Bayside vs. McKinley

"Saved by the Bell" was an after-school staple:  its unrealistic, caricatured, two-dimensional portrayal of high school was ridiculous, beloved, popular, and hugely profitable.  (I have the "Saved By the Bell" board game in my basement if you guys want to come over sometime.  It's kind of College Years-y though)  "Freaks and Geeks," on the other hand, was largely unknown during its original airtime.  Its tender, darkly comic, gritty-but-nostalgic portrayal of high school was under-appreciated; it was shuffled around by its parent networks, censored, and ultimately canceled after only twelve episodes (fans fought for the broadcast of the remaining six).  But all's well that ends well: let's take a little Karma moment to compare how the teen-idol Baysiders have fared compared to Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's misfit Freaks.

First, the Freaks. It seems appropriate to order these actors Best to Worst in view of their subsequent success:

1. James "Dean" Franco: Playing Harry in the Spider-Man movies automatically makes Franco the box-office winner of the Freaks cast. He then starred in some boring movies that got really bad reviews (Tristan and Isolde? What is that?) But he redeemed himself playing Sean Penn's boyfriend in last year's Milk, the Oscar-nominated biopic of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk.  I'd make a Brokeback Mountain joke, but I'm a serious journalist here, you guys.

2. Seth Rogen: Post "Freaks" (and another similarly ill-fated Apatow series "Undeclared"), Rogen had a memorable supporting role in The 40 Year Old Virgin followed by the romantic lead in Apatow's Knocked Up.  But he solidified his career with Superbad, the Rogen-written, Apatow-directed comedy that grossed almost $200 million (it cost $20 million to film).  Rogen made the difficult leap from marginalized, chunky Jewish friend to leading man with relative ease, and got to keep his drug paraphernalia to boot.

3. Jason Segel: Appeared in Knocked Up, but became a full (frontal) star in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a Segel-written, Apatow-directed comedy. (Tidbit: he told Jessie Thorn, host of the radio show "The Sound of Young America," that the Dracula puppet opera had been a sincere creative idea of his that he was repeatedly advised to abandon.) He's also been a main character on "How I Met Your Mother" for the last five years.

3. Busy Philipps: She was on "Dawson's Creek," the College Years for a while playing some character whose name I don't know because I am too cool to watch "Dawson's Creek." Now she's on ABC's hit comedy "Cougar Town," which you might have seen because it comes on after "Modern Family."  Like "Freaks," "Cougar Town" suffers from being under-rated and all but eclipsed by "Modern Family."  But it's just been renewed for another season, and star-power sitcom anchor Courtney Cox may ensure that this show has more staying power and we keep getting Busy.

4. Linda Cardellini: Has had a successful stint on "E.R." as Nurse Samantha Taggart since 1993. Was also "Chutney," the permed step-daughter who confessed to murder under Elle Woods' rigorous cross-examination in Legally Blonde, prompting half of my classmates to apply to law school and all of my friends to completely misunderstand what third year lawyers do.  

5. Samm Levine: Was one of the basterds in Inglourious Basterds

Now for the Bayside alums:

1. Mario Lopez: Hosting "America's Best Dance Crew" (annoyingly called"ABDC" by MTV) and "Dancing With the Stars" shouldn't be the most successful post-Bell move, but it is.

2. Mark-Paul Gosselaar: He was in that one-season show "Hyperion Bay" that every middle school girl watched because Zack was in it. Then he was on "NYPD Blue" for about four years, and now he's on "Raising the Bar." But everyone knows the most successful (and watched) TV appearance he's made since the Bell was on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon"... playing Zack Morris.

3. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen: The other triple-named, spelling nightmare of a co-star played Valerie on Beverly Hills: 90210 (thank you, Aaron Spelling). She made a bunch of TV Movies (including two "Saved By the Bell" movies, Hawaiian Style and Wedding in Las Vegas, both of which I recorded off TBS on a VHS tape if you guys want to watch them sometime.  We can play the board game, too. My mom makes popcorn, seriously, guys, it's fun.)  She's now in the USA show White Collar, which just feels like it's going to be canceled.

4. Elizabeth Berkley: This one shocked Bell fans by appearing nude in Showgirls, a critically-panned slutfest by director Paul Verhoven (RoboCop, Total Recall).  She looked hot, but she acted baaaaad. She was also in The First Wives Club and that new Woody Allen movie that no one saw.

5. Dustin Diamond: Where to begin. First there was his sex tape (Screeched). Then he got into some financial trouble, and like most people facing foreclosure, went on "The Howard Stern Show" selling tee-shirts that said "I paid 15 dollars to help Screeech [sic] save his house." (The extra "e" was to avoid copyright claims on the name.) But, he allegedly failed to deliver purchased tee-shirts, prompting at least one spurned customer to make the website "Dustin Diamond is a Dick." Then he wrote a tell-all book, "Behind the Bell," that is rife with misspellings and other errors. One reviewer put it this way:
"This weekend, I read Dustin 'Screech' Diamond's entire autobiography, 'Behind the Bell'. And I might be the only person who's ever done that.
Literally, the only person. I'm fairly sure no editor actually read it cover-to-cover; on page four we get the sentence "Fuck fame. Allow me to tear down your allusions"... and that sets off a book just riddled with spelling errors, punctuation errors, repeated references to craft services as Kraft services and weird line breaks. On two separate occasions, entire paragraphs are actually repeated"
The Diamonds must be so proud.

It's obvious that the Freaks have achieved fame on a level that none of the Bayside kids could with their made-for-TV movies, canceled dramas, and, shall we say, over-exposure?  Dustin had the right idea when he tried to go back to the Bell for success, but what he didn't understand is that people don't want to see the inner-workings of their favorite TV high school.  No one wants to know that wholesome Kelly Kapowski was secretly smoking weed in her dressing room, or having sex with Zack and Slater (both of which he alleges in his book).  In fact, that sort of realism and imperfection may have been why "Freaks and Geeks" was originally a less successful as a show than "Saved By the Bell," where everyone was a virgin and dope was dope.  We don't want to see the Bayside gang all grown up. We want to remember them the way we loved them, exactly as they were:

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Write comments
April 21, 2010 at 1:51 PM delete

Excellent comparison. Although, I think my favorite post-SBTB role was TAT on the hit show Fast Lane starring Bill Bellamy and Peter Facinelli...especially the episode where she made out with Jaime Pressly in a hot tub.

April 21, 2010 at 9:53 PM delete

Another accomplishment to add to Mark-Paul Gosselaar's list: Emory's Class Day 2010 speaker. For real.

April 29, 2010 at 4:10 PM delete

Dude, Lisa Cardellini was Velma in the live action Scooby Doo movies. Points.

And poor little Sam Weir (aka John Francis Daley)! Kitchen Confidential...Bones...Waiting......all a little better than they have any business being. More points for the freaks.

Also, um...hello?

May 4, 2010 at 2:38 PM delete

Best "where are they now" ever -- also, best study distraction. Thanks :)


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