Friday, August 15, 2014

the worst episode of Saved by the Bell (for women in wheelchairs at least)

So you all know that I am obsessed with 90s popular culture, so it should be no shock that I am an ardent follower to a weekly Saved By the Bell podcast called Go Bayside. [Tangent: If you aren't already loyally following Go Bayside...now is the perfect time. In each podcast, comedienne April Richardson invites a comedian friend to her LA apartment...they watch an episode of SBTB and then dissect it for about an hour to my delight.] Anyway, a while back, I was texting back and forth with my friend Ryan after listening to the Teen Line  episode.....you know like normal 30 something adults do. [Tangent: You may remember my friend Ryan as F*%$able Milhouse from this blog. It is still my favorite story ever and I remind him of it A LOT...for which he probably hates me. How could I not love the fact that a straight friend of mine was fetishized on an adult gay tumblr for his (no offense) decidely unsexy Halloween costume?] Saying "teen line episode" may not narrow it down because that kind of event is just a normal fancy for the Bayside gang..but if I said the episode where Zack dates a chick in a wheelchair...a light bulb would go off, no?

In the midst of our textchange, I revealed that in my future life story, this episode would take up a whole chapter. It is probably one of the three events in my life that temporarily made me lose all faith in humanity.  There is so much wrong with it that it hurts my heart and probably made me afraid to date anyone till my 20s. [Tangent: I know...I know...it seems absurd to be dejected in life by a TNBC series. (and if I did it should have been California Dreams or City Guys.)  You would think I would be thrilled to bits that 90s Adonis Zack Morris decided to date a girl in a chair, but bummer- he treats her like a total martian and that dating her is some kind of bizarre Make-a -Wish. Long story short, in 22 minutes,.Peter Engel ruined my childhood and adolescence. Listening to this podcast totally reminded me of it!] Because my friends are as weird as I am, Ryan immediately was like, "WE HAVE TO LIVE BLOG IT!!!"...so we decided to watch it on Netflix and Facebook chat while we watched it. [Tangent: Everything about that prior sentence would have been gobbletygook in the early 90s when the show was in it's hey day.] He wanted to do a co-blog, and I love a new challenge [Tangent:...and any excuse to mention F#@$able Milhouse.] so here are some things that really bugged us during the episode. Ryan's hangups are important like plot line and realism ...mine are mostly wheelchair inaccuracies and just overall fashion related issues.  [Tangent:  For example, I admire the Bayside gang's attempts to sex up a Hanes sweatsuit, but it is not successful.]

 Ryan's conclusion after watching: 

"I don't like how the teen line is part of school...or is it after school? And they have no training.... Lisa proves they have no training by making fat jokes to a girl insecure about her weight! So, they create the teen line and get the word out about it in one day! ONE DAY! aragr;ahg;akhg;sagha;gh1! Tommy needs parents or an elementary school and not to follow Screech around all day....and tall girl would have NO problems getting dates because she's a f^#$ing supermodel! Furthermore, paying for 5 extra wheelchairs, ill fitting sweatsuits and a F$%ING DANCE is not a way to keep a few phone lines connected indefinitely"

While his mind was reeling, I was just getting irate. So I know SBTB is not the bastion of realism, but there were many issues I had, which I choose to screenshot and address for you below.

1. Not only was I fuming at Zack for lierally saying, "YOU ARE IN A WHEELCHAIR." when he met Melissa for the first time, I was equally frustrated with Melissa, Zack's Teen Line blind date. Why did she not mention that she was disabled? Sure, in an ideal world, we would see what is on the inside that counts and yadda yadda, but for real that's a hell of a bomb to drop on a love prospect. I guess I can't fault her, she was just 35 17 after all.

Additionally, the ruse was quite elaborate to pull the wool over Zack's eyes. The Max, which never has table cloths, suddenly has one....which happens to be atop the table where Melissa is sitting. HOW CONVENIENT! [Tangent: Also, the Max is not accessible, so I am assuming there is an additional back entrance or one of the servers helped her navigate that stair. I mean you would really hate to make the Max aesthetically unpleasing by adding a ramp, right? It might draw attention from that lightning bolt door handle.] Also note how she is facing outward and has a sweater to cover her handlebars. Bravo, Melissa. Stand up camouflage job [Tangent: Pun not intended!]  How long does she think she can conceal this?

 2. This wheelchair basketball game is a shit show. The whole reason they have it is because they are inspired by their new token friend in a wheelchair and they think that by renting wheelchairs and playing for the maybe 16 people in this matchbox sized gym, they will keep the teen line open. [Tangent: THE GYM IS SO SO SMALL! I mean I know it is television, but just the idea of having that many chairs milling around in high speeds in such a tiny area concerns me. I shared an apartment with two other wheelchair users in college and trust me, that was tight! Even the prospect of this ballyhoo below makes me cringe.] I admire their passion, but even when I was 10, I knew this was a TERRIBLE idea. I am hoping the wheelchairs were donated because those are not hospital issue chairs, they would be pricey to rent and thus cut into the money they are raising. 

