If you don’t have Peacock, there’s a good chance you’ve missed out on one of the best high school shows on TV right now: Saved by the Bell.
The reboot of the classic teen sitcom not only features most of the original cast, now as adults, but has a great cast of young actors playing current Bayside High students. One of those is Josie Totah, a young actress you might recognize from the film Moxie or Big Mouth. She plays Lexi, a popular girl and cheerleader at the school who is also trans.
Totah’s character is easily the funniest on the show, which is filled with hilarious characters and young actors. The series really knows how to balance her bitchy, mean-girl attitude and privilege with hilariously self-aware trans jokes.
There’s a lot to love about Saved by the Bell, but my favorite part has to be Lexi’s comedy. The vast majority of her scenes and humor have nothing to do with her being trans, and mostly, she’s talking about her popular TV show, her status at the school, her good looks, or her boyfriend.
“Well first of all, I don’t know who the hell thinks that trans people can’t be funny, because I’m f*cking funny,” Totah says when asked about playing such a comedic trans character. “Trans people are boring too. We’re also smart, or lazy, or energetic, and on it and have great work ethic. We’re a big span of people, like everyone else. But people like to pretend they don’t know that.”
In one standout episode from the series' current, ongoing second season, other students and teachers at Bayside keep on coming up to Lexi to tell her how sorry they are that another nearby high school is banning trans girls from sports teams. They’re bending over backward to show that they’re “good allies.” They even go so far as to carry Lexi around on their shoulders and make her captain of their own school’s soccer team. It’s all way too much allyship. So Lexi decides to write a musical that will end transphobia, “like how Hamilton ended racism,” she says.
Unfortunately, she’s not Lin-Manuel Miranda, and her play ends up being a confused, confusing mess. But still, the jokes never make you feel bad about being trans. Instead, Totah makes you laugh out loud at the reality of it. “Telling stories of trauma through the lens of comedy is amazing and so fun,” Totah says. “I think there is a lot of humor to pain and trauma.”
At the end of the episode, Lexi finally decides to try out the queer club at her school, only to find it’s not at all like she thought it would be. Instead of talking about trauma and persecution, the students are having a lip sync contest. “Queer and trans joy are revolutionary,” one student tells her. So of course, she shoves aside the student who was going to lip sync and does it herself. She is the star, after all.
“Lexi had this preconceived notion that getting involved civically and socially [as a trans person] would mean for her to have to be very serious and delve into the pain of it all,” Totah says. And while she knows that exploring trauma is important she also knows “it’s important to live your life freely and with happiness and with joy because that in itself is an act of protest, because ultimately, they don’t want you to be happy.”
That’s one of the main themes of Lexi’s character. Her storylines are rarely directly about trans issues, and when they are, they don’t belabor the issue with complicated language and stilted speeches. Instead, she gets to be a regular high school girl, and that’s the most revolutionary thing of all. And it allows for her to be her funniest self.
Instead of putting her in a corner and having her be “the trans character,” Saved by the Bell lets Totah be a fully-formed character. She’s complex, she’s mean, she’s got dreams and goals and fears, and she has a killer sense of humor.
Another highlight of the show is Lexi’s relationship with her boyfriend Jamie (the son of original Saved by the Bell character Jessie Spano). The two have been best friends since childhood, and Lexi regularly has to face her insecurities about the relationship.
None of the drama comes from outside transphobia or hate. Instead, Lexi talks about how, as a trans girl, she’s built up the idea of her first boyfriend in her mind. And she talks about how she’s nervous she wouldn’t be able to have a normal relationship. All of those fears are calmed by her boyfriend and friends.
But even in scenes between the two, there’s humor. Lexi is building up anticipation to their second kiss in this season, and getting there is a hilarious journey. No matter what she does, Totah elevates every scene she’s in with her perfect timing, impeccable physical comedy, and willingness to commit 100 percent to every single bit.
Totah’s character is her generation’s Cordelia Chase or Santana Lopez. But more importantly, she’s Lexi Haddad-DeFabrizio, and you better remember her name.
The new season of Saved by the Bell is currently streaming on Peacock.
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