Praisery

Zack Morris is a Small-Scale Reality Warper

By evanstewart in Praisery

Few television characters have deceived audiences about their true nature as successfully as “Saved by the Bell’s” Zack Morris, a reckless chronomancer with an affinity for evil.

“Saved by the Bell” was a youth-oriented sitcom about six hip kids attending California’s Bayside High School. Prior to the proper launch of “Saved by the Bell,” however, three of the show’s protagonists—nerdy Screech Powers, sassy Lisa Turtle and preppy Zack—attended middle school in Indiana. Zack’s diverse clique was so popular that it exclusively comprised all extracurriculars. They rarely included other students in their activities, although during their senior year they allowed one new girl to hang out with them. Like “LOST,” “Saved by the Bell” grew more and more surreal as the series progressed, and, like “LOST,” the show ended without resolving all of its mysteries. Dozens of grand, enduring mysteries continue to confound any observant fan of “Saved by the Bell,” but almost all of them fall under one of four blanket questions:

  1. How is it that Zack, Screech, Lisa and Mr. Belding all attended the same middle school in Indiana, only to end up at the same high school in Bayside for their freshman year?
  2. How could Zack have been friends with Jessie Spano and Kelly Kapowski since childhood, when they lived in California while he lived in Indiana?
  3. Why did Jessie and Kelly abruptly disappear halfway during their senior year of high school, and then reappear right at the end? Did them vanishing have something to do with new student Tori Scott?
  4. Finally, how was Zack Morris able to stop time?

There are possible, albeit implausible, explanations for the first three of these mysteries—after all, it’s not unheard of that characters move and cease discussing their old lives, as is prone to happen to people who enter Witness Protection—but none of these material explanations can explain Zack’s mysterious time-tampering ability. In fact, the key to answering these other mysteries may lie in Zack’s chronomancy. Therefore, I posit to you this: Zack Morris is a small-scale reality warper.

Those unfamiliar with comic book science might not know the term “reality warper.” Basically, it’s the most potent ability a supe can possess. In the Marvel Universe, characters with the ability to manipulate reality often threaten the entirety of existence. Their ranks include Franklin Richards, son of the Fantastic Four’s premiere couple, and the Scarlet Witch, daughter of Magneto. Reality warpers are a threat sometimes considered too dangerous to live, and storylines involving them often include frank discussions about the ethics of murdering an otherwise decent person to prevent their power from going haywire.

For a more relevant example, consider Little Anthony from the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “It’s a Good Life.” For those who happened to make it through their life unscarred by this horrifying half-hour of television, “It’s a Good Life” is the story of a six-year-old mutant boy named Anthony Fremont who has the ability to alter reality to his heart’s desire. Those who cross the predictably bratty Anthony can be disposed of with a mere thought—although those who die quickly are probably the lucky ones. Others, Anthony grotesquely transforms into hideous abominations like human jack-in-the-boxes before being sent to “the Cornfield,” the final resting place of all of Anthony’s victims. “It’s a Good Life” bothered me on an indescribable level as a child, and persisted with me until my middle school years when I discovered the wonders of crappy, Saturday morning soap operas, segueing perfectly into “Saved by the Bell.”

If Anthony Fremont is Franklin Richards if Franklin were completely evil, then Zack Morris is Franklin Richards if he were a completely evil teenager. A Midwesterner like Anthony, Zack never grew out of his Terrible Twos and continued manipulating his peers to his own ends through adolescence. He repeatedly coerced his friends into crazy schemes that bolstered his bloated self-image. On one occasion, for instance, Zack attempted to subvert via brainwashing the wills of the women of Bayside High by inserting the subliminal message “Zack Morris is a blond Tom Cruise” into a hit pop song. Although he wasn’t as overtly murderous as Little Anthony, Zack was not above rearranging his subjects into comedic and violent tableaus while time was frozen. His ability to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the viewer also suggested he glimpsed other planes of existence.

Zack’s powers may have not been limited to mere chronal disruption. A being with the ability to pluck at the strings of the space-time continuum could have conceivably possessed the ability to rearrange reality’s most fundamental elements. Someone with this power could have easily uprooted his favorite elements from childhood and transplanted them to his preferred West Coast paradise of Bayside. Fortunately for his middle school pals Lisa and Screech, they made the cut. His other friends Mikey and Nikki, however, did not, and likely ended up enduring eternal torment in the Cornfield. Because of their fear of what might happen to them were they to say anything, Lisa and Screech never mentioned Mikey and Nikki again, lest they invoke Zack’s wrath. Always wanting to live in interesting times, Zack could have intentionally transferred his middle school nemesis Mr. Belding to Bayside as well, just for fun. If you listen closely, you can hear the underlying fear in Mr. Belding’s strained laughter when he crosses paths with Zack. He sounds eerily similar to how Anthony’s parents sounded when congratulating Anthony on how good it was that he killed the birthday boy.

