After my examination of the Chuck Cunningham Syndrome, some readers were a little upset that I just glossed over Tori on Saved by the Bell. As if some great explanation was actually needed to explain what Chuck Klosterman dubbed the “The Tori Paradox.” They wanted a cosmetic event, a wormhole, or planetary alignment to rationalize why Tori was in some episodes, while Kelly and Jessie are in other episodes. When the truth is probably a little simpler: Tori and Lisa were lesbians.
Now I’m not talking about anything happening on the set, or between Leanna Creel and Lark Voorhees. In real life, we know what happened. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley were in a contract dispute, NBC wanted more episodes, they wouldn’t star in them, all of which led to Lisa Turtle needing a new pretend BFF. So, in walked Leanna Creel as new girl and resident tough chick with a heart of gold, Tori Scott. Tori’s job was to fill up just enough episodes to get those crazy kids to graduation, where she could then promptly vanish without a trace. However, Tori was only in 10 episodes of the last season (the last real season), and instead of having 10 consecutive Tori episodes NBC alternated Tori with Kelly/Jessie episodes of SBTB… creating a universe where Tori and Kelly/Jessie cannot occupy the same space at the same time (sort of like the movie Time Cop but with fewer full splits). But the problem wasn’t a space-time anomaly that caused a rift in the Tori Paradox, but Kelly and Jessie’s own prejudice to Lisa’s relationship.
In the reality of the show (or unreality), it wasn’t that Kelly and Jessie were physically unable to exist with Tori, it’s that they chose to not be around when Tori was near. They snubbed her, but were essentially snubbing Lisa. You have to remember how conservative these girls were. Kelly’s the All-American Girl: a wholesome girl from a large family of gun nuts. There are a lot of conservative values that go into volleyball and part-time jobs at the Max. And while Jessie had all the trappings of a liberal activist, how often did she actually help a real person? It was always some faceless cause that has little to do with helping people and more to do with her own self-righteousness. Take a good hard look at her in those high waisted jeans, she wears her jeans like her attitude. Jessie was in student government, she was all about her grade point average, and getting into an Ivy League School. She was basically just a pill popper only concerned with getting good grades and maintaining her perfect public image. Having lesbian friends doesn’t get you into Stansbury after all. Ousting Lisa would seem like the more humane thing to do. The Bayside gang did the same thing to Kelly when she cheated on Zack with Jeff. If you did something considered taboo, they would cut you out of the clique. Or take when Jessie didn’t want to dance with the guy who was shorter than her, she didn’t even want to be seen with someone outside the statistical norm. These are girls who wouldn’t risk their popularity and social status because Lisa felt the need to experiment.
So, if they were lesbians, how come all of Bayside High didn’t know about it? Because Lisa was the school gossip and she wasn’t about to gossip on herself. Which also explains why she was so obsessed with secrets because she had secrets of her own. As we go further and further into Lisa and Tori’s relationship, it all starts to make a lot of sense. On one end you have Tori Scott: the tough biker chick. (we know this because she wears a leather jacket… she even wore a leather jacket with a toga). Perhaps, you could even call her butch? She’s a drifter, a woman with a past, and somehow, someway she managed to resist both Zack and Slater (and Screech and Mr. Belding if you want to include them). Inconceivable! And on the other end, you have Lisa Turtle: daddy’s little girl. She likes clothes, fashion, and lipstick. She went to the Fashion Institute of Technology of New York where sexual experimentation is practically a degree. She doesn’t like Screech, or any man that I know of. How many dates did Lisa even go on? Maybe, four? That "blerdy" student council kid, the freshman she accidentally went with to the Senior Kick-Off party, her dancing partner who dumped her after she sprained her ankle, and Screech. Or beard, beard, beard, and curly-haired beard. These weren’t real relationships, these were special guest stars.
