Ranking Saved By The Bell: The College Years characters is not very time-consuming because the series was canceled after its first and only season. While many critics rightfully panned the show, its inaugural season is more watchable than some people remember.
Nevertheless, the show’s ratings paled in comparison to the original series, partly because its primetime time slot was far more competitive than its predecessor’s Saturday morning window.
While the series lasted only 19 episodes, Circa 98 will rank the ten best characters in Saved By The Bell: The College Years.
1) Zack Morris
Zack Morris is Saved By The Bell: The College Years’ main character, reprising his role from the original series and its origin project, Good Morning Ms. Bliss. While Zack’s character provokes valid criticisms, his importance to the show is immeasurable. Mark-Paul Gosslier, the actor portraying Zack Morris, carries the show for all intents and purposes.
Zack often breaks the 4th wall, speaking directly to the camera (the audience) in the style of characters from Martin Scorcese films like Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wallstreet. Though few would draw parallels between SBTB: TCY and any Scorcese film, I am one of them.
Like in the original series, Zack is a popular student with a sophomoric sense of humor and a penchant for troublemaking. However, he is continually redeemed by doing the right thing after pondering various situations throughout the 19 episodes.
2) Kelly Kapowski
Kelly Kapowski was an excellent character in the original Saved By The Bell series, but she disrupts The College Years spinoff in many ways. Tiffani Amber Thiessen did not appear in the pilot but joins the cast for the next episode, replacing Essence Atkins as the 3rd roommate.
Kelly shows up at California University (a fictional college that Thiessen would soon ironically attend again as Valerie Malone in Beverly Hills 90210) and is conveniently placed in the suite with Zack, Slater, and Screech. The 3rd female roommate Danielle Marks supposedly transfers to another college, creating an opening in the dorm.
Kapowski’s arrival alters all the storylines established in the pilot. Zack was obsessed with one of the other roommates, Leslie Burke, but quickly lost interest after Kelly’s arrival. As a result, Leslie’s character is buried and does nothing notable for most of the series.
Meanwhile, Kelly gets all the most engaging storylines, like her relationship with Professor Latsky, her work in the University medical clinic, and her pursuit of a pre-med designation (which she promptly abandons to marry Zack Morris in Las Vegas).
Kelly’s inclusion in The College Years may have ruined most of the storylines. Still, it did resolve her ongoing relationship with Zack Morris, whom she agrees to marry in the series finale, and does marry in the subsequent film, Saved By The Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas.
3) A.C. Slater
A.C. Slater is another established holdover from the original series. Like Zack, his behavior in the college series closely resembles his high school character. Played by Mario Lopez, A.C Slater remains the typical jock who garners regular attention from women across the C.U. campus.
Slater’s college years are relatively uneventful, aside from one episode where he grapples with his heritage and identity after his classmate and crush, Theresa Alverez, educates him on Euro-centric news bias. As a result, Slater starts considering facts about his family history, like when his father had to conceal his heritage to join the armed forces.
Slater joins Theresa in protesting the university’s lack of funding for the Chicano Independent Studies Group. While his initial intentions were to spend more time with Theresa, Slater begins to identify more personally with the movement. He even confronts Zack Morris on his ignorance of the subject matter and backward priorities.
Of course, after the episode, Slater never mentions his heritage again, and Theresa completely disappears from the series without a trace. The Chicano Independent Studies Program is also never again mentioned despite the protestors securing funding for the program during the episode.
Aside from that storyline, Slater spends most of his time with the wrestling team or working at the college food court. He dates his suitemate, Alex Tabor, for most of the series but breaks it off with her before the finale.
4) Samuel “Screech” Powers
Like Zack and Slater, Screech’s character is a continuation of his high school persona from the original series. Screech takes continuous verbal abuse from students about his geeky demeanor and odd behavior. Played by the late Dustin Diamond, Screech is clearly a victim whose distress was blatantly ignored by the writers and producers.
The one exception occurs when an attractive woman chooses Screech over Zack because of his intellect and sensitivity. Unfortunately, like many plotlines in The College Years, Screech’s soulmate disappears after the episode and is never mentioned again.
Another odd storyline involving Screech is when some college classmates ask him to bring nitrous oxide to an on-campus party so they can get high. Slater confronts Screech about the situation, explaining that his actions would be illegal. But, as it turns out, Screech accidentally grabs helium instead of nitrous oxide.
Screech’s character is tragic because he takes unprompted abuse from students, his roommates, and long-time friends. In addition, he is regularly humiliated and treated as a sub-human novelty act for comedic foil. While he has good moments, particularly with Mike Rogers, his character development is generally depressing.
5) Danielle Marks
One of the most frequently asked questions about this series is why Essence Atkins disappeared from Saved By The Bell: The College Years after the pilot. Her character Danielle Marks supposedly transfers to another college after the first episode.
