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This guy is reviewing every episode of Saved By the Bell
Bored in his day job back in 2010, Ryan Alexander-Tanner started a blog to review a TV show episode-by-episode. His subject wasn’t The Wire, Breaking Bad or Mad Men, but Full House – the ubiquitous ABC comedy that Alexander-Tanner describes as “The worst sitcom of all time.” He hated the show, but with a passion, spending the next four years of his life taking apart its 192 episodes bit-by-bit, week-by-week.
The blog proved popular and now – having run out of Full House episodes to review – Ryan has started a new TV review project. This time the show is 90s staple Saved By The Bell, and he’s joined by a team of like-minded critics to deconstruct it via a podcast, Saved By The Bell Reviewed. We caught up with him to discuss the podcast, Full House, and why he can’t stop watching terrible TV.
You reviewed episodes of Full House for four years – why put yourself through it all again?
When I was getting ready to finish the Full House Reviewed blog I felt like I had reached a large enough audience that I ought to do some sort of follow-up. I also felt like skewering crappy pop-culture garbage from my youth was a pretty fun hobby and I’d probably miss it if I didn’t keep doing it in some capacity.
Why did you decide to do it as a podcast this time?
I knew I wasn’t going to do another blog after finishing the Full House one. I’d completed what I set out to do and felt like the sustained effort that went into maintaining such a thing was a little too much to start all over again. I’d become more interested in podcasts as a medium and practice so I thought I’d try that out instead.
Who are the other people on the podcast and how did they get involved?
One of the things that really appealed to me about doing a podcast was that it could be a collaboration. If I’d tried to do the Saved By the Bell Reviewed podcast by myself, or with only one other person, it probably wouldn’t have lasted. I talked to my friend and fellow Portland cartoonist Carolyn Main about sharing the project and she got on board right away. Carolyn is one of the most uniquely hilarious people I’ve known in my very weird life and she brings a humor and aesthetic to the show that no one else on the planet could.
I’m pretty amazed to have found a team that are dedicated and diligent enough to produce something so consistently and reliably who are also willing to put so much energy into producing such an absurd product. It takes a special kind of weirdo to do a job like this. Writing a blog is an odd, sort of solitary pursuit, whereas this podcast, the way we have it set up, is a really social endeavor. It feels more, to me, like I’m just getting together with my weirdo friends to talk about a crappy show for an hour or so every week, which is something I’d be willing to do even if it wasn’t for the sake of creating something. Actually, I kind of feel like the podcast is just an excuse to try to validate wanting to get together to have those conversations.
What sort of feedback have you had so far?
I got really used to, and kind of hooked on, receiving regular feedback while doing a blog and I miss it a little bit because podcasts don’t really generate as much audience interaction. I guess part of that is because blogs have a built-in comments section and podcasts have less of a clear space for feedback and discussion. I also thought that there’d be more of a crossover between the readers of Full House Reviewed and the listeners of Saved By the Bell Reviewed, but it’s a different show and a different medium so I think it has a fairly different audience as well. We have been picking up steam lately and there’s been a little more activity on the show’s Facebook page. We also have a super-fan on twitter, @Megs_C, who live-tweets her reactions to the show every week, which is really fun to see.
How hard is it to motivate yourself to review TV shows you don’t even like?
I don’t think that I could do another project about a show that sucks the way that Full House does, but I have a genuine love for Saved by the Bell so it’s a really different experience. I wouldn’t ever claim that Saved By the Bell is a “good” show, but I actually like it a lot. That’s one of the main differences between these two pop-culture review projects. Full House is just straight up awful, whereas Saved By the Bell is delightfully bad. As far as staying motivated goes, I’ve always felt like these projects are a form of goofing off, so they’re more born more out of a lack of motivation than an abundance of it.
Do you ever miss Full House? Even a little bit?
I have never missed Full House. Not even once, for a minute. Saved By the Bell is like your crazy uncle who you kind of laugh at and feel embarrassed by because he wears weird clothes and makes a bunch of corny jokes all the time but you have a genuine affection for him, whereas Full House is like your uncle who comes into your house and talks really loud and aggressively and makes a big mess and is really rude to your friends and then when you try to ask him to tone it down a bit he leaves in a big huff and complains to the rest of your family about what a lousy host you were.
What moral lessons can we learn from Saved By The Bell?
None that can or should be applied to real life. The characters on these types of shows aren’t supposed to be real people that you can relate to at all. They’re like these chosen individuals who are entitled to anything they want and have no regard for anyone. I think that the best lesson would be to not try to emulate these people at all, because their role in any sort of society or social sphere would be such an imposition, but there’s nothing built into the shows that state that in any way.
How do you account for the popularity of these terrible TV shows?
I think a lot of what makes these shows have an enduring quality is that they were just on all the time. When I was a kid we didn’t have as much readily available media as we do now, we had like a handful of channels and we took what we could get. After school you’d rush home to watch Batman the Animated Series because it was awesome and then afterwards Saved By the Bell would come on and you were like, well, I’m pretty tired from school and I don’t wanna do my homework yet so I guess I’ll just sit and watch this dumb ass nonsense. It was kind of soothing.
You don’t really consider when you’re ten years old how much this stuff will burn itself into your psyche but then all of a sudden you’re a grown man and you realize that you’ll never forget the phrase, “2 Beldings in one building, 1 of whom is balding.” And then you realize that millions of people are walking around with that same stuff lodged in their brain and you’re like, well, maybe let’s talk about that. One thing I really came to realize from writing the Full House blog is that this intake of terrible media is an experience that a tremendous number of disparate people share. Something that’s happening over the course of the podcast is that 2 otherwise unrelated pairs of friends are getting to know each other by discussing our reactions to a dumb show that we all watched during our childhoods.
Do you have any other bad TV shows in your sights?
The podcast has at least a year left to go so that’s about as far along as I am in regards to thinking about making any review media stuff. I’ve talked with Carolyn a little bit about doing live stage reenactments of old shows but we haven’t gotten much further than kicking the idea around. I just went to one of those drag reenactments of Golden Girls episodes and it was pretty inspiring, so I might feel more motivated soon. I also sometimes think about how fun it would be to combine my career as a cartoonist with my pop-culture fascination and work on some comics adaptation of licensed properties but it’s not really up to me if that happens.