From the dawn of literature, thinkers have explored sibling rivalries. In the Bible, we have the stories of Cain and Abel, Joseph and his coat of many colors, and sisters Leah and Rachel. Shakespeare wrote of the rivalry between the titular Richard III and his brother King Edward. Steinbeck adapted the story of Cain and Abel into his masterpiece East of Eden. Kesey wrote of the rivalry between the Stamper brothers in Sometimes a Great Notion. In film, the Godfather series explores the dynamics between a group of siblings. Saved by the Bell adds to this canon of sibling rivalry literature with the episode "The Fabulous Belding Boys" (curiously re-titled the "Famous Belding Boys" on the DVD anthology).
Originally airing on December 9, 1990, the Fabulous Belding Boys explores the rivalry between Mr. Belding and his brother, a local substitute teacher. One of the most striking – and startling – aspects of SBTB’s sibling rivalry tale is its overtly sexualized nature. Indeed, this sexualization is most prominently demonstrated in the Belding boy’s names – Richard and Rod – each crude slang for the male genitalia. In formulating the episode, the SBTB writing staff is clearly closely tracking Sigmund Freud’s theory that the sibling relationship arises out of the Oedipus complex, where brothers compete for their mother's attention.
The story also contains distinct characteristics of the story of Cain and Abel. Instead of the jealousy arising from of God’s favor, however, the Belding boys compete for the affection of a gang of popular high school students, most notably Zack. Zack’s role as a substitute for “god” is logically satisfying considering he is the focal point of the show, possesses the ability to stop time, and because he alone is aware of and has the ability to speak to the audience. Needless to say, the episode is powerful and timeless.
The main plot begins when Mr. Dickerson does not show up to administer his midterm. The gang fears this test as no one had passed it in three years. Escalating their anxiety, their class trip hangs in the balance, dependent on a passing grade. Apprehension turns to jubilation when Mr. Belding informs the class that Mr. Dickerson has gone insane. Mr. Belding further announces that Mr. Dickerson will be replaced by a substitute teacher – Mr. Belding’s brother Rod Belding. Immediately upon taking charge of the class, Rod – all sexual energy with long blond hair and insanely tight jeans – examines the test and deems it “too hard” (an interesting Freudian slip considering his voracious sexual appetites). Rod quickly dispatches the test, encouraging the students to tear up the test paper and throw it in the air. Woo hoo! Rod then gives the students whatever grade they feel they deserve before regaling the class with stories about substitute teaching. Rod thoroughly charms the gang, but makes a particularly strong impression on Zack who declares that he “love[s] this guy.”
Though Mr. Belding, the principal who is willing to take the gang on the class trip, plays the role of the proverbial “favored son,” Rod soon usurps this role through careful manipulation, engaging in a campaign to undermine Mr. Belding. When Mr. Belding enters Rod’s classroom to announce the destination for the class trip, the gang points out the numerous ways in which Rod is superior. Zack even announces that Rod is the best teacher that they had ever had. Then after Mr. Belding announces that the class trip is to Yosemite, Rod tells the gang that his brother is a terrible camper. The seeds of doubt are sown. As the action progresses, Rod, Screech, and Zack hang out in Mr. Belding’s office watching a baseball game. Zack declares that Rod is not like a teacher at all, but one of the guys, as they engage in some general tomfoolery. Then, in the moment that changes the course of the episode, Screech does a Mr. Belding impression. In the middle of Screech’s routine, he falls over and lands with a thud behind the desk. Rod then issues the ultimate insult in the Saved by the Bell universe, declaring that Screech “reminds him of his brother.” In a universe where being cool is the penultimate virtue, Rod has makes Mr. Belding the Screech. Considering that death rarely encroaches into the SBTB universe, the most frightening proposition in the SBTB universe is to become the Screech; to be declared uncool and awkward and from that day forward willingly accept a life of denigration and shame.
In rendering Mr. Belding the Screech, Rod commits the most heinous act possible against his brother. In this way, the story adopts strong overtones from the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Adding further insult to injury, Rod convinces the gang that Mr. Belding’s Yosemite trip is boring and that they should go whitewater rafting with him. Soon the whole gang has turned on Mr. Belding and tells him that they do not want to go to on the class trip with him. A confused Mr. Belding is then informed that they want to go rafting with Rod. Mr. Belding is thoroughly crushed but acquiesces.
Having become the favored Belding brother, Rod takes Freudian steps toward including the gang in his sexual fantasies. In the classroom, Rod has the gang sit in a raft as he bounces it up and down suggestively. He then proposes that they “work on their CPR.” Just as Slater and Zack are about to practice mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Jessie and Kelly, Mr. Belding barges in and demands an explanation ("Hey, hey, hey, what is going on here?!"). Rod calmly tells him to “relax Richie” to which Mr. Belding states that it looked like “making out to me.” Zack quickly defends Rod, telling Mr. Belding that “no other teacher ever cared as much about us” and tells him that “maybe [he is] jealous of [his] own brother.” Even though he is the authority figure, Mr. Belding does nothing. thoroughly emasculated, Belding is the Screech.
In a sharp criticism of Freud’s Oedipus complex, vanquishing his brother does not satiate Rod’s libido. Just as the class trip is about to leave for whitewater, Zack overhears Rod tell Mr. Belding that he will not lead the gang on their trip. Apparently, a buxom stewardess is in town and Rod’s lust is uncontrollable (“Richie, she’s a ten”). Infuriated, Mr. Belding casts Rod out of Bayside (“Get out of my school, Rod!”). The line is delivered with the same conviction, and is reminiscent of, Michael Corleone telling Fredo "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart" in the Godfather II. Zack returns to the gym and melodramatically announces, “I don’t feel so good Kelly.” Mr. Belding then tells the gang that Rod is sick and cannot take them on the trip. Slater, wearing a sleeveless button-down denim shirt, announces that they should all go home.
Rod’s ravenous libido, however, provides Mr. Belding an opportunity for salvation. Despite his new role as the Screech, Mr. Belding volunteers to take the gang on the trip in Rod’s place. Zack, realizing that he favored the wrong brother, apologizes to Mr. Belding. Mr. Belding understands saying “Rod always was the more exciting Belding.” Zack replies, “But we got the better Belding.”
Remarkably, through the Belding sibling rivalry Saved by the Bell acknowledges that there may be greater virtues than being cool. Furthermore, it is the only example in the entire series of a Screech finding redemption and acceptance. Like Cain sent east of Eden, Rod is banished from Bayside to the land of Nod – here, most likely Valley. And thus, Saved by the Bell leaves its distinct – and indelible – mark on the literature of sibling rivalry.