Classic TV? Grading The College Years

If you were a child growing up in the 1980s, there were several TV shows that were built into your mandatory watching; Miami Vice, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Cheers. There was also Saved By The Bell, the show about a group of high school students and their daily situations (some extreme, but hey it’s television), and how they ended up at the end of the day all one big happy group of friends. Everyone loved Mark Paul Gosselaar’s Zack Morris and his scheming to get the short cut while still being able to get the girl, which was Tiffani Amber Thiessen’s Kelly Kapowski.  There was also Mario Lopez’s A.C. Slater, Dustin Diamond’s goofy Screech, and the school principal Mr. Belding, played by Dennis Haskins.

The show ran from 1984-1993, and then created two spinoff shows, “The New Class,” where only Diamond and Haskins was in, and before that, “The College Years,” which starred the four main characters of Morris, Kapowski, Slater, and Screech at the same college and roommates. Even though “The College Years” only lasted one season, it was the only part of the series that was shown on prime time television on NBC. I remember watching it every week when I was at college (and even taped it on VHS) my college friends and I could watch it during the week until the next episode.

The show had newer characters, like dorm advisor Bob Golic (the former NFL Football player) as Mr. Rogers, Anne Tremko as Leslie Burke, Kiersten Warren as Alex Tabor, and Patrick Fabian as Professor Jeremiah Lasky.  In the pilot episode, another character was the roommate of the girls, Danielle, but was replaced when Kapowski came on the show.  I have owned the DVD Box set (which does not include the Zack and Kelly wedding special, which is on a separate collection), and thought I’d recently watch the show again and list some of my favorite episodes from the show.

Zack and Mike Rogers
  1. “The Pilot” (May 23, 1993 Episode 1). Usually the first episodes of a series are usually slow and not very good, but I liked this episode. The normal premise is there from the original series, with Zack talking to the camera as if we are right there with him. Zack does his best in this episode to get in good with new roommate Leslie, and things fall apart, with him trying to use his old high school tricks and schemes thinking it will work in college. The episode has a touchy feel to it, where the big names in high school (Zack and Slater) are trying to fit in among the other college students, realizing that it’s a different playing field, especially when Zack says college is a full of first, like “The first time I didn’t get the girl.” The show could’ve been like other shows where the leads just walk onto campus and are still the big shots, but this showed an early struggle to fit in with the characters.
Professor Jeremiah Lasky
  1. “Zack, Lies, and Videotape” (Sept 14, 1993 Episode 3). I liked this episode because it has the debut of Professor Lasky and his classroom antics, like trying to sell Zack a copy of his midterm while sitting among the students, with Zack falling for it before realizing he is the teacher. The Lasky character was a great addition to the show, and Fabian’s acting is funny as an eccentric college professor. Of course, the episode has all the girls in the class falling for the professor, which was something I witnessed in some of my college classes (later in the series they explore a Kelly and Lasky relationship).  The episode also shows Zack realizing his short cuts won’t always work in college, where Lasky allows him to complete a field study on the topic “What Women Want,” in order to get a B for the class, and sleep in the rest of the semester. The episode starts the Zack and Lasky humor in the show. I remember watching this episode over and over at college with my friends wishing they too could do a field study on the topic to hit on girls and get a grade for it.

  1. “Professor Zack” (October 19, 1993 Episode 8). In this episode, Zack pretends to be Lasky in order to impress a girl named Jennifer, who happens to be the Chancellor of the college’s daughter.  There is a funny scene in the classroom where Jennifer tries to sit in on the class to see Zack teach, and Lasky is in the room talking to Zack, her, and Screech. Zack informs her that Lasky is an older student, and the scene plays out like a Marx Brothers skit. The rest of the show deals with Zack trying to find a way to break up with the girl before the Chancellor, and Laksy, find out.
Zack, Leslie, and the back to life Kelly
  1. “Guess Who’s Coming To College” (September 14, 1993 Episode 2). Zack is still trying to impress his roommate Leslie, while his old flame, Kelly Kapowski, shows up to college. Screech pulls some strings and Kelly is now the crew’s new roommate. Chaos starts when Zack can’t decide on whom he likes more; Kelly or Leslie. One funny scene is when Zack finally sees Kelly at the college right after he tells Leslie that Kelly died on a ship. While trying to get rid of Zack, Leslie forges her class schedule so Zack ends up in an advanced Chinese class where no English is allowed. I liked this episode because it gave Zack and new interest in the rich girl Leslie, as opposed to just starting the show with Zack and Kelly. These early episodes show an attraction at first of Zack and Leslie that may or may not be explored and keeps the audience guessing.
Dr. Hemmings
  1. “A Question of Ethics” (December 21, 1993 Episode 14). I loved this episode, and it is one of the top ones on the short lived series.  After the original ethics teacher wins the lottery and retires, the class is stuck with the toughest teacher on campus, Dr. Hemmings, played by Robert Guillaume (who played TV’s Benson).  The crew has to decide whether or not to cheat on his midterm after finding copies of the test all around campus.  Zack has to decide if his shortcuts are worth it or not. I liked the character of Hemmings, not only because it brought a well known actor to the show (and showed his humor), but the character was very much like a real college professor, one that was hard but yet ended up making the student think. My friend and I were also taking an Ethics class at the time the show was on, which also resonated with me.

  1. “Bedside Manner” (January 11, 1994 Episode 16). This was one of the last episodes I remember watching when it was on TV (for some reason, the last few episodes were not shown on my local NBC Channels). The episode is a throwback to the original series, with a bunch of antics going on at one time. Zack ends up faking an illness to try and get closer to Kelly after she had her heart broken by Professor Lasky. Lasky ends up sick as well in the student health center, where Kelly is working. Kelly tries to take care of Laksy, while Zack tries to interfere, along with the Dean of the college also playing a role as she ends up at the center. I was not a fan of the Dean character in the show, who was always trying to catch Zack in a scheme to kick him out of the college. The recurring Dean character was a little too much for me- we had Lasky a major part of the crew, so why would a Dean of a whole college focus only on Zack? Yes it’s TV, but I don’t think I ever met the Dean of my college even once (I dealt with a few Associate Deans, but never the Head Dean). This episode was 30 minutes of crazy antics, as fans of the original show would love.

 

Since the “College Years” only ran one season, it is hard to just choose a few episodes. There were some other good things I liked about the show, like Golic’s character as a former football player, who would rather help students and get his Master’s Degree than go back to football, has heart to it (and the episode of him trying to date an English Professor is funny), and I loved the bloopers at the end of the shows while the credits rolled each week.  I liked the characters of Leslie and Lasky the most in the show. Alex Tabor was portrayed as a theater major dead on, with the emotional outbursts and viewed everything as a crisis, which were similar to the theater people I encountered at my college).

There were some bad things in the show as well, such as how Kelly was portrayed as clueless and dumb (the head high school cheerleader can’t handle the intellects in college- nice stereotype), along with the Screech character being the goofball he was in the original show.  It seemed like they had to have some stereotypes kept in from the original shows, instead of having the characters mature a little.

“The College Years” was better than the second spin off, which was just like the original show-shown on Saturday Mornings. Instead of rehashing old storylines (which seemed the case in “The New Class”), “The College Years” dealt with several issues that were relevant on campuses, like ethics and racial heritage.  The series ran from 1993-1994, and after watching it again recently, it still holds up as a funny show with some heart in it. If you haven’t seen this show and loved the original show, search the episodes out. You may enjoy the show that may bring back memories of your college days.

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