About 4 years ago, I found myself reading Dustin (the guy who played Screech on Saved By the Bell) Diamond’s autobiography on a lark. After I finished it (which took about 3 hours) I thought it would be fun to write a little review so I threw something together and posted it on Facebook. It didn’t get much of a reaction or anything but for some unknowable reason something came over me and I felt a strong urge to continue to write critiques of pop-culture’s most shameful endeavors. I started FHR a few weeks later. Now that it’s all over, I thought I’d share this initial article, which, to me, was the catalyst for this whole project:
I’ve never read a tell-all autobiography before but my morbid obsession with Saved By the Bell made this one irresistible. I don’t know what purpose these types of books usually serve, but this one is clearly an outlet for years of pent-up bitterness, not to mention a blatant effort to make a couple of bucks while attempting to craft a new and more marketable persona. Well, lemme tell ya, it did not work.
The main reason I wanted to read this book was to find out what it was like to work on Saved By the Bell and dish some dirt about real-life behind the scenes shenanigans, but this book provides much less of that than a sort of bizarre portrait of Dustin himself. Most of what he has to say about working on the show is focused around what a bunch of stupid jerks everyone was and how mean they were to him. He has bitter nicknames for everyone that he apparently still uses to this day, one of many features of his narrative that makes it hard to sympathize with him. Most of his behind-the-scenes gossip is made up of embarrassing moments his cast members endured while he stood idly by, snickering to himself. On one occasion, the guy who played Zack had to piss really bad during a press tour and got caught by the fuzz relieving himself behind a dumpster. Screech’s account of what a sniveling bitch Zack is when the law intervenes is clearly biased, if not entirely hyperbolic. On another occasion, Zack accidentally hit an innocent bystander in the face with a softball during a company game. I’m not really sure why this story is supposed to support an argument that Zack is a jerk, as the incident was clearly an accident, but the anecdote seems to be included with the intention to further defame the studios “golden child” that stole all of Screech’s glory.
The narrative gets kind of a Humbert Humbert thing going pretty quickly, where we see through Screech’s bullshit and clearly recognize the flaws within his own character as he desperately grasps for our empathy and attention. One incident recounted is of an extra who scored cool points with the cast by belittling Screech in front of everybody. I can see why that would sting, being the star and all and having even the lowest contributors to the show holding a higher social standing among the cast members. I might have felt bad for Screech if the climax of that story wasn’t him pissing in that extras purse backstage. You might think that he would recognize this as a petty and vindictive act all these years later, but no! The purpose of the story is to let us know what a bad motherfucker he is.
Overall the book contains surprisingly few noteworthy stories about the cast. There’s a few funny bits about Mario Lopez, who Screech clearly hated the most. I actually laughed out loud when he recalled what it was like to do promo interviews with Lopez, who would constantly talk over anyone else who tried to reply to questioning and redirect the conversation back to himself. The books overall biggest nugget of gossip is about Lopez as well, who Screech alleges narrowly avoided rape charges that NBC settled out of court while SBTB was still on the air. As with all the books allegations, it’s hard to know how to filter what is stated as we’re dealing with such a dubious narrator. It’s also questionable because it’s so clear that Screech was pretty far out of the casts social loop, which is probably why most of his behind-the-scenes content is filled with prank wars between himself and prop guys or the shows head carpenter. Not exactly the Saved By the Bell untold story I was hoping for…
Most of the book is filled with self-indulgent tripe that only serves to further prove that Screech is an even more obnoxious idiot in real life than on tv. He goes on and on about how many chicks he banged, recounting with great sentimentality his many trips to Disneyland to get his mack on. If that’s not vomit-inducing enough, there’s also a lengthy narrative (with foreshadowing and everything!) about a long-developing romance with an older NBC executive. If the image of Screech getting it on with some teenage hussy at the Magic Kingdom isn’t disturbing enough, how do some post-coital snuggles with a woman in her forties sound? Oh, man… it’s just… it’s just awful. There’s a few other hilarious tidbits, like when he claims to be the catalyst for the live action Scoobie Doo movie (despite a valiant effort, he was not selected to play Shaggy on screen) or provides his 2 cents about Urkel (“the primetime Screech”), but most of his exploits just involve him hanging out with his lame friends that you’ve never heard of.
I’m not even sure if this qualifies as a real book. It doesn’t seem to adhere to any publishing standards whatsoever. I’m not even talking about the total lack of production design or the easy-reader sized font (which was actually a nice relief for my crappy eyesight). Early in the text there are some weird spelling errors and commas for no reason, but as the book progresses I found a few paragraphs that ran twice in a row and sentences randomly cut and pasted into adjoining paragraphs. It’s possible that Screech was trying to pull off a William S. Burroughs thing, but it’s more probable that nobody bothered to read the text before printing it up. It’s all kind of appropriate, though. The whole appeal of Saved By the Bell is how mind-bogglingly half-assed and ridiculous it is, so this quality-control-free publication does faithfully mirror the shows aesthetic. Whenever I watch SBTB, I find myself less interested in the characters and situations than I am compelled to speculate as to just what the hell the shows writers and producers were thinking when they put the whole mess together. In behind the Bell, the creators intention is glaringly obvious, and like the tv series itself, it fails to make a genuine connection with its audience. The audience finds themselves laughing at it, not with it.
It’s impossible to say whether I’d actually recommend this book to anyone. The only people who would even consider reading it are hopeless fanatics like myself, who don’t really have a choice. I knew this book was a piece of garbage before I picked it up and I read the whole thing anyway. I’m a slave to this shit. As far as mindless drivel goes, at least it was pretty undemanding. The whole thing reads like an enormous sidebar to an US magazine article. What a stupid waste of time!