Now let’s examine Tori’s time on Saved by the Bell, which becomes very telling. Tori first cements her relationship with Lisa when she helped out with the Fall Ball. The dance committee turned on Lisa, but not Tori. Tori was there for Lisa when Lisa needed someone the most. Was this the beginning of a beautiful friendship? Tori and Lisa then form a Bayside "Teen-Line", a safe place where the alienated could share their feelings. Did they have feelings that needed to be shared? Tori later tricks Slater and Screech into slow dancing and kissing each other at the Masquerade Ball? Was this a gag or a prelude of things to come? Lastly, Lisa, Tori, and the rest of the girls want more money for girl's sports at Bayside, which leads to a battle of sexes. I didn’t make that up, that’s an episode. A general theme of this season is of Tori and Lisa growing closer and closer, and discovering the power of their femininity together.
To me though, the most telling moment in Lisa and Tori’s relationship has little to do with Tori. It was when Zack and Lisa kissed. If you look at it in the proper context, Lisa had just met Tori and exciting feelings were beginning to stir. Scary feelings though, too. If Lisa was questioning her sexuality, what would be the best test? Probably to make out with the sleaziest, douchebag in school. If she could make out with Zack Morris and not feel anything for that blond Tom Cruise then maybe she was gay.
This is not an enjoyable embrace.
Now I understand that labeling Tori as a lesbian is playing into a stereotype. Perhaps, unfairly. What were her character traits: tough, rides motorcycle, wears leather jacket, a demeanor somewhat similar to The Facts of Life’s Jo. Yes, it’s unfair jump to the conclusion that she’s homosexual because she’s good with a bike and has grease on her cheek, but this is Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell was a show of stereotypes. The nerds looked like nerds, dressed like nerds, talked like nerds, they even answered to the name “nerds.” On SBTB, if it walked like a duck and talked like a duck, it was a nerd! And jocks were jocks: big, dumb, and in letterman jackets. Blondes were bimbos. These were not complex characters, they were window dressings and their characters ran as deep as their costumes. So, if you have girl that looks like a lesbian and acts like a lesbian, on Saved by the Bell, she was a lesbian.
And does it further the case that Leanna Creel is an actual lesbian? I know, I know that doesn’t mean that Tori is a lesbian. Just because Rupert Everett’s gay doesn’t mean Dr. Claw is gay (Inspector Gadget... go, go, stupid reference). But it kinda does, too. There’s always something odd about a man with a cat, plus that Harvey Fierstein voice. Intellectually we are able to divorce the actor from the role, but emotionally we can never truly separate them, even if it’s just on a microscopic cellular level. Mathew Broderick is Ferris Bueller, Michael J. Fox is Marty McFly, Mark-Paul Gosselaar is Zack Morris, Leanna Creel is Tori Scott and Tori Scott is gay.
Much like real high school, lines got drawn, some got ostracized, feelings were hurt, friendships ended, loves faded, there were nerds, jocks, preppies, bimbos, homosexuals, there were persecutors and persecuted, but in the end it's okay because you still know it will be all right when you’re saved by the bell.
I'm lazy and instead of writing anything new, I'm going to watch reruns of Twin Peaks. I could do something new, but you know... TV. As the chart will demonstrate, it seems the more free time I have the lazier I get, or that I work better with zero to no pressure and when deadlines are something hazy in the distance. The closer deadlines come, the more likely I am to roll over and play dead, and generally hope that someone else will take care of the problem. So, instead of me doing new things, enjoy these things other people have made. Plus, I'm lazy.
But onward to less lazy people:
Fat Guy Acts Out Animal Memes. Sometimes I think, Hey, I'm a fat guy. I like memes. I can be an animal. But then I don't.
What if video games were around during the silver age of comics? by Rusty Shackles (not to be confused with Rusty Shackleford)
I’ve come to notice several movie posters with characters popping out of sewers in that hey-look-at-me-I’m-in-the-sewer-so-I-must-be-funny sort of way. Sometimes this makes sense as with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They live in the sewers hence posters with them emerging from the sewers seems natural. Also, with the Turtles mostly obscured by the manhole cover this works as a great teaser for film, especially for the first movie where the live action Ninja Turtles were kept back a little bit as a surprise for the audience.
However, other films make less sense. Like Short Circuit 2, which features neither a sewer nor coming out of a sewer in the actual film. Some of these movie posters remind me of the fake movie Sack Lunch in an episode of Seinfeld. The movie poster featured a family in a brown paper bag, which makes Elaine wonder how they got in there: So d'you think they got shrunk down, or is it just a giant sack?
