What do Clue, Agatha Christie novels, and Saved by the Bell have in common? Well, first and foremost, they have some horrendous histories of casual and overt racism. (I will not be doing a full-dive into the social history of whodunit and murder mysteries in this article because it is a subject that belongs in a larger, individual essay. That said, Google has an abundance of information and sources if you want to learn more.) The three also have a thing for murder mysteries. In a quest to rewrite, and possibly ruin, some childhood memories, I am taking you back to 1991 and into the Saved by the Bell episode “Mystery Weekend.”
It’s Alright (Or is it?)
“Mystery Weekend” is a rendition of the whodunit subgenere, the episode including various comedic horror tropes I’ll discuss later on. However, I think it is safe to say Saved by the Bell is plenty horrific on its own. You have the sociopathic main character, Zack Morris, who has low-key Ted Bundy vibes and serial dates every girl in the school, only for those girls to never be seen again. (I’m not saying Zack Morris is a serial killer, but I’m also not not saying that.)
Then there’s Screech Powers, who, despite being a so-called genius, has no understanding of the word “no” and harasses Lisa Turtle like it’s his full time job. Mix that in with a hurricane of toxic masculinity, cultural insensitivity, overt racism/sexism/classism, teenage boys and grown men preying on teenage girls, nonsensical story continuity, laugh tracks and a million Fashion Don’ts, and you’ve got a 90’s classic.
Dinner is Served
What is a group of high schoolers called? A gaggle? A swarm? An ambush? I’ll just call them the gang, since that is how they often refer to themselves. “Mystery Weekend” takes place in a haunting, victorian styled mansion. It is home to the murder mystery game, a prize Lisa won in a phone contest.
Things start off with a bang when the piano player suddenly chokes and dies (but not before Kelly Kapowski and Screech give a casual public service announcement about the dangers of smoking). Of course Zack is excited to see a “dead” body. And, because he has that trademark privileged white boy confidence, immediately thinks he knows who the killer is. Of course he’s wrong, but his ego doesn’t falter.
Until several party goers die. Those deaths are “not part of the game.” In no time, the blonde perv becomes a suspect of murder, thus embarking the audience on an array of thievery and goofy plot twists.
Are we really all that surprised Zack is accused of murdering for money? Are we?
From the 1945 book-to-movie adaptation of And Then There Were None to the 1949 board game Cluedo and 2019 blockbuster Knives Out, these stories continue to sell out and entertain the masses. They keep audiences on the edge of their seats, constantly guessing for the outcome, only for the ending to unveil damning evidence the writer purposely kept secret. Once you finish, you have the insatiable need to consume more. To sum it up:
Saved by the Bell’s “Mystery Weekend” was one of my favorite episodes when I watched it as a young millennial. I liked seeing the characters in a new dark and creepy environment, and I adored creepy houses in fiction. It was a large serving of my cup of tea. However, seeing it again as a full fleshed adult has caused me to have some mixed feelings.
The episode toys with horror tropes: thunder claps each time a murder or lesser crime occurs, a spooky melody alludes an atmosphere of suspicion and terror. Laugh tracks and snarky comments, the latter usually aimed toward Screech, lighten the mood. Of course, you can’t have a Saved by the Bell episode without its standard dose of sexual harassment (this time including a grown-ass adult maid flirting with teenage boys) and Zack’s undeserving redemption arc.
“Mystery Weekend” is fun in the sense that it parodies the murder mystery and horror genres. It’s also exhaustive, as it is a problematic episode in an even more problematic show.
Make sure to check out more from Dark Deviations here at Haunted MTL.
I want to acknowledge that it is June 19, also known as Juneteenth, one of the most crucial days in U.S. history. You can learn more about it here.