Once in Bayside, Zack created new playthings to make life more interesting. Among them was lifelong crush Kelly Kapowski, whom he referred to as “the girl of his dreams”—something he may have meant literally. Zack also retroactively added another friend to his new world—Jessie Spano, with whom he had now been friends with since they were children. Astute viewers will recall the memories they shared of sneaking out to see “E.T.” on their bikes, and how they were scared. Perennial frenemy A.C. Slater must have been an intentional creation of Zack’s as well; how else could he have gotten away with dancing better than Zack and occasionally assaulting him? Either Slater was blithely unaware of the horror that awaited him should he cross Zack’s path, or he knew he had a free pass.

The final mystery of “Saved by the Bell” was the sudden disappearance of Jessie and Kelly in season four, which coincided neatly with the sudden appearance of Tori. Once again, none of Zack’s inner circle ever mentioned Kelly or Jessie’s absence, despite them being Friends Forever the three previous years. Defiant biker chick Tori, meanwhile, possessed the best traits of both Kelly and Jessie: a smoking-hot brunette, she was also a tough, independent feminist who didn’t need no man to make her happy. Although Zack may have invented Tori from scratch, it’s also possible that, in an act too horrifying to contemplate, he merged Kelly and Jessie into one hybrid entity he dubbed Tori. After growing bored with Tori by the end of their senior year—possibly because her defiant one-up-manship finally frustrated him beyond his breaking point—he split her back into two, thus restoring Kelly and Jessie just in time for graduation. As per usual in Bayside, no one ever mentioned Tori after she was put into the Cornfield—although you could always hear what sounded like fear in both their strained laughter and in the strained laughter of the captive audience.

Of course, Zack Morris’s most impressive achievement was not merely stopping time; he was born with that ability, after all. No, his greatest feat was somehow convincing audiences that he wasn’t basically the grown-up version of one of television’s most evil characters ever. Maybe we were too distracted by all those bright colors.



About

Evan Stewart has been complaining about movies since the age of 14. His cinematic specialty is the genre of horror, both good and bad, although he will insist that horror, like pizza, is always good relative to the rest of what the universe has to offer. He is also a recurring host on the Portland-based film podcast Moviefraud and a regular contributor to Uncannyxmen.net, the internet’s most comprehensive resource about Marvel’s merry mutants. He lives in SW Portland with his boyfriend Greg and a Lhasa Apso named George.

4 Responses to “Zack Morris is a Small-Scale Reality Warper”

  1. Sara Wrye Reply July 9, 2012

    Not to burst your bubble… 
    But this was on the imdb website:
    The final "Graduation" episode had already been shot when the network ordered additional episodes. Tiffani Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley were attached to other projects by that time, necessitating the creation of a replacement character Tori, played by Leanna Creel. The Tori episodes aired in the middle of the other final season episodes to sidestep continuity problems; the "Tori Paradox" was based on the idea that Tori, Kelly and Jessie were all at Bayside at the same time, and simply had different classes and different social interactions with Zach, Slater, Screech and Lisa that never overlapped. 
    Your theory is much more creative though. Nice article once again. I also saw a version of that Twilight Zone episode in the Twilight Zone Movie and it was disturbing, I'm sure the original episode is even more so. 
    Sara 

  2. Evan Reply July 9, 2012

    Thanks for the comment, Sara. I *am* aware of both the in-universe and behind-the-scenes explanations for the Tori Paradox, but unfortunately neither of them can explain the Indiana Paradox, the Retroactive Best Friends Paradox, or Zack's Time-Out power. Also, I find it hard to believe that Tori would have never asked to meet these elusive Kelly and Jessie characters, especially since she was composed of the two of them.
    The "It's a Good Life" story was decently done in the Twilight Zone movie; I think that was Joe Dante of the Gremlins fame directing. The girl with no mouth was particularly shocking. However, it's not nearly disturbing as the original, which ends on such a dismal note that you're left with nothing but a sense of dread. The new one had some corny mentorship ending which negated all the horrible stuff that preceded it. You should check out the old one sometime if you ever get the chance. Great stuff (but it's no Saved by the Bell).

  3. Eric Reply July 13, 2012

    I missed the Saved by the Bell phenom but alway found myself intrigued by what seemed to be the elusive Parker Lewis Can't Lose. Am I remembering it to be more interesting than it actually was?  Evan?  Anyone?

    • Evan Reply July 14, 2012

      Never heard of it til now, but it looks semi-decent. Might be a good show to catch some hungover Saturday morning.

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