10 Mind-Boggling Saved By the Bell Fan Theories

Elizabeth Berkley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen, Ed Alonzo, Dustin Diamond, Dennis Haskins, Mario Lopez, and Lark Voorhies in Saved by the Bell.
Elizabeth Berkley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen, Ed Alonzo, Dustin Diamond, Dennis Haskins, Mario Lopez, and Lark Voorhies in Saved by the Bell.
NBC Universal, Inc.

Thirty years ago, on August 20, 1989, Saved by the Bell aired its series premiere on NBC. The first episode introduced us to Zack Morris, Kelly Kapowski, A.C. Slater, Lisa Turtle, Jessie Spano, and Samuel “Screech” Powers, six freshmen navigating high school in the fictional Los Angeles neighborhood of Palisades. Like most teenagers, they stressed about homework, harbored crushes, and got into plenty of hijinks. But if you thought Saved by the Bell was about a bunch of kids eating burgers at The Max and teasing their hair to the ceiling, guess again.

According to certain fans on the internet, the beloved ‘90s sitcom isn’t the cheerful, cheesy show it appears to be—it’s something much more sinister. These theories claim that murderers and eco-terrorists are wandering the halls of Bayside High, along with a certain foul-mouthed superhero.

In honor of the sitcom’s 30th anniversary, here are 10 of the strangest and most interesting Saved by the Bell fan theories, none of which explain Slater’s spandex collection.

1. The entire series was all just Zack Morris's dream.

When it comes to conspiracy theories, “it was all just a dream” is an old classic. The idea that a main character dreamed the entire show has been used to explain series ranging from Friends to The Walking Dead. And back in 2012, Saved by the Bell got its own spin on that trope. 

The theory, which was popularized by Cracked, claims that Zack Morris imagined all four seasons as a way to feel better about himself. In his fantasy, he’s the most popular guy in school—the kind of teen who can charm his way out of any situation and win over any girl he likes. This is a far cry from the Zack Morris we see in Good Morning, Miss Bliss, the middle school forerunner to Saved by the Bell, which aired on the Disney Channel from 1988 to 1989. On that show, Zack lives with divorced parents and a brother in Indiana, where he cooks up schemes that often fall apart and struggles to connect with his crushes. According to the Cracked theory, this Zack dreams up his Saved by the Bell alter ego, a cool California kid with happily married parents and no siblings to steal the attention.

2. Jessie Spano killed a duck.

In the season 3 episode “Pipe Dreams,” Bayside High meets Becky. She’s not a new transfer student or a teacher; she’s a duck. Becky is quickly embraced by the school, but tragedy strikes when oil discovered underneath the football field spills into her pond, killing her and teaching the kids an important lesson about environmentalism. All plans to drill the football field for oil are immediately canceled, much to the relief of student activist Jessie Spano. Which leads us to the next logical question: did Jessie have something to do with Becky’s death? Few people cared about her anti-drilling campaign before the oil spill, since everyone was too busy imagining what they would do with Big Oil money. Engineering an eco-disaster would definitely prove her point, and as any Saved by the Bell fan knows, Jessie will go to extraordinary lengths to do just that.

3. Zack can warp time.

Slater might be the football star, but only Zack can call timeouts. It’s a beloved Saved by the Bell quirk: whenever Zack feels like pausing the action, he’ll say “timeout” and literally freeze the other characters in place, giving him a chance to break the fourth wall and talk to the audience. But are Zack’s “timeouts” real, or just a fun narrative device? It’s a matter of considerable debate on Reddit, where many fans insist that Zack is not only warping time, but subjecting himself and others to dire consequences. Some say he’s shaving years off his life, while others claim he’s splintering off new realities.

4. Good Morning, Miss Bliss and Saved By the Bell exist in alternate timelines.

Could Zack’s time freezing explain the disconnect between Good Morning, Miss Bliss and Saved by the Bell? At least one fan believes all those timeouts messed with Zack’s reality, leading to the creation of a totally new timeline. While the old Zack attended school in Indiana with characters unique to Good Morning, Miss Bliss (as well as crossovers Lisa, Screech, and Mr. Belding), the new Zack goes to Bayside with brand new people like Kelly and Slater. It’s just another rupture in the time-space continuum, brought to you by a teen who didn’t want to get punched.

5. Mr. Belding is a murderer who moved to California to distance himself from the scene of the crime.

Another explanation for the jump from Indiana to California? Murder. According to this unifying theory, Mr. Belding (accidentally?) pushed Miss Bliss to her death at the end of Good Morning, Miss Bliss, and Lisa, Screech, and Zack were the only witnesses. To keep them quiet, Belding promised them "scholarships" to a school in California, where he also got a job. That way, he would never lose track of them—or have to answer for his crimes.

6. The opening credits contain subliminal messages.

Like so many conspiracy theories, this one was inspired by True Detective. If you’ll recall back in season 1 of the HBO series, Rust Cohle and Marty Hart became obsessed with the gruesome murder of Dora Lange, whose body was found covered in antlers, twine, and weird symbols. One of those symbols looks a bit like the very ‘90s squiggle in the opening credits to Saved by the Bell. Supposedly, it’s a signifier of change, with some vague connections to death. Could it mean someone on Saved by the Bell—perhaps Zack?—has been dead the whole time? The idea that Bayside High is Zack’s afterlife isn’t all too different from the dream theory, but there’s admittedly a lot less evidence to back it up.

7. Zack is Deadpool.

What do Zack Morris and Deadpool have in common? Actually, kind of a lot. They both love scheming, breaking the fourth wall, cracking jokes, and their brunette girlfriends—which is why one Redditor sees Saved by the Bell as a strangely wholesome prequel to Deadpool. The stories supposedly connect after the show, when Zack’s marriage to Kelly has fallen apart. He joins the military to find a new purpose and changes his name to Wade Wilson for a fresh start. But soon he develops cancer, joins an experimental treatment program, and becomes disfigured in the process. He emerges as Deadpool, a superhero who, like Zack Morris, enjoys Mexican cuisine.

8. The show is all somehow connected to The Beatles' "A Day in the Life."

According to one Saved by the Bell obsessive, the sitcom is an extension of The Beatles’ iconic song “A Day in the Life"—specifically, the peppy Paul McCartney part. In his verse, McCartney describes rushing to get ready in the morning. He has to fall out of bed, grab his hat, and “ma[k]e the bus in seconds flat,” which all sounds pretty similar to the lyrics of the Saved by the Bell theme song. The music that follows McCartney’s verse is, the theory goes, The Beatles' attempt to mimic the sound of running to “the corner just in time to see the bus fly by.”

9. Screech became Bill Gates.

This theory comes straight from the show’s executive producer, Peter Engel. In an interview with TVLine, Engel claimed that Screech would likely be Bill Gates today, while Slater would probably be a high school football coach and Zack might be a game show host or hedge fund manager. As for the ladies? “Lisa would probably be Vera Wang, or a buyer at Neiman Marcus,” he suggested. “Jessie would have just lost to Donald Trump.” Then there’s Kelly Kapowski, who wound up marrying Zack one year after their high school graduation. According to Engel, she would’ve divorced him long ago, but remarried, had a couple of kids, and started her own cooking show.

10. Zack's dad works with American Psycho's Patrick Bateman.

This theory all boils down to a single photo, but Mr. Morris does look like he’d feel right at home in the offices of Pierce & Pierce.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER