic minority), three or four girls (cheerleader, feminist, princess, and ethnic minority).  Give all of the boys some tongue-lagging, eye-exploding girl-craziness, and all of the girls an obsession over boys.  Give them three sets: high school hallway, locker room, and teen hangout.  Add a clueless principal and an occasional parent, and voila!  The scripts write themselves (or actually, they can be recycled from  40-year old episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis).





In spite of the dull repetitiveness of the plots, gay teens might find them worth a look.

1. The shirtless, swimsuit, and speedo shots were constant, and the muscles often spectacular.  Even those teens who weren't man-mountains got their turn in the wrestling singlet.



Or found some other reason to take off their clothes.






















2. Many of the high school hunks came in pairs, polarized into white/nonwhite or nerd/jock.  Breaker High was notable for having two homoromantic pairs: the nerd  Sean (Ryan Gosling) was paired with the schemer Jimmy (Tyler Labine); and the jock Max (Scott Vicaryous) was paired with the ethnic minority Alex (Kyle Alisharam).

These pairs often enjoyed emotional bonds much more intense than those of their knee-jerk heterosexual romances.  Plots often involved threats to their relationships.  For instance, on Breaker High, Alex and Max break up, and Jimmy jumps at the chance to befriend the hot jock.  But then he realizes where his true affections lie and returns to Sean.

But at the same time, they constantly patroled the boundaries of their relationship, evoking and rejecting the possibility of homoromance in joke after joke, episode after episode.  The studio audience usually responded with hysterical laughter: they knew exactly what was not being mentioned.

Beefcake, buddy-bonding, and borderline homophobia.  What else could a gay teen want from a Saturday morning teencom?