Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Who’s Cooler: Zack Morris vs. Brandon Walsh?
Note: I can't seem to find any pictures of Priestley and Gosselaar together on the internet, so I decided to choose this picture of Tiffani Amber Thiessen instead. It's only because she straddles (HA!) both worlds so easily. It's not because I thought she was super hot. Not at all.
In the early 1990s, there weren’t a lot of TV stars that teenage boys could emulate. They were either too weird (Urkel), too stupid (Joey Lawrence), too shady (Bud Bundy), too Christian (Kirk Cameron), too smart (Doogie Howser) or way too cool (Will Smith). And yes, I realize that I mixed real names with character names, so if you want me to be consistent here they are: Jaleel White, Joey Russo, David Faustino, Mike Seaver, Neil Patrick Harris and Will Smith. There were really only two lead characters that a young man could aspire to be: Beverly Hills 90210’s Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestley) or Saved By the Bell’s Zack Morris (Mark Paul Gosselaar).
I guess if you wanted to be AC Slater (Mario Lopez) or Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) that’s ok, but those guys were second-bananas*. And I suppose if you had a blonde afro mullet, Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering) could be someone to look up to, but he was at best a third-banana. And if you were your group's loser you could always find similarities between yourself and David Silver (Brian Austin Green) or Samuel "Screech" Powers (Dustin Diamond). But why would you want to do that to yourself?
We’re going to stick with the leads of these two shows and break it down, 19 Thoughts style. By the way, we’re only going as far as high school graduation since SbtB had one craptastic year outside of Bayside High and 90210 had four crappy years after the gang graduated from West Beverly High School.
* He was called Sideshow Luke Perry for a reason.
Height: According to the interweb, Brandon is no more than 5’8” and Zack is 6’0”. The internet is usually right about this sort of thing. Point: Morris.
Dudes: Brandon hangs around Dylan, Steve and hapless tool David Silver (who may be white, but he ain't vanilla-take that Robert Van Winkle!). Zack hangs around Slater and hapless tool Screech. Silver and Screech's lameness cancel each other out, so it’s down to the rest of the posse. Dylan’s a puss, but he’s rich and he’s the most popular dude at WBHS and Steve Sanders tries so hard at being cool that he's uncool thus making any of his friends look cool by comparison. Slater was a meat head but vied for ultimate popularity at Bayside, Zack had to befriend him in order that he wasn't usurped. That's a coward's move, Zack should have crushed him. Basically, Brandon’s friends are an updated version of “Happy Days”* while Zack’s friends were rivals that couldn't be squashed and a spastic loser. Point: Walsh.
* The analogy: Dylan = Fonzi, Brandon = Richie, Potsie = David Silver and Ralph Malph = Steve Sanders. The only wrench in this theory is that Potsie and Richie were best friends, but David and Brandon never were. But I do like how Potsie and David are both annoyingly bad singers and Malph and Sanders have perms.
Self-righteous chick friend: Both were supposed to be the “soul” and "conscience" of each show, both sucked. Hard. Episodes stopped when they were built around these two. Brandon had Andrea Zuckerman (Gabrielle Carteris, who looked like she was 50-years-old) who made a big deal about every slight, real or imagined. While Zack had Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) who made a big deal about every slight, real or imagined. Jessie was a main ingredient of the super-group “Hot Sundaes” and she almost OD’ed on caffeine pills. Andrea just crabbed that everyone at WBHS was antisemitic. Point: Morris.
Other chick friends: Brandon had his bitchy twin sister Brenda, Donna Martin and Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth). Zack had Kelly Kapowski* and Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies). Shop-a-holic Donna Martin was the catalyst for one of the all-time great 90210 episodes (Donna Martin graduates **) and Brandon ended up getting into Kelly Taylor’s pants. Zack ended up doing the same to Kelly Kapowski and fooled around with shop-a-holic Lisa Turtle. That leaves Brenda as the tipping point and she made the show’s engine run. Point: Walsh.
* As you are well aware, Tiffani Amber Theissen made a splash as the Walsh’s bad girl cousin (she smoked pot, used a fake ID to get into bars, and had sex with every dude in the cast), Valerie Malone on 90210. She replaced real-life bad girl Shannon Doherty (Brenda). There aren’t a lot of actresses who can pull this dramatic 180 and was quite a shock to the system. Especially when you watched SbtB in the afternoon and she was worried about kissing Zach and tehn two hours later she was on 90210 screwing everything in sight.