That’s what some of these movie posters seem to be doing, making us wonder what sort of predicament could possibly occur to make Johnny 5 and Ben Jahrvi get into the sewer? Are they hiding in the sewers? Are they exploring the sewers? Are they looking for One-Eyed Willie’s lost treasure? For comedies, these posters promise that if you watch this movie you will see a logical chain of shenanigans to get this upstanding character into the sewer, wackiness will ensue.
Horror movies on the other hand concentrate on the unwacky side of sewage. The gross, hideous dark parts of the sewer. This is the sewer where we flush our dead fish, the mail-order alligators our moms wouldn’t let us have, and all our dirty little secrets. But there’s still something slightly whimsical in that the sewer is still where our poo goes, which inevitably leads to a 98% chance likeliness of poo joke.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The green standard in sewer movies.
Short Circuit 2
No actual sewer in the film.
This is mostly for my co-workers, but really applies to anyone trying to contact me. “But who would want to contact you,” you ask. Good question, but you’d be both surprised by the number of people who need to reach me on a daily basis and how bad they are at doing it. Here are the worst to best ways to contact me:
15. Morse Code – Dot, dot, what?
14. Pony Express - Or any sort of delivered mail (horse or not). By this point in my life, I know the size and shape of all my bills, so whatever does not fit into that size and shape goes into a pile never to be looked at again. Bills go into a smaller separate stack to be looked at… someday.
13. Email - I used to be pretty good at checking email until years of signing up for various services and purchases made online have turned my email into a wasteland.
12. Twitter DM - Direct Messaging on Twitter works great if working great is to let spammers auto message me to tell me how much they’re looking forward to my Tweets. Sometimes they use my name and that makes me feel special.
11. Office Phone - For reasons unknown when answering my office phone I forget both how to use a telephone and how to hold basic conversations. Most phone calls follow thusly: Um…. uh… what… um… yeah… um… uh… um… what?
10. Facebook Message - There’s usually, at least, 30 new messages to me whenever I log onto Facebook, and I’m far too lazy to read 30 different messages in a row. If it’s important they’d send a Twitter DM.
9. Facebook Post - Same as above, but a post instead. Honestly, I might respond better to a poke because that, at least, would display on my screen until I do something about it. But then again my only response would be, “What kind of pervert would poke me.”
8. Cell Phone - A cell phone call is a little better because only VIPs have my cell number, but I rarely either have my ringer on or near my person. Most likely neither.
7. Tweet - This has become one of the better ways to contact me. It won’t be timely, but if you @ me then I will see it, and if it’s relevant, funny, or important I may even respond.
6. IM - An Instant Message should be great but my work computer has no sound and sometimes I don’t notice it blinking on the bottom. And also I don’t like you very much, so if I see it’s you, it’s easy to ignore.
5. Text Message - I like a Text Message because if I ignore it or don’t notice it, it’s not that big a deal if it takes me a half hour to respond.
4. Candygram - I do like candy. I like people giving me candy. And I probably would read most messages attached to candy. I would also respond to Singing Telegrams.
3. Smoke Signal - While I cannot read or understand smoke signals, I do respond quickly to fire and the danger thereof.
2. Paper airplane or Nerf football - Throwing something at my head is sadly the second most effective method to gain my attention. Although, it does come with a retaliation to be named later.
1. Turn around and ask me
I was playing the new Back to the Future video game and I was shocked and overjoyed when I saw in the voice cast none other than Claudia Wells as Jennifer Parker… the original Jennifer Parker! My first thought was literally how in the world did they get Claudia Wells to do the voice!? Then I realized, oh yeah, she hasn’t worked in like 25 years.
Claudia Wells played Jennifer Parker, Marty McFly’s girlfriend, in the first Back to the Future movie, but was replaced by Elisabeth Shue in Back to the Future Parts II & III. Now under any regular circumstance I would shout, “Hell yeahs, Elisabeth Shue!” However, this is Claudia Wells we’re talking about. Even as a young lad upon watching BTTF II, I asked myself why would they purposely make Jennifer less hot? I mean they had a perfect looking actress who was height appropriate to Michael J. Fox, what else could they want? Did it serve some sort of story element or a plot point that she needed to be a little less good looking? Maybe, no one would have believed Claudia would have settled for a down and out Marty.
