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.