Vulture is in the midst of its Sitcom Smackdown, a three-week contest that pits the best sitcoms of the last 30 years against each other to crown the ultimate winner. But while that bracket focuses on the greatest, most innovative modern comedies, it couldn’t cover all of the series that live on in our hearts, the ones that may not fit those highfalutin parameters but which we could talk about for days. To give these other series their moments to shine, every day we’ll be pitting two like-minded comedies against each other: We’ll pick our winner, and readers will then vote for their own. Today: It’s after-school specials, with Full House squaring off against Saved by the Bell.
Today’s Contenders: Full House (1987–1995) vs. Saved by the Bell (1989–1993)
Though the shows ran concurrently, you probably keep Full House and Saved by the Bell in slightly different nostalgia lockers (three years of aging makes all the difference in these matters). Full House was the TGIF anchor, a kids’ show that you loved but grew out of, just like the Olsen twins; Saved by the Bell was the “teen” (but really still for kids) show you grew into, especially if you discovered the TBS reruns in the mid-to-late nineties. One show taught us about families and the Beach Boys; the other taught us about giant cell phones and the perils of caffeine pills. Everything we know we learned from network teen programming in the late eighties/early nineties.
Home Turf: San Francisco vs. L.A.
Main Crew: The Tanner Family (widow-dad Danny, sisters D.J., Stephanie, and sassy Michelle) and the Bayside Six (ringleader Zack, girlfriend Kelly, brainy friend Jessie, jock friend Slater, snooty friend Lisa, and, of course, Screech).
Embarrassing Friends: Kimmy Gibbler, D.J.’s weird neighbor-slash-BFF, and Screech, Zack’s nerd sidekick-slash-doormat.
Embarrassing Older Guy: Uncle Joey (a.k.a. Dave Coulier, a.k.a. the man who inspired “You Oughta Know,” which is a whole different set of lessons) and Mr. Belding, the school principal.
Hunky Older Guy: Uncle Jesse, who rides a motorcycle and wants to be Elvis, and Jeff, the Max Manager who comes between Zack and Kelly in a truly devastating prom episode.
Beloved pets: Comet the Dog and Becky the Duck (RIP, Becky).
Random Older Woman Who Shows Up in the Later Seasons: Aunt Becky (Danny’s morning-show co-host and Jesse’s future wife) and Tori, biker chick and Zack’s future GF.
Hangouts: The Tanner family home, with bonus basement rec room for Uncle Joey, and Bayside High, with the Max for after-school drama
Catchphrases: “How rude!” “Cut. It. Out.” “Have mercy.” (Full House); “Time out.” “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m. So. Scared.” (Saved by the Bell).
Fictional bands: Jesse and the Rippers, who performed with the Beach Boys and recorded a single (“Forever“); Zack Attack, who were discovered by none other than Casey Kasem, and Hot
Fudge Sundae, the girl band that necessitated Jessie Spano’s pill addiction
Memorable Dance Trends: The Sprain, and the Loveshack.
Are the shows any good? Look, we’re talking about shows for children here. Saved by the Bell was just a series of after-school specials with more attractive actors. Most of Full House’s punch lines are delivered by a 2-year-old, which is the only reason they even merit a laugh track. Full House was better when it came to character development and actual story arcs (Uncle Jesse and Becky finally get married! Michelle is all grown up and riding a bike!), but Saved by the Bell explained an alluring and terrifying subject — high school — to a fascinated audience. They are both excellent shows for 8-year-olds.
The moment of truth: The first rule of teen and tween-dom is that Older Is Always cooler. (This maxim reverses at the age of 22.) I had a crush on Zack Morris; I know plenty of people who can still sing all the words to “Go For It”* and who would give anything to work for Mr. Carosi for a summer. Full House might have been the structurally superior sitcom, but Saved by the Bell was the cheesy teenage dream. I can’t vote for anything else.
Winner: Saved by the Bell
* This post has been corrected to note that Hot Sundae’s smash single was called “Go For It” and not “Put Your Mind To It.” (In our defense, the song does go “Put your mind to it / Go for it.” Hard to tell.)