** The whole premise behind this episode was terrific: Donna gets drunk, gets caught at the prom and is barred from graduating with her friends. This has her so down in the dumps, that the gang rallies behind her and tells the school board that no one is graduating unless Donna graduates. The school board folds, the kids cheer and Steve yells, “Let’s get a keg!” Donna Martin did indeed graduate.
The Tori Spelling Factor: Someone once said that Tori Spelling was the zeitgeist of the 1990s. That was supposed to be funny, but it's kind of true. And that's just so fucking sad. Spelling was a cast member on both shows: she played Donna Martin on 90210 and was Screech’s girlfriend Violet Bickerstaff on Saved by the Bell. She wasn’t good on either of them. However, she was on less episodes of SbtB than 90210 and her dad wasn’t the executive producer of that show either. Point: Morris.
Sex: Brandon had a nice run of “going all the way” in high school. Zack had none and seemed very ok with it. Point: Walsh.
Daddy issues: Brandon had the most clueless (and therefore the greatest) TV dad of all time: Jim Walsh. He was brilliantly played by the one and only James Eckhouse. Morris had three different actors playing his notoriously absent father. It’s my contention that all of Morris’ stunts were constant cries for attention from his daddy. Point: Walsh.
Oedipus Complexes?: None here. Both mothers were rarely seen and when they were on camera, weren’t listened to. They were ornaments to prove that the dads were straight as arrows. It seems to me that Brandon may have wanted to have sex with his sister, but that's not really the same thing, is it? Plus, that taboo sexual tension was part of what made the show great. Point: None.
Dealings with authority figures: As we have seen with the Donna Martin Graduates episode, Brandon Walsh held a lot of sway with the Beverly Hills School Board and the school's vice-principal, Ms. Teasley—not to mention a few teachers (like senior English teacher Gil) and other advisers. Zack Morris had the Big Kahuna of Bayside High School wrapped around his finger: principal Richard Belding (Dennis Hastings). Belding was so thoroughly flummoxed by Morris, that by the end of the series Zack was often trying more outlandish schemes because he was so bored of bamboozling Belding. It was almost as if he wanted to get caught and punished which I think has to do with Morris’ daddy issues. It’s obvious that Belding was a surrogate father to the lonely student and Morris’ actions were the typical teenage rebellions that were normally aimed at parental units. Arm chair psychology aside, Morris ran BHS so point: Morris.
Hangouts: Brandon had the Peach Pit where he had to work. Morris had the Max where he seemed to get free food. Point: Morris.
Hangout Owners: Armed with old-school wisdom, veteran B-actor Nat Bussichio—played with panache by Joe E. Tata—owned the Peach Pit and served up mega burgers and advice. The Max was run by a failed magician named Max (so imaginative) whose specialty was the Max Burger (doubly imaginative). The dude was a fucking failed magician who named burgers after himself, point: Walsh.
Work: Brandon slaved at the gang’s hangout the Peach Pit during the school year and when it got hot, he took a job at the Beverly Hills Beach Club. While it seemed like he was being mature, he ended up spending half of his shifts talking to his buddies who all hung around his places of work. Morris was too busy scheming about ripping off his classmates to get a real job. Point: push. Walsh made the system work for him, Morris worked the system.
Race Relations. There was an episode of "90210" that dealt with the Rodney King riots where Brandon and his Crenshaw High School newspaper editor counterpart traded op-ed pages. Brandon angered the community by inviting the Crenshaw kids to their West Bev dance (THEY'RE PROBABLY ALL IN A GANG!). But David Silver angered everyone by rapping. However, the kids learned that they aren't so different and started hip-hop line dancing. The Crenshaw editor started dating Andrea (how SHOCKING!). Also Brandon's boss at the beach club was a soap-opera watching black guy and the short order cook at the Peach Pit was a dude named Willie who seemed like a terrific back ground actor.And Silver and Andrea are both Jewish. On SbtB, aside from Lisa Turtle, there was one black nerdy kid who talked like Froggy from "Our Gang". Mario Lopez is Hispanic, I guess. Point: Everyone! Hooray!