 3. This whole weird charade at the end....Zack clearly is not interested in her. He has treated her like a martian the entire episode. Inherently he knows that it is a complete dick move to break up with her because of her disability, so he makes all these gallant gestures to prove that she is accepted. UGH!!! THIS WHOLE THING MAKES ME SO MAD! [Tangent: Not unlike Kristy Barnes the female wrestler or the chubby girl Wendy who bid on Zack at the date auction, we will never hear from Melissa again. Her one episode arc morality play was over. ] I have been Melissa. I have been that girl that is pining over some dude [Tangent: Maybe wearing head to toe denim on denim...maybe not.], and that guy is afraid to come off rude so just opts to lead me on instead. To put it simply, it sucked.




 So why has this episode haunted me so?  I can honestly recall being embarassed watching it as a child and if this was what dating was like, I dreaded it. Pop culture was my greatest teacher as a kid, and I just assumed for the greater part of my adolescence and teen year this was how love worked. I am glad, since then, I have learned otherwise.  

15 comments:

  1. I had no idea Saved By The Bell had the cliche "wheelchair episode," and this just sounds terrible. Love that you wrote about it, because it show the media seems to do this from one teen show to the next.

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  2. I can't believe I never saw this episode. Love your cliff notes. Looks like a hot mess. Ugh.

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  3. oh yeah...it is a doozy! I was obsessed with the show when I was little, so that episode always really bummed me out!!

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  4. It's on netflix! You need to watch it and report back!

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  5. In preparing for our discussion I discovered that Melissa is now married to Kyle from the Terminator and she's been naked in pretty much everything she's done since this episode.

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  6. Although I was older than you when I saw this episode, I remember it well. I also remember noticing the steps even before the "wheelchair episode". The high school was in violation on Federal Law - both the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act! I think I even mentioned the fact to Manny that I guess the Producers of the show muct assume that their audience is stupid! I also didn't like the whole premise of the episode. Especially, I didn't like the way Zack treated her and that none of his friends called him out about it. I also think it upset me so much was because I had also been that girl. Only the guy I was goo goo over talked to me on the phone for weeks until he finally asked me on a date and never showed up opting instead to take another able bodied girl to the movie theater. So, all my friends who had talked me through my nerves and actually were also going to THE (only) movie theater with their dates got to see him show up without me but not alone. That night, I sat and waited until 10pm and finally gave up and went to bed, humiliated. The next school day was even worse than watching my parents watch their daughter get stood up. Watching that episode was a little bit like having PTSD and hearing a balloon pop.

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  7. And appearing in friends till the end with Shannon Doherty and one of the London brothers

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  8. Exactly!!! It was so upsetting! Even when I was younger I could sense how patronizing it was! I don't get up in arms about a lot of portrayals of disability...except this one

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  9. Not that Glee is a really great show anymore, but it was refreshing to see their character Artie be treated not as a novelty but as a person, who dates girls with and without chairs, has fun, is smart/talented, can get down, not to be pitied, etc.


    My only question for Kimmie is, should they only cast actors in chairs to play characters in chairs?

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  10. Ha! I am not the expert on all things wheelchair, and some people care about a lot more stuff than I do. I don't care about casting. I know some people get all up in arms about it, but seriously I think that seems a little harsh. I mean Dustin Hoffman played Rain Man beautifully and was not an autistic savant. I understand the argument that there are a lack of roles, but I really don't care at all either way. I tend not to get too hung up on things like that.

    And I agree Artie was great because he was fully formed.

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  11. Hilarious write-up, and I adore your friend's costume and its reprecussions!

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  12. Ugh.... I had blocked this out! Thanks for digging up that repressed memory.... Episodes like this are the reason I'm on edge any time a character appears on the screen with a wheelchair. My defenses shoot up... And I was always afraid of finding myself in an awkward situation like this one, so all my crushes stayed hidden in my head. I didn't want to give anyone a chance to feel guilty about rejecting me. Ugh....

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  13. I knew you would relate!!! I think all wheelchair girls in our age group were somehow damaged by this episode. I tense up too! I worry that it's gonna be this same "after school special " bs

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  14. It makes you wonder... Did it ever occur to the writers or anyone involved in the show, that people in wheelchairs watch the show? How did they imagine us responding to this trainwreck? And then there's all the people who grew up watching this stuff, and now expect us to be their personal, real life, after school special! Though to be fair, it's not just wheelchairs. I also tense up when the media portrays Mormons... I think I just need my own tv show, portray myself the way I want to be portrayed. :)

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