Last week I binge-watching the newly released Saved by the Bell reboot on Peacock, and it was truly a bash - maybe even a Franklin & Bash, if you will -- but when I was finished, I was left with a feeling of sadness accompanied by a single, solitary thought. Is that really all there is? See, the Saved by the Bell reboot's 1st season is only 10 episodes long, which isn't unusual in the year 2020. Streaming services are particularly data-minded and, according to Netflix's data, "shorter seasons are considered optimal for consumption, and any additional episodes beyond 10 a season do not add value." That's all fair enough, and for the past decade or so, as Netflix and other streaming services have been making original content and conditioning us for this new television landscape, I hadn't been bothered by it.
But the rebooted Saved by the Bell for me was different. It was an awakening, like that moment in The Giver when the protagonist started seeing in color after the wizard gave him the red pill or whatever. (My 2020 attention span is far too short to retain books anymore.) Peacock's and Netflix's algorithms be damned. The Saved by the Bell reboot shouldn't be 10 episodes. It just shouldn't. I get that Handmaid's Tale or Glow or Stranger Things might have too many "big ideas" or expensive set pieces to stretch past ten episodes. Fine, leaves those at 10. But Saved by the Bell isn't that type of show.
It's not "prestige" TV, and it's not meant to be. If I'm ordering Mcdonalds, I don't want an amuse-bouche with a single fry and a truffle-infused chicken nugget. I'm there to eat until my fingers go numb and my head smacks against the table. My point is that the Saved by the Bell reboot is a show modeled after another show famous for having filler episodes. So shouldn't it have a lot of filler too?
Well, maybe, but the answer as to why not is already listed above. The model has changed. Network television relies on ad revenue, meaning the more episodes and ad breaks, the better, whereas the streaming services rely on subscriptions, meaning you're better off creating a whole new TV show than giving even a highly successful show a 4th season. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. You could argue that streaming services, at least for their 1st seasons, are producing more quality television in an effort to get new subscribers than ad-slaves of network television ever could. But while it's one thing to prioritize quality over quantity, the tragedy of the streaming era might be the death of quantity altogether, and I didn't realize that until this show.
Quantity is important because copious amounts of nothing makes for good TV in its own right. The filler episodes are the things we remember most. I cannot tell you the main plot thread of a single (original) Saved by the Bell season, but who among us that's seen the show can forget this episode?
Certainly, the writers of the Saved by the Bell reboot didn't. They poke fun at Jessie's caffeine addiction constantly throughout the reboot to great effect, and it would never have happened had the original Saved by the Bell writers been required to craft 10 episodes of a careful and efficient narrative. And who needs a careful, efficient narrative in a dumb sitcom we just want to watch while unwinding with a little bud (person or plant) when we get home?
But long seasons are more than just silly one-offs to laugh at later. If sitcoms are all about creating characters that the audience feels like they know on a personal level, then filler episodes are the space that allows you to get comfortable with those characters. It's world-building. It's the moments between the tension of the season's drama at large. It's like that saying about how real music is the silence between the notes or whatever bullshit. It's having all of the moments like this:
That make you actually give a shit for a moment like this:
Or, maybe you still don't, but it's something to have on in the background while doing chores, and dammit, Peacock, if you couldn't have at least given that to us. Maybe someday, we'll once again have a new TV show to binge that'll seemingly never end - something we can sink into for dozens if not hundreds of episodes and not worry about losing our place if we passed out from watching. Until that time, let's pour one out for sitcoms future. We hardly knew ye.
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Top Image: Peacock