If you’re a ’90s kid who’s into podcasts now, you NEED to be listening to Zack To The Future.
First off, it features Mark-Paul Gosselaar watching and reacting for the first time to old Saved By The Bell episodes, bringing on special guests and telling never before heard behind-the-scenes stories. That alone would be worth the price of admission. (Which is free, it’s a podcast.)
But it’s worth noting that his podcast co-host is Dashiell Driscoll, the man who first reminded us all that Zack Morris Is Trash in those brutal Funny or Die recap shorts. That should be a good indication that the show is NOT pulling any punches when it comes to talking about what the classic sitcom got wrong. And in this case, WAY wrong.
Zack’s scheming and laziness were often the plot drivers in Saved By The Bell — he was ostensibly supposed to be learning life lessons about what a jerk he was — but combine that with the lack of racial sensitivity for which the ’90s have become infamous, and you get an episode that was a particular low point.
In Running Zack, which was supposed to be the show’s way of teaching kids about race, Zack once again dodges schoolwork by half-assing an assignment about his ancestors. In a total Elizabeth Warren move, he remembers his mother told him he had a “distant Indian relative” and just makes up a presentation with buddy Screech (the late Dustin Diamond) wearing war paint and holding a toy tomahawk. Then his teacher forces him to meet a REAL Native American who teaches him his preconceptions are all ignorant. That would all be fine, except… Zack’s response to learning isn’t to remake his presentation as a sensitive portrayal but rather a WAY more racist one, complete with a full headdress!
And yes, there’s a Zack Morris Is Trash about it.
Speaking on the podcast this week about the episode viewed through 2021 hindsight, Mark-Paul admitted:
“I cringed seeing myself portraying a white dude being Zack Morris, who is, like, the all-American, blonde-haired white dude in an Indian Native American headdress.”
Fun fact: While there’s no denying Zack Morris is the definitive “blonde-haired white dude” of his generation, Mark-Paul is actually of mixed-race descent. No really — he’s half-Asian; his mother is from Indonesia.
Anyway, Gosselaar is obviously right about how cringeworthy the moment is today, and he’s mortified now! Though he doesn’t even remember doing it then:
“This is one of those that I don’t — I don’t remember putting on the headdress. I don’t remember putting face paint on. I don’t remember standing in that awkward way that I was standing where my arms are folded in, like, a very stereotypical way.”
For an overworked kid, it was just another day on set. Oof.
The 47-year-old now co-stars on the Black-ish prequel Mixed-ish as the white father of Tracee Ellis Ross (the show is loosely based on creator Kenya Barris‘ real upbringing), and he makes it clear he would never be a part of something so insensitive these days.
In fact, he doesn’t think anyone would be:
“Again, there are protocols in place and filters that, you know, like, a director, standards and practices. We’re much more sensitive now, for good reason, that those things would not happen today. Like, this episode would never get made in current times, and rightly so.”
What do YOU think about the episode? And what other ’80s and ’90s TV episodes have you seen recently that were WAY over the line? Let us know in the comments (below)!
[Image via NBC/YouTube.]