Remember Saved by the Bell? Maybe you remember it like this.
Zack Morris is an incorrigible student who wields his charm in and out of trouble. He’s the student struggling to be himself at school by conforming to all the rules that keep him from being such a charming ball of mischief. The show could exist without any of the characters, except for Morris, because what kid doesn’t want to get away with, well, whatever they want?
But there’s another character the show couldn’t be without: Mr. Belding.
The principal seemed to show up as the closest thing to a consistent antagonist, someone Morris tries to get the best of. Zack thinks he’s won the day with his hijinks, until Mr. Belding walks in on the fun with a “Hey, hey, hey, what is going on here?”
But the thing is, Mr. Belding was a pretty chill principal. He wasn’t your stickler for rules with no sense of humor. He wasn’t a no-nonsense villain. He was there to challenge a troublesome kid, but he always gave him another chance. And let’s face it. Zack was a pretty terrible guy.
But the relationship between this rotten kid and his merciful principal is the most important relationship in the show.
Move over, Kelly Kapowski.
See, if you remember, Gerald Belding himself used to be quite the troublemaker at school, always challenging authority. He sees a bit of himself in Zack Morris. He Mr. Belding is just as nurturing as he is authoritative.
Belding asks Morris to go on a blind date with his niece, even when he knows the kid will scuff it up somehow and break her heart. And to top it all off, he even once calls Zack “the son I never had.”
Poor Zack was always after attention from his own father. The man was a yuppie businessman with too little time for his own son. Zack’s wily antics were clear signs that he craved attention from the dad who was hardly there. With all the trouble Zack was caught up in, how many times did his father show up to talk to the principal?
You know who was there? Principal Belding. Belding was the father figure Zack Morris always needed. He paid attention to him. He disciplined him, but he also showed caring and grace. He cared about the kid’s academics. He was present. For a kid sliding through the seemingly meaningless routine of suburban public school life in early 90s California, the attention of a firm, but loving fatherly figure was all Zack Morris ever wanted.
Without the fatherly attention of Belding, Morris would have turned out even worse. But he’s all right. Because he’s saved by the Bell, the one that goes ding.
That’s right. You heard me. The bell that saves Zack Morris isn’t the one that rings at the end of the day. That’s what he thinks on the outside, that school is what kills him and leaving school saves him. No, Mr. Belding was named so for a reason. Mr. Belding is the saving bell in Morris’s life that rings out just when all hope seems lost.
The principal of Bayside High School is the bell that goes ding, saving Zack Morris from becoming a total monster. Because of that principal, and the involved role he plays in this young man’s life, a self-absorbed, tenacious slacker somehow makes it to college.
Or maybe it’s just because of his tenacity and charm—or more importantly, network executives hungry to milk more money from these child stars.
But I like my Belding theory.