The New Class – The Seemingly Superior Spin-Off

Saved by the Bell was a phenomenon no one was expecting, but one that didn’t catch on in its first incarnation — Good Morning Miss Bliss. Once the program was re-tweaked, the core version of the show only ran for four seasons, and it was clear there was room for more. After the kids graduated and went Hawaiian Style, fans were given two spin-off series. One of these was where the bulk of the cast was intended to spend their College Years, but that only lasted one season. The group was given their proper sendoff with a Wedding in Las Vegas and a couple of guest spots before returning to the roles years later. That secondary offspring was largely written off by many fans. However, while the original cast struggled to keep their spot, The New Class took Bayside to incredible heights.

If we’re looking at the numbers, Saved by the Bell proper ran for 86 episodes over 4 seasons. The New Class continued on much longer, lasting 143 episodes and running seven seasons. Some speculate that the show was only meant to go for two or three seasons, based on the original contracts. The sixth and seventh seasons are only 13 episodes instead of 26 (just like the first season) due to them splitting the last batch to let the program run longer.

The New Class was considered successful, generating a ton of merchandise, including a board game as well as a 10-novel book series. The ratings were rock solid, especially after the initial season. Though some fans felt slighted by these new students at their high school, the show did bring in more viewers who were just learning about SbtB via re-runs, as well as an audience that wasn’t familiar with the original cast at all but connected with the fresh faces.

Much like its predecessor struggled in the time with Miss Bliss, the first 13-episode season of The New Class was accused of being a carbon copy of its namesake. The new pupils acted as watered-down stand-ins of the previous tenants.

Scott Erikson fills the role of the new Zack, a charismatic schemer who’s a bit of a gutter human. Thomas “Tommy D” De Luca is a less likeable and dumber version of Slater, while Lindsay Warner is Kelly with an attempt at more depth. Megan Jones and Vicki Needleman have traits similar to Lisa and Jessie, but fit less into those molds. Most remember Barton “Weasel” Wyzell, who acted as the new Screech. Though some fans who hung around from the previous run appreciated the familiarity, the producers were smart enough to realize that wouldn’t work long-term and shook the cast up.

Over the years, some of the actors were fired or simply let go, others opted not to re-sign, and a few left due to personal reasons. But for any fans who thought having Tori show up in random episodes was confusing, trying to follow this group of kids could require a flow chart. The second season saw an overhaul of the sets, and began a trend of adding new re-tooled characters without making much mention of where the previous cast members went.

I won’t name all of the performers who graced the halls of Bayside, but there are several talented people who became a part of the SbtB family and went on to have extensive careers. Isaac Lidsky (Weasel) certainly has the most interesting story outside of acting. Actors like Bianca Lawson (Megan), Jonathan Angel (Tommy D), Natalia Cigliuti (Lindsay), and Sarah Lancaster (Rachel Meyers) all stand out in various ways and leave solid impressions on the show.

There are a few duds, but the only addition that felt completely off was Christian Oliver as Brian Keller, another Zack-like who happened to be a foreign exchange student and was hard to like. I suppose the showrunners noticed that too, because he was only around for the second season. He soon returned back home to Switzerland with no one remembering him.  

The two mainstays of course are Dennis Haskins as Principal Richard Belding and his new assistant as of season two, Samuel “Screech” Powers, once again played by Dustin Diamond after the end of The College Years. Haskins is incredible as always and has chemistry with the new cast while dialing his kookiness up a notch. Diamond’s return helped the show and some episodes show off his talents while others see him get a bit too weird and goofy.

These two pillars of SbtB become their own side duo, sometimes in grating ways, but they are also likely part of how it ran for so long. A few of the old teachers return for brief appearances as well as a ton of notable guest stars that have since become quite famous. We also see some recognizable names of several behind-the-scenes talents that stayed on or returned as well.

Members of the original cast including Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack), Lark Voorhies (Lisa), and Mario Lopez (Slater) ended up making a guest appearance or two and occasionally showing up in flashback clips. A few of their real-life and character names were also used with new characters to pay homage to the stars who paved the way. The old cast apparently did promos with the group of kids from season one, but these reportedly only aired during a re-showing of Hawaiian Style and seem to be difficult to find now.

Characters weren’t the only thing revisited in this spin-off. Before season two’s revamp the original sets were used along with a few additional outdoor shots and more pre-recorded footage. The kids are constantly doing ‘adventure’ episodes, making it seem like they were never in school. They notably visited Cal U, the site of the other spin-off, and it appears those sets were later redecorated for additional vacation segments as well. The group received several versions of their own Malibu Sands-style summer job breaks with escapades at the Palisade Hills Country Club, Gold Canyon Ranch, Sleepy Mountain Ski Lodge, France, a cruise ship, space camp, and more, but my favorite tales like these are located in the mall.

There is also some criticism lobbed at the show for revisiting so many plots similar to the original show. Even within just The New Class episodes, previously established elements were ignored, which is normal for sitcoms to have a stern status quo to return to after each storyline. But like their predecessor, this series wasn’t always aired in production order, making things even more confusing. Combine that with the rotating class and this show truly did try and give viewers the feel of being a teacher at Bayside — watching everything old become new again, just with different kids trying the same tricks.

The New Class may be a bit more risqué than the original show. Both had male stars go shirtless and their female performers appear in bathing suits and other tight outfits, but this iteration seemed to do that quite often, showing a lot more midriff, and allowing for some extra sexually suggestive jokes. Nothing ever goes too far and this new take on the school was arguably aimed at a wider age range, but the themes discussed over the larger number of episodes do seem to be a bit heavier. Yes, there were also still a couple of culturally inappropriate jokes and characters dressing up in stereotypical outfits of people from other countries. It almost feels like it wouldn’t be SbtB without those problematic elements.  

This sounds like a mountain of negatives against the show, but for those who loved the original, so much of this series works. It’s easy to root for several of the new kids, even if they don’t stick around, and though not every scene is as snappy as it could be the chemistry builds quickly and the events feel familiar in a positive way. There are a lot of episodes, but I kept finding myself wanting to watch more to see what else happened. Just because it has a lot of things to point out doesn’t mean I’m entertained any less. It’s less of a guilty pleasure and more exploration and history. 

I’m not alone in this, as the show was reportedly doing well leading into its last two seasons. Even at the end, NBC was looking at two other potential spin-offs and there was even a play in the works. None of that came to pass, but the franchise certainly lived on, even spawning the continuation series in 2020. The New Class had left showrunners and executives confident. So why is it so largely ignored now? Most fans seem to have either forgotten the follow-up series or shun it, while the network rarely mentions it and doesn’t even have it available to stream anywhere. 

It’s a shame. The New Class made the grade the studio wanted. They put in the effort and brought a lot of school spirit, surpassing their elders in some ways. Still — they just couldn’t compete after high school.