10 Mind-Boggling Saved By the Bell Fan Theories

Elizabeth Berkley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen, Ed Alonzo, Dustin Diamond, Dennis Haskins, Mario Lopez, and Lark Voorhies in Saved by the Bell.
Elizabeth Berkley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen, Ed Alonzo, Dustin Diamond, Dennis Haskins, Mario Lopez, and Lark Voorhies in Saved by the Bell.
NBC Universal, Inc.

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.

The Most Successful Entertainment Production in History Might Just Surprise You

Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Last year, Marvel Studios capped off an unprecedented run of success with Avengers: Endgame, a movie promoted as the culmination of over 10 years of storytelling. The film made $2.8 billion, unseating 2009’s Avatar and knocking 1997’s Titanic down to third place. With nearly $3 billion in ticket sales, you would think Endgame would count as the most successful entertainment production of all time—be it a single movie, book, album, or video game.

It isn’t.

While it earned a staggering amount of money, Endgame is hobbled by the fact that theatrical runs last just a few weeks or months. To really roll in the dough, it helps to have a combination of high ticket prices and a show that runs almost in perpetuity. That’s why it’s another Disney production, the Broadway adaption of The Lion King, that can make a credible claim to being the most financially rewarding entertainment effort of all time. Since debuting in 1997, the stage show has grossed $9.1 billion. (The 1994 film, 2019 live action remake, and merchandising aren’t included in that total. If they were, the number rises to $11.6 billion.)

A theater sign for 'The Lion King' is pictured in New York City in March 2003
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The musical, adapted by Julie Taymor, follows the story of the animated original, with lion cub Simba learning to accept his role as king of the Serengeti Plains. It’s estimated the show has been mounted 25 times globally in nine different languages, with more than 100 million people purchasing a ticket to see it.

Does that make Endgame a distant second? Not quite. Another long-running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has grossed more than $6 billion since its 1988 debut. The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto 5 cleared $6 billion in 2018. And if one were to account for inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Wind made $3.44 billion.

The Lion King does have one asterisk, however. If inflation is taken into consideration, then 1978’s arcade classic Space Invaders comes out the winner. The popular coin-op game—which was later ported over to the Atari 2600—was a smash hit. By 1983, it had made $3.8 billion. Accounting for inflation, it earned $13.9 billion. What’s even more impressive is that unlike big-ticket movies and stage shows, Space Invaders did it one quarter at a time.

20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now

A still from Netflix's The Devil Next Door (2019).
A still from Netflix's The Devil Next Door (2019).
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. Making a Murderer (2015-)

One of the major true crime phenomenons of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling. Three years after the docuseries became a surprise hit for Netflix, it returned for a second season in 2018.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. The Staircase (2004-2018)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife, Kathleen, had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was The StaircaseJean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. And Netflix's addition of new episodes in 2018 led to a resurgence in interest in this mind-boggling case (with armchair detectives even positing that an owl was the real killer).

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Flint Town (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. The Jinx (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. The first was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO Now and Hulu

5. Wild Wild Country (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. Wormwood (2017)

Documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Five Came Back (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. The Devil Next Door (2019)

In 1980s Cleveland, John Demjanjuk was living a quiet life as a grandfather and auto worker. Suddenly, he was being extradited to Israel over accusations he was once notorious Nazi concentration camp monster Ivan the Terrible. As Demjanjuk mounts a defense, the trial captivates a country—but was he really the monster? This riveting series will have you guessing until the very end.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Ugly Delicious (2018-)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. Evil Genius (2018)

At approximately 2:20 p.m. on August 28, 2003, Brian Wells—a pizza deliveryman—walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, and handed a note to a teller demanding $250,000 in cash. Wells had a bomb, which was strapped to his body via a metal neck collar, and a loaded shotgun that was fashioned to look like a walking cane. Approximately 12 minutes later, Wells strolled out of the bank with $8702 in cash, then made his way to the McDonald’s next door, where he retrieved a detailed note that told him where to go and what to do next. Within 15 minutes, Wells would be arrested. At 3:18 p.m.—less than an hour after he first entered the bank—the bomb locked around Wells’s neck detonated as police watched (and waited for the bomb squad), killing the 46-year-old in broad daylight. The bizarre incident was just the beginning of Evil Genius, which documents the peculiar case that would eventually entangle a range of unusual suspects, including Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and has had armchair detectives—and the FBI—questioning whether Wells was in on the bank robbery, or a genuine victim, for more than a decade.

Where to watch it: Netflix

11. The Confession Tapes (2019)

A spare room. One or two detectives. A weary suspect. That's the set-up for this series that lets archival footage of police interrogations tell its own arresting stories.

Where to watch it: Netflix

12. Our Planet (2019)

Be amazed at the sensational vistas and eclectic wildlife with this beautifully-photographed trek through some of nature's most astounding sights—and the environmental perils that affect them. David Attenborough narrates.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Theodore Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. The Innocent Man (2018)

After two brutal murders in 1980s Oklahoma, four men are convicted of the crimes. All of them maintain their innocence, causing observers to question whether they were guilty or themselves victims of police coercion. This drama is based on John Grisham's 2006 book of the same name; Grisham executive produces.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. Last Chance U (2016-)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. Later seasons switch focus to a team out of Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. Vice (2013-)

The series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens. The first six seasons are available on HBO, with a seventh airing on Showtime in 2020.

Where to watch it: HBO Go

17. Chef's Table (2015-)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. There's no shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. The Toys That Made Us (2017-)

Who knew the origin of classic toy lines could be so dramatic? This series puts the spotlight on the creative friction that led to some of the most iconic playthings of the 20th century, from Transformers to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Where to watch it: Netflix

19. The Eighties (2016)

CNN's series highlighting the pop culture of the neon-colored decade boasts familiar talking heads like Tom Hanks and enough nostalgia to keep you afloat for weeks. The network's The Seventies and The Nineties are also available.

Where to watch it: Netflix

20. Bobby Kennedy for President (2018)

This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

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