I’m So Excited: When Saved by the Bell Tackled the Caffeine Pill Issue
In the Saved by the Bell universe, Jessie Spano is the one Bayside Tiger you’d always want in your corner. Intelligent, ambitious, and driven, Jessie was also an outspoken liberal and feminist. And in “Jessie’s Song,” a season two episode that premiered on November 3, 1990, she was—at least for a brief moment—a singing-and-dancing caffeine pill addict.
While other teen sitcoms were courting controversy with storylines that dabbled in sex, drugs, and alcoholism, Saved by the Bell kept to its relatively family-friendly mandate (it did air as part of the Saturday Morning Cartoon lineup, after all) by opting to make Jessie’s drug of choice the kind you could buy over the counter at any pharmacy or grocery store—just a few shelves away from the Flintstones Vitamins. But that didn’t mean that actress Elizabeth Berkley couldn’t make it totally over-the-top.
In a 2009 interview with People, Berkley admitted that the episode—in which the stress of balancing schoolwork with her band, Hot Sundae (repeat: Hot Sundae) becomes too much for Jessie (a.k.a. “Mama”) to handle—is her favorite memory from the show. “It was so extreme,” said Berkley. “We made a music video; we were thrilled!”
Back in 2015, for the 25th anniversary of “Jessie’s Song,” Thrillist attempted to corral some of the episode’s key participants into a conversation about its impact, but only director Don Barnhart—who helmed more than 200 episodes of the show—participated. And admitted that, even a quarter-century later, the episode still makes him somewhat emotional.
“I had to keep holding [Elizabeth] back, because when we got to Wednesday or Thursday [rehearsals], she was ready to let it go,” recalled Barnhart. “I had to hold her back so that when she got to Friday, it was a fresh, tearful scene. As a matter of fact, just talking about it 25 years later, I get a little choked up about it.”
For Berkley, actions speak louder than words. Though she did not participate in Thrillist’s attempted oral history, she has shown her appreciation (and sense of humor) about “Jessie’s Song,” most in 2013, when she recreated the scene as part of a routine on Dancing With the Stars. She then teased the line as part of a Saved by the Bell reunion on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. She’s about to lose control and we think she likes it.