LOS ANGELES, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Like the original, The Peacock's reimagining of Saved by the Bell uses comedy to raise awareness of issues that teenagers face.
The classic series, which aired from 1989 to 1992 and spawned a 1993-2000 spinoff, followed a group of students at Bayside High. The reimagining, which touches on more serious issues, brings back the original cast, now adults, and adds their children as students at Bayside.
The '90s sitcom presented the comedy through the eyes of Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who reprises his role). Creator Tracey Wigfield (The Mindy Project, Great News, 30 Rock) presents her Saved By the Bell reimagining through the eyes of students from lower-income Douglas High, who get bussed to Bayside after budget cuts shut down their school.
"It felt like a fun way in through the eyes of three more normal, grounded kids walking into this place that could only exist in a Saturday morning television show," Wigfield told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
New characters in Saved By the Bell include the Douglas students Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Pena), Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez) and Devante (Dexter Darden). Their two-hour bus ride requires them to wake up at 5 a.m.
The 21-year-old Pascual-Pena said she related to the Douglas to Bayside commute, since she commuted from the Bronx, N.Y., to Westchester County to the north in high school.
"I think it's important to know that that's a very real issue for a lot of kids, having to go to other schools in other communities for the opportunity of a better education," Pascual-Pena said. "They are up at that time in the morning for practice or just trying to get to school."
One of the students Aisha meets at Bayside is Mac Morris (Mitchell Hoog). Mac is the son of Zack Morris and his wife, former high school sweetheart Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen).
Mac takes after his father, as both Morrises employ a new, wild scheme in every episode. However, Zack's exploits in the '90s were mainly motivated by self-interest -- to get out of homework assignments or raise his profile at Bayside. Hoog, 21, said the Douglas students inspire Mac to use his assets for the greater good.
"I think we realize that we can use our privilege for the better," Hoog said. "When the new kids do come in, it pops that bubble and expands our vision."
Hoog said Mac is not just a carbon copy of Zack. Even though he has the same blond coifed hair as Zack, Hoog says Mac is balanced by his mother's influence.
"I have a soft side that I get from my mom that is Zack's Achilles heel," Hoog said.
Another son of original characters is Jamie Spano (Belmont Cameli). His mother is the ambitious salutatorian and sometimes caffeine pill addict Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley). Cameli, 22, said Jamie takes after his mother, valuing friendship and loyalty. However, he is not the astute student Jessie was.
"He's oblivious to stuff that happens right in front of him, but he keeps on chugging," Cameli said. "He's always got a smile on his face. He's got a great big heart, so what he lacks in common sense, he makes up with this great emotional intelligence."
One new issue facing the students of Bayside is social media, which did not exist when the original series aired, Cameli said.
"High schoolers today deal with a lot of pressures from the Internet," Cameli said. "We see that a lot at Bayside."
For example, the Bayside students use tablets, smartphones and apps to coordinate extra-curricular activities. This raises another difference between Bayside and Douglas students, since many of the Douglas students cannot afford such accessories.
Velazquez, 25, said the social and monetary differences lead to comic situations. However, those differences can also teach the Bayside students not to take their advantages for granted.
"It's a really fine line because it does touch on these very sensitive topics, but also in a comical way," Velazquez said. "This is real, and we can do something about it, and then enjoy ourselves after we solve whatever's happening."
Wigfield included most of the original Saved By the Bell students, now grown-up, in her reimagining. Former athlete A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) now is the Bayside High football coach. Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) became governor of California, so he's responsible for the Douglas budget cuts. Elizabeth Berkley returns as Jessie Spano, now the Bayside High guidance counselor.
"Of course, Jessie would do that," Berkley said. "She was always giving advice and guiding her friends. What a perfect way to come back."
Jessie's career path mirrors Berkley's. Since 2006, her Ask-Elizabeth foundation has answered questions from girls ages 11 to 18 and developed self-esteem programs to empower them. Although she no longer runs a website, Berkley still speaks to students and hopes Saved By the Bell can complement her real-life work.
"It was so in alignment," Berkley said. "That part meant a lot to me."
Berkley said she now focused on being a mother, with occasional guest-starring roles on shows like New Girl. Now that her son is 8, the 48-year-old actor/producer felt it made sense to reprise her iconic role in a new context.
"The full circle moment of coming back in this show since becoming a mother, to then play a mother, it all felt so right," Berkley said.
Peacock released photos confirming that Lark Voorhies would reprise her role of Bayside's wealthy socialite, Lisa Turtle, in an episode. Wigfield said her show only alludes to what Dustin Diamond's character, Screech, has done since high school.
"We really have to focus on the new class, investing time in them," Wigfield said. "Otherwise, you don't have any reason to be invested and want to keep watching stories about the new cast."
Saved By the Bell premieres Wednesday on Peacock.