In 1988, Peter Engel produced a television series for the Disney Channel entitled Good Morning, Miss Bliss. GMMB starred English actress Hayley Mills as Miss Bliss, a teacher at a middle school in Indianapolis, Indiana. It is hard to imagine a premise less likely to offend or intrude upon the sensibilities of urban culture. One year later, however, Engel retooled GMMB for NBC's Saturday morning schedule. The resulting show, Saved by the Bell, launched an understated but clear attack on urban culture as SBBT would consistently incorporate lamentable attempts at urban culture into an otherwise overtly suburban show. After four seasons of subtly undermining urban culture, Engel used the success of SBTB to unleash a more direct assault with the ridiculous City Guys program.
Saved by the Bell focused on the adventures of a group of suburbanite teenagers living safe and comfortable existences in Palisades, California. None of the characters faced the struggles that define urban culture. The setting, Bayside, appeared almost wholly caucasian. The notable exception to this rule was Lisa Turtle, the lone African-American in the main cast of characters. Strictly avoiding urban overtones, however, Lisa is the daughter of two surgeons and is perhaps the richest character on the show. Lisa is the school fashion plate and several episodes revolve around Lisa's notorious excesses at the mall.
The only other recurring African-American character is Ollie Creekly, a gravelly-voiced nerd who often wore suspenders and a bow tie. Needless to say, neither Lisa nor Ollie represented anything remotely close to urban sensibilities. Despite the lack of urban culture at Bayside, the school delighted at engaging in hip hop music. The Bayside gang's rapping is so horrible, so mortifying, that Engel clearly intended their efforts to be cruel mockery.
One example of this derision occurs in "Cream for a Day." In that episode, Bayside holds a pep rally at the Max. In an effort to get the school fired up, Jesse, Kelly, and Lisa perform perhaps the lamest rap ever performed by anyone under the age of 25 while Slater lays down a beatbox. The rap includes inane lines such as "B buh B buh B, Go Bayside!" It is awful beyond words. In another reprehensible example, and as previously discussed in this oeuvre, in the episode the "Fabulous Belding Boys," actor Raf Mauro performs what is easily the lamest rap ever.
Despite these onslaughts against urban culture, Engle's desire for horrific rapping remained unabated. Accordingly, on November 14, 1992, SBBT produced the episode "Snow White and the Seven Dorks." In "Snow White," the drama club must come up with a play. When Screech suggests the story of Snow White, it is readily dismissed as child's play. Mr. Bainbridge, however, challenges the gang to reinvent the tale into a more modern presentation. Kelly then suggests that they perform a "rap version" of Snow White. Stunningly, Mr. Bainbridge declares the idea "brilliant." Strangely, the rest of the drama club quickly falls in line with this decidedly un-brilliant farce and produces Snow White and the Seven Dorks.
The episode reaches the peak of its absurdity during Jessie's audition for Snow White. Feeling uncomfortable with the perceived sexist overtones of the role, Jessie changes the script, concocting new lines like "Well you better wise up because you're way outdated; and this Snow White is liberated." From there the episode devolves into a banal love triangle as both Kelly and Slater believe that Jessie and Zack are falling for each other as the two leads in the play. Slater even joins the play as the eighth dork, "Studdly." The episode ends with all of the gang's problems resolved through the magic of rapping theater. It is one of the true low points of the entire series.
The problem is obvious. Engel let his zest for ridiculing urban culture trump the creative merits of the show itself. Not surprisingly, filming of the original Saved by the Bell wrapped within a month of the taping of Snow White and the Seven Dorks. Apparently the series simply could not survive Engel's perverse need to degrade other cultures.
The end of SBBT, however, did little to slow the Engel hate machine. Not satisfied with occasionally mocking urban culture, Engel launched a direct attack with the ludicrous City Guys program. Airing on Saturday morning from 1997 until 2001, City Guys revolved around a diverse group of good looking teenagers in an inner city high school. The show came complete with a rap theme song (C-I-T-Y you can see why; City Guys!) and intense urban situations. For example in one episode, Jamal is visited by his uncle, a former Black Panther. Jamal quickly becomes militant and turns his back on his white friend Chris. By the episode's conclusion, however, the whole gang learns an important lesson about reverse racism and tolerance. This episode is callously entitled "Jamal X." In another episode, Jamal buys a gun after he is robbed. That episode is entitled "Jamal Got His Gun."
The only word to describe these episodes is "outrageous." Mr. Engel's contemptuous message is delivered loud and clear - urban culture serves only as fodder to entertain children on Saturday mornings. The question remains, however, why did NBC tolerated Engel's ever bolder disdain? And why did NBC allow Mr. Engel to shape Saturday morning programming where his hateful ideas were most likely to find an impressionable audience? Thankfully, in 2001 NBC pulled the plug on City Guys and Engel's Saturday morning reign of terror. Notably, Engel moved on from television to serve as the dean of the School of Communication and the Arts at Pat Robertson's Regent University. The Son of Feeney would be fascinated to hear tales of his teaching style.