Everyone thinks that Claudia was replaced because Michael J. Fox was eternally young and, maybe, she didn’t age well in the four years between films. Though they probably would have replaced her with a younger actress if that was the case and Shue is three years older. So, what happened? The story is Wells’s mother was diagnosed with cancer during the filming of the first Back to the Future and she stopped acting sometime shortly thereafter. We can only imagine what could have been: Wells starring in such classics as The Saint and Hollow Man (and I do realize that Elisabeth Shue’s most critically acclaimed role, Leaving Las Vegas, came after BTTF but that’s just not as funny as Hollow Man).
What became of our Jennifer? Claudia currently owns a male clothing store, Armani Wells (she can measure inseam anytime… ugh, I’m sorry), or at least she did the last time her IMDB page was updated. What else? Not much. Judging by pictures on the internet she’s also doing various Back to the Future conventions… a lot of BTTF conventions.
But we can always go back to Back to the Future and remember when…
Telltale Video Game Jennifer
Something has changed about Claudia, although, I haven’t really seen her since the only time I’ve ever seen her and that was in the movie. However, something is different. Or somethings are different. Our little Jennifer has grown up in all kinds of ways. I guess I can just close my eyes and remember the old Jennifer (the old, young Jennifer), the same way I did when Elisabeth Shue took over the part.
Chuck Cunningham could be the world’s greatest illusionist: now you see him, now you don’t. Not only did he vanish from Happy Days without a trace, but he erased all evidence of his existence as well. What happened to Chuck Cunningham? Maybe, he witnessed a hit on the Fonzarelli crime family or saw his mother being assaulted by Don Fonz himself, and entered the witness protection program. But we’ll never really know no matter how much Happy Days Fanfiction I may write in my spare time.
Time and time again writers and TV producers seem to underestimate the intelligence of the television audience. Not intelligence really, but cult like devotion and attention to detail. And not really even devotion when you think about it, but just an average attention span and minor observational skills. Which is weird because what a television producer should want is for the audience to pay attention. Although, it’s the same reason I repeat myself all the time because I don’t remember the jokes I’ve already told and I assume no one’s paying attention anyway… no matter how much Happy Days Fanfiction I may write in my spare time. The point though that I’m so inelegantly trying to make is that if you have a character on a show, then you don’t have a character on a show, the audience tends to notice.
This is called Chuck Cunningham Syndrome. Named after Richie & Joanie’s older brother who went up stairs and never came down. This is when a main character on a TV show vanishes with little to no explanation as to where they went. Most likely because we don’t need them or want them. Chuck was an extraneous character because Richie already had all the fatherly advice he needed in Tom Bosley and had Fonzie to teach him how to be the meat in a Tuscadero sandwich… so who needs an older brother? And why bother explaining what happened to such a useless character anyway? That’s Chuck Cunningham Syndrome! That little lazy urge to not bother because it’s just Chuck after all. The more unexplained the exit, the more Chuck it is. Which, of course, leads ask to ask what happened to X on Y [insert whichever minor character you fancy]? Realistically this is often caused by contract disputes or TV stars moving on with their careers (it happens sometimes), and producers are left with three real options: write the character away, kill them off, or forget they ever existed. And of these choices there are three major influences that determine which path is taken: the viewers’ hatred of the character, the actors playing the characters’ hatred of the producers, and the producers’ hatred of doing any actual work.
Something probably goes pretty wrong in negations if a character is killed. It’s probably a combination of all kinds of hatred. One of my personal favorites is Valerie from Valerie’s Family (the show was named after her!). I think she had a problem with how much attention Jason Bateman was getting and a little power struggle happened. And you don’t mess with the Bateman. It probably happened something like this:
Jason Bateman: Sweep the leg… Do you have a problem with that?
Miller-Boyett Productions: No, Sensei.
Jason Bateman: No mercy.
Then Valerie got an elbow to the knee.
