This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
- The Flight Attendant is good!
- The Saved By the Bell reboot is also good!
- I Hate Suzie? Good, too.
- How To With John Wilson? More like How To Be Good With John Wilson.
- And also a drunk lady.
Peacock’s Saved By the Bell is so much smarter than it has any right to be. It’s to the point that about midway through watching the first episode, I wanted to stare into the camera I sometimes like to think is recording my life as a television series, call a timeout, and directly address the audience Zack Morris-style, asking, “Is this for real?”
Like a true American, I spent the week of Thanksgiving just watching endless television, eager to recommend the best of the glut of new options that either came out in the last few weeks or arrived onto my radar. I was not expecting the Saved By the Bell reboot to maybe be the best of them.
There’s an undeniable creative virus plaguing Hollywood, mutated by the rise of competing streaming services that’s led to an unprecedented spike in reboots, revivals, reimaginations, and other such maladies of originality. For all the attention they receive, good or bad, their half-lives are surprisingly bleak.
Most never live past the initial interest in bringing back the nostalgic property, or are quickly exposed as having little justification for existing past whatever cute gimmicks are written in the first few episodes to explain how and why it’s back.
How, then, is Saved By the Bell, a ’90s children show that, while fondly remembered by millennials, would likely be deemed too cheesy by today’s kids, the one that managed an entire full season that worked? Interestingly, after the creative success of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, some of the cleverest reboots have been in the “youth” space, finding unexpected ways to feel the same but also so new.
It’s mastered the thing where a reboot like this needs to merely glance at the original work—a wink can be seismic when it comes to nostalgia—before establishing its own identity. The new Saved By the Bell feels fresh and modern. There are levels of metaness when it comes not just to the returning cast members (Mario Lopez, Elizabeth Berkeley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Tiffani Amber-Thiessen are all back) but to the ways in which the original SBTB created a mold that the new one sets out to explode.
It’s diverse and irreverent. It’s shrewd to make Haskiri Velazquez the new Zack Morris, as she’s maybe the most watchable of the new leading ladies on 2020 TV. And Josie Totah, playing basically a teenage Jenna Maroney, is a S-T-A-R.
But the most important thing is that the new Saved By the Bell’s got jokes. Really great, sharp, pop-culture-layered jokes.
The Best Performance on TV Right Now
Watching I Hate Suzie was like having a nervous breakdown as an appetizer to a panic attack after cringing your way through a near-fatal case of second-hand mortification. The only way to get through it is to watch the entire series in one sitting, which you are somehow physically compelled to do the second you press play. It’s like some sort of contract you didn’t know you signed, but it’s binding.
The key to the HBO Max series is the compelling performance of star Billie Piper. She plays Suzie Pickles, a former child star whose shot at a career reinvention is foiled when a hack surfaces photos of her engaging in a sex act with a man who’s not her husband.
It’s 2020, so it’s not necessarily that that blows things up for her. There are people orbiting her life working intensely to navigate the newly charted waters of revenge porn and privacy attacks, putting the violation in perspective and helping her through it. It’s Suzie who can’t stop making things worse, putting her foot in her mouth so many times that at one point in the series she literally has to buy more shoes to do it.
Piper is so good at making you squirm that I wonder if people aren’t going to realize what a complicated performance she’s giving. She’s owed accolades. Pop a Xanax, press play, and see for yourself.
After everyone I know and respect—including The Daily Beast’s own Matt Wilstein—has said, “Hey, you should watch How To With John Wilson, it is truly excellent,” I watched How To With John Wilson. It is truly excellent.
Each episode of the short-run HBO docuseries finds Wilson behind the camera examining the mechanisms of a seemingly innocuous New York City-centric thing—why is there so much scaffolding, how do you cover an armchair in plastic—and, at a pace that is soothing and meandering, uncovering something unexpectedly profound about the humanity that pulses at the heart of this city.
It’s like those Sesame Street mini-documentaries that would air in between Elmo’s screeching and the fun songs, but for adults: transfixing, informative, and illuminating. The season finale, which came out last week, may have been the most affecting episode of TV about adapting to life under the pandemic that I’ve seen yet. Normally, I’d scare you away from COVID-related programming. But that episode is worth seeking out.
That not even Rudy Giuliani audibly farting during his testimony could eclipse the level of hilarity that came from the Michigan lady who seemed to arrive as Team Trump’s “witness” to election fraud straight from mainlining Dollaritas at the local Applebee’s speaks to just how insane the whole ordeal was. I will never get enough of watching it, or of comedians like Megan Stalter and Kylie Brakeman parodying her.
If Cecily Strong doesn’t do Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party on SNL this weekend in homage, we riot Sunday at dawn.
Black Bear: Welcome to the Aubrey Plazaissance. (Friday on VOD)
Mank: Not since Trumbo have I been less interested in a movie based on its title; however, this one is good. (Friday on Netflix)
Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special: Important! (Friday on Apple TV+)
A Holly Dolly Christmas: Iconic! (Sunday on CBS)
Let Them All Talk: The Holy Trinity—Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, and Dianne Wiest—take a cruise. (Thursday on HBO Max)
Your Honor: So generic you’ll think you already watched it and forgot. (Sunday on Showtime)
Godmothered: Why have we failed Isla Fisher so? (Friday on Disney+)