Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Tori Paradox

I did a double take. I rarely actually do, but I totally did this weekend.

There I was, browsing DVDs, when I spotted a used fifth season set for Saved by the Bell. And I almost kept on going until my brain registered what was so strange about it. See if you can spot it:

saved by the bell season 5 dvd cover tori paradox

Right? Proof that Jessie Spano and Kelly Kapowski do, in fact, exist in the same universe as new girl Tori Scott. I’d always imagined that the last few episodes of Saved by the Bell followed some alternate Bayside timeline in which Jesse and Kelly never existed, hence why no one seems to care about their whereabouts in the Tori episodes. But no, that’s apparently not the case, as Elizabeth Berkeley and Tiffani Thiessen (who played Jessie and Kelly) at least stood near Leanna Creel (Tori) long enough to take this promo photo.

If you’ve never read Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, you’re missing one of the best critical essays on Saved by the Bell and the bizarre final season in which certain episodes feature the regular six-member gang — Zack, Screech, Lisa, Slater, Jessie and Kelly — and others feature just the first four and Tori, who kind of melds Jessie’s outspokenness with Kelly’s status as Zack’s love interest. In reality, the Jessie and Kelly episodes were shot first and end with the high school graduation episode, but then NBC ordered more episodes. Berkeley and Thiessen declined to come back, and so the group was balanced out with Tori. When the episodes actually aired, Jessie and Kelly episodes were interspersed with the Tori episodes, creating the suggestion that Jessie and Kelly are mutually exclusive from Tori, socially speaking, and that Jessie and Kelly are occasionally doing god-knows-what with god-knows-whom, possibly in classrooms on the opposite side of the hallway that we never see. (Also, Tori apparently doesn’t graduate, as far as the viewer sees. I assume the pressure of being the new kid got to her, she overdosed, and she was dead in her leather jacket somewhere, not found until after graduation festivities conclude. “Friends Forever” indeed.) In Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman posits that the Tori Paradox is one of the more realistic things about Saved by the Bell, in that actual high school social circles tend to change and grow and occasionally omit certain people — that is, you don’t do everything with the same group of friends, and some friends are present during memorable events and others just aren’t. And depending on the size of your high school, it may be possible that your close friends could never meet. I know, at least, that I ended up marching in my high school graduation ceremony next to a girl I’d never met until that day.

Everything I said about the bifurcated final season was explained in Klosterman’s book, but I learned today that the territories that didn’t stagger the Tori episodes but still managed to air a confusing final season. In England, for example, the Jessie and Kelly half ran through all on its own, ending with the graduation episode. Then the Tori episodes aired, giving the impression that though the cast had already graduated, Zack, Screech, Lisa and Slater returned back to high school for a few more weeks without any apparent memory that they’d already finished. And it’s all even stranger when you consider Saved by the Bell: The College Years, which took place after the Tori episodes, but in which Kelly suddenly comes back into the group, having successfully performed a last-minute transfer into California University, which apparently lets students start taking classes whenever they feel like it. “Tori who? I go here now! See ya never, Lisa Turtle-substituting black girl who I apparently took the place of!”

In any case, I was surprised and a little confused that given the show’s producers would have bothered to cram the whole cast into the final promo photos, especially given that they would have already known that Tori would never interact with Jessie and Kelly. Then again, I’ve already thought more about Saved by the Bell than the show deserves, and it’s possible that my brain energies could be better spent elsewhere.

Finally (and totally contradicting that final thought), I ask you this: Is it coincidental that Tori would share her name with Tori Spelling, who made several appearances on the show as Screech’s geeky love interest, Violet Bickerstaff?

EDIT: Four years later, I am certain that the box art was not faked. Leanna Creel was really there with the entire Saved by the Bell cast.

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