On the Move
Moving away is perhaps the easiest way to unload an unwanted character. They’re both gone, but still theoretically reachable for any very special episode sort of occasion; you can even call them (Chrissy on Three’s Company). And if they’re good little children they may even be invited back to the show someday. With movement though there is a strange distance scale; the less important the character is the farther away they seem have to move. Randy Taylor (Home Improvement) moved to Costa Rica to do something or other. Waldo Geraldo Faldo on Family Matters moved to France to become a chef. Rachel, also Family Matters, went to take care of a sick Aunt (presumably in the continental United States). Bo and Luke Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard) went to race NASCAR, but only for a season. The mom on That’s so Raven moved to England to attend law school. Boner (Growing Pains) became a US Marine and I have to imagine traveled the globe killing people with his bare hands. Here’s any interesting connection: Boner, Waldo, and Chrissy all stupid characters whose humor was because they were so stupid. All stupid, all moved. Distance then may depend both character importance and intelligence quotient.
Into the Void
Moving away is an easy cover up, but sometimes writers want to be even lazier than that. That’s where doing absolutely nothing comes into play. Those of the void are doomed to return to the void. The void being nothing, as in let’s not even acknowledge a change. Nothing is mostly reserved for nothing characters. This is even lower than the minor character who leaves for exotic lands. They’re so low that TV producers don’t even want to do the work to cover up their tracks, they don’t even want to say a sentence about them. A minor character may be well liked or even be beloved, but these guys aren’t even acknowledged. Examples include: Seven (Married with Children), Judy (Family Matters), Max (Saved by the Bell), Tina Pinciotti (That ‘70s Show), and of course, the holy Chuck (Happy Days). Just from cases of Judy, Waldo, and Rachel it seems that family actually doesn’t matter on Family Matters. One addendum to the void: Cody (Step by Step), an extremely popular character, was written off into the void after he kicked his wife in the face. Face kick = instant unpopularity = void. Character popularity is linked to the amount of work writers and producers will devote to them.
And as a Saved by the Bell side note to the void, it wasn’t just Max and it can be argued Tori entered the void as well. But realistically that class graduated and people just went their separate ways (and really only Lisa was friends with Tori, and they barely kept in touch with Lisa after the original run). However, the Bayside High student body changed on an episode to episode basis. Some students coming into focus as others returned to the background, when their character used up what little story arc they had they simply slipped back into the void or high school as it were. The main reason for so many characters coming and going is because Zack dated most of the student body: Kelly, Jessie, Lisa, Tori, Kelly’s sister, Wrestler Christy Barnes, Bridgette Wilson’s Ginger, Slater’s ex Jennifer, Slater’s sister J.B., handicapped Melissa, Charlie "Craterface" Coburn, and Ms. Bliss to name a few. We have to assume that all the students just stayed in school and are okay being womanized by Zack. No jealously, no acts of revenge, or schemes to win Zack back, which then leads us to the conclusion that Zack’s lame in the sack. So, bad sex does not fill the void.
The Wrap Up
Hiding in plain site remains perhaps of one of the greatest sitcom moments in television history and it came from Boys Meets World. Boy Meets World was by no means a great or even good or even an okay show, and I suspect it ran so long because Ben Savage was related to Fred Savage. However, it did bring us two wonderful things: Topanga and the return of Minkus. Minkus was Corey’s annoying antagonist in the first season, but subsequently vanished. He was, however, a much-cherished nerd and they brought him back for the graduation episode where he revealed he was there the whole time, just off camera on the other side of the school. If a character has a certain amount of resonance they get a wrap episode. Oz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Pete Ross (Smallville), and Steve (Married with Children) all got very special episodes to sum up what they’ve been up to. Cody from Step by Step actually even made a later appearance proving that kicking someone in the face isn’t all that bad, worthy of only about a two year ban. The more popular a character is, the more demand for the story line to end with a satisfying conclusion. Although, we also like to hear about characters we hate, if only to hear that they died in some gruesome accident off camera.
So, in conclusion if a minor character in a venomous contract dispute who happened to kick their wife/husband/child/lover in the face and had unfulfilling sex with Zack Morris but were beloved for their stupidity left a sitcom, they would have to move half way across the world to die of dysentery helping islanders, but we wouldn’t know this and pretend they never existed until their body ended up in an episode to be named later.