I was backstage and I heard that you kids liked ALCOHOL!: It’s true, Paul Stanley, these kids did like alcohol. Unfortunately they liked it a bit too much and both crashed their cars. Walsh crashed the very symbol of his Minnesota roots,what made him so different from the Hollyweirdos, a piece of crap car named Mondale (after former presidential candidate and piece of crap car, Walter Mondale). Morris crashed Lisa Turtle’s parents’ car after a toga party gone awry. Also Morris injured his friends. At least it took Brandon more than one party to fuck up his life and he didn’t take anyone down with him. Point: Walsh.
Drugs!: Both were anti-drug, however only Brandon got high. And that was inadvertently when his girlfriend spiked his club soda with ecstasy*. Brandon also shit his pants when he found out that Steve was taking steroids. The only time the Saved by the Bell gang saw drugs is at a party for superstar celebrity Jonny Dakota (who ironically chose BHS as the site for his “There’s No Hope With Dope” PSA). Dakota is passed a joint, takes a comically large hit and hands it to Kelly. Morris busts in at the last minute (the gang had left when Screech did something stupid and Zack had forgot his jacket) and tells Dakota that no one does drugs in HIS school. The commercial shoot is ruined and superstar NBC President Brandon Tartikoff is brought in to replace Dakota and film the commercial. Point: I don’t know, at least Walsh did something.
* Although Brandon was angry about being drugged, he was more angry when his psycho girlfriend (Emily Valentine) showed up to help the gang build a float wearing his “lucky Minnesota Twins” jersey. He was absolutely incredulous about the gall that this gal had wearing his shirt. To be honest, I’d be pretty pissed off about that too. Emily ends up burning down the kids’ float. Not sure what happened to the shirt.
Cars: After destroying Mondale, Brandon worked his ass off for a summer and got a nice, late-60s Mustang that he thankfully didn’t name after a failed presidential candidate. Morris had his two feet. Point: Walsh.
Athletics: Despite being two inches taller than Spud Webb and less black, Brandon made the WBHS junior varsity basketball team, which (rightly, I might add) pissed Steve Sanders off. He also made the track team and was a pretty good hockey player. Zack Morris found his Native American roots and ran really fast. All story lines were pretty far-fetched (aside from the hockey one), but at least Morris looked like an athlete. Point: Morris.
Intelligence: Brandon did very well on his SATs, was salutatorian and was accepted to numerous top-tiered schools, but chose to go to a state school with his buddies. There was one episode where Morris literally aced his SATs and he chose to go to a state school with his buddies. Aside from being crafty, Morris was kind of a dumb ass, so I can see why he did well on standardized testing. Point: Walsh.
Musicianship and Music Influences: Morris was in a band called “Zack Attack” and he played lead guitar. His room had posters of the Bangles and Janet Jackson on the wall. Walsh was famous for not being able to sing or dance and his room had a poster of the Neville Brothers* on his wall. The lameness in poster choice cancels each other out, and at the very least, Zack was actually in a band. Point: Morris.
* Seriously, the Neville Brothers? I would have been less shocked if Brandon had a poster of Neville Chamberlain on his wall. I can guarantee you that if you did a nation-wide sweep, there would be zero teenagers with a Neville Brothers CDs in their collection, never mind a poster on their walls. Any time that they would show Brandon’s room, that poster took me out of the story and I’d end up wondering whether the producer was a huge fan and wanted to subconsciously influence America’s teens. It was just weird.
Kids: Brandon and Steve once had to take care of a sullen teenage mother’s baby named Joey. They did this during a montage while Concrete Blonde’s song “Joey” was playing in the background. I wonder if the producers asked each other whether the viewers would understand the significance, especially when the lead singer warbled, “Joey, I’m not angry any more!”. Zack Morris once delivered a baby in a stuck elevator. Bonus! The baby was Mr. Belding’s son! How’s that for ham-fisted subtlety! Point: America for having these two great story lines.
Miscellany: Brandon Walsh had pretty cool hair and along with Luke Perry brought the sideburns back into popularity. Zack Morris seemed aware that he was on a television show and would freeze time and talk directly to the audience. That’s post-modernism, baby! Zack also was one of the first fictional characters on television to have a cell phone. A phone so stupidly large that it's a point of reference when discussing the immense size of things. Point: Morris.
The winner in this very scientific survey is Brandon Walsh by a whopping 8-7 count. So the next time you’re at a fancy dinner party or having cocktails with the boys and someone brings up this question, you are now able to answer this question without any hesitation.And the best part is that you'll have this scientific study as absolute proof when you are called a liar and a heretic.