Kelly Kapowski decides to enroll at California University, taking Danielle’s place in the dorm and on the show. Still, Danielle Marks stands out among most others despite only appearing in the pilot. She alludes to being the daughter of a federal judge, implying she comes from a wealthy family.
6) Michael Rogers
Mike Rogers is a former NFL football player and the dorm’s resident advisor. Like his character, the actor Bob Golic played NFL football though the specifics about his career are altered in the storyline. For example, Bob Golic played for the Patriots, Browns, and Raiders, but his character, Michael Rogers, played for the San Fransisco 49ers.
Despite limiting acting experience, Golic’s performance serves its purpose as he mentors the younger characters while still relating to them. For example, the students look at Rogers as a big teddy bear in a football player’s body. Still, Rogers, who studies Psychology at California University, disciplines the dorm residents when appropriate.
One of Rogers’ most hilarious storylines is when he develops a crush on a Literature professor whose intellect intimidates his stereotypical jock demeanor. Despite their differences, they agree to go on a date and end up sleeping together. Oddly, the professor is never seen again in the series.
Another storyline involves Rogers getting invited to a tryout for the 49ers. He trains with Zack, Slater, and Screech to get himself back into football shape. Despite making the team, he rejects the 49ers’ offer and remains an R.A. at California University (because that makes sense).
7) Leslie Burke
Leslie’s role in the pilot was that of an important character and the object of Zack Morris’s desire. However, Kelly Kapowski’s late arrival derails Leslie Burke’s character arc and reduces her to a minimal and uninspiring position. We can only imagine how much her character would have changed had it not been for Tiffani Theissan’s arrival.
Anne Tremko portrays Leslie in the series and conceivably thought she’d have a more prominent role based on the pilot. As a result, she reportedly declined an invitation to appear in the Saved By The Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas film despite other non-original castmates like Bob Golic and Kiersten Warren making cameos.
Leslie has few prominent storylines after the pilot though the writers try to convey that she is entirely over Zack Morris. One of her most intriguing plots occurs when she catches A.C Slater cheating on Alex with another girl. She agrees to keep quiet but ultimately reveals the incident resulting in Slater’s and Alex’s breakup.
8) Alex Tabor
Alex Tabor is one of the newcomers to the Saved By The Bell universe, appearing as a California University drama student and suitemate to the other main characters. Her character is intended to create comedic tension though some of her antics appear cringeworthy in retrospect. For example, she jokes about minority activism on the college campus.
Portrayed by Kiersten Warren, Alex Tabor dates one of the pre-established characters in A.C Slater for most of the series. Unfortunately, her compatibility concerns with Slater are a topic of conversation throughout the episodes, which makes their relationship seem entirely unrealistic. Ultimately Slater cheats on her and dumps her by the series finale.
Unlike Leslie Burke, Alex’s plot seemed less impacted by Kelly Kapowski’s arrival. However, it’s impossible to project the full implications of the cast change. Ultimately, Alex Tabor had some funny scenes, but her character never quite tracked for the series’ faithful fans.
9) Professor Jeremiah Lasky
Professor Lasky is portrayed as a charming young professor who can intimately relate to his students. For example, he lets Zack do a field study on what women want by interviewing students on campus. Played by the now-famous Patrick Fabian, Jeremiah Lasky certainly stands out.
However, Lasky’s behavior gets him in trouble when he gets romantically involved with Kelly Kapowski, his 19-year-old student. Like many of her classmates, Kelly develops a crush on the 32-year-old professor. She develops an even stronger attraction after babysitting Jeremiah’s young daughter.
Though Lasky initially rejects Kelly’s advances, he ends up kissing her in her dorm room. Soon, Kelly drops his class so they can date publically and even attend a student Halloween party together. The relationship proves short-lived, however, when Lasky feels uneasy about the dynamic.
In modern times, Lasky’s actions would be judged more harshly, perhaps even to the extent of labeling him as a monster for his involvement with a 19-year-old college student. However, Zack Morris does call him out for his relationship with Kelly. But, of course, Zack has selfish motives since he intends to marry Kelly (and later does).
10) Dean Susan McMann
Dean McMann first appears later in the season and brings a new dynamic to the series. However, her addition is not enough to save the sinking rankings. Played by Holland Taylor, Susan McMann is the authoritarian figure that often conflicts with Zack Morris’s sophomoric pursuits.
In one of her famous storylines, Dean McMann is admitted to the University medical clinic with various symptoms. Zack, who works at the clinic to be closer to Kelly, ends up in a series of mishaps that result in his firing from the medical center.
In the vane of Mr. Belding from the original series, Dean McMann disciplines the students every chance she gets. Susan also quibbles with Professor Lasky, who the show attempts to redeem and reestablish after his misguided affair with Kelly. While Taylor does some impressive work, her emergence makes a minimal impact on the series’s legacy.