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SBTB: The College Years Thanksgiving Special

When I think back to my childhood, holidays are often the fondest of my memories of yesteryear.  Nothing beats Christmas as a child, but a close second was when the whole family got together at Thanksgiving and enjoyed good food and fellowship.  Before and after the meal, we'd all gather around the TV, watching many memorable events like the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and the often forgettable football games.  The Laurel and Hardy classic March of the Wooden Soldiers was (and still is) a holiday staple in my house.

Forgotten to many, though, is the Thanksgiving episode of Saved by the Bell: The College Years.  Many shows of yesteryear celebrated the holidays with special episodes, and I feel this tradition is missing today.  However, this College Years episode always sticks out in my mind when I think of Thanksgiving programming.

As many children of the 90's would agree, one of my favorite shows growing up was Saved By the Bell.   I was too young at the time to realize how cheesy the show was with its life lessons and "very special episodes," but I dare you to find any cooler guy than Zack Morris in 1991.   Zack and the gang would be on in syndication early in the morning before school and was always a daily can't miss for me.  I mean, what guy's first crush in that era wasn't Kelly Kapowski?   
Looking back on Saved By The Bell (SBTB) I feel like the show was on forever, but in reality, it was only on from August of 1989 to May of 1993 for 4 seasons and only 86 episodes.  There are a few more if you count the first season on Disney Channel as "Good Morning Miss Bliss," but I choose not to.   
There was also a four-episode "movie" that aired on TV called "SBTB:  Hawaiian Style," where the gang goes to Hawaii to visit Kelly's Grandfather's resort, where the typical teen hijinks of saving a hotel from a criminal committing mortgage fraud ensue.  Didn't you do that as a teen, too?

After the show's initial run came to an end in 1993, they launched SBTB:  The College Years.  The College Years wound up being a flop and even being the big fan as I was, I just didn't care much for it.  With Jessie and Lisa missing from the cast, their replacements just didn't do enough for me to complete the gang.  The College Years was canceled after just one season and was finished with a TV movie, "Wedding in Las Vegas," that perfectly wraps the series up with the marriage of Zack and Kelly.

Episode 10 of Saved By The Bell:  The College Years originally aired November 23, 1993, and was titled "A Thanksgiving Story."  It opens as Kelly Kapowski (Tiffany Amber Theisen) busts into the boy's dorm room and sets the stage very quickly that everyone is headed home to see their parents for Thanksgiving.  The Dorm Advisor, Mike Rogers (former NFL'er Bob Golic,) shows up and hands over the keys to his car so the kids can get home for the holiday.  He mentions he won't be going home himself but instead will be hosting a large group of underprivileged children for a big Thanksgiving dinner.  Leslie (Anne Tremko) isn't going home for the holiday either since her rich parents are traveling abroad, so she volunteers to stay and help Mike with the children.

Before the gang leaves, Mike asks Screech (Dustin Diamond) to help him move a pool table out of the way to make room for the big feast, but Mike winds up hurting his back when Screech fails to actually help.  This was the first of many Screech-induced problems during this episode.  Screech feels guilty and decides to stay and "help" Mike, but this will only cause more problems throughout the show.

The rest of the gang heads out and is enjoying their road trip home, laughing and singing along with the radio.  Suddenly, the car breaks down.  After spending all day stranded on the side of the road, fear, fatigue, and frustration set in as they break into arguments, and new friction begins between Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Kelly and the other couple, Slater (Mario Lopez) and Alex (Kiersten Warren).

Back at college, Leslie and Screech try to cook the Thanksgiving meal but fail miserably.  As the kids begin to arrive, Screech promises Mike that he ordered the turkeys from a restaurant and not to worry because they'll come prepared just in time.  As Screech is calming Mike, the gang arrives back at college, exhausted and sullen.  Zack explains that he begged the airlines for a standby ticket and he's waiting for the call that they have found him a seat to get home.  Kelly gets very upset that Zack only cares about himself, pointing out that they all want to get home for Thanksgiving, but Zack tries to justify not getting everyone else a ticket by saying he lied to the airline and that he was Dr. Morris needing to get home to perform a kidney transplant.

The turkeys arrive just as the kids settle down at the table but Mike is shocked to find the turkeys are not cooked but frozen!  Screech admits he changed the order to save money, not realizing it takes a full day to defrost and cook a frozen turkey.

Screech attempts several silly ways to cook the turkey as fast as possible, trying everything from a hair dryer to taking them over to the gym for a trip into the sauna.  Meanwhile, Slater and Alex try to entertain the kids while Kelly and Leslie begin sharing Thanksgiving memories as they prepare the vegetables in the kitchen.  Zack runs out for whatever store is open and returns from 7-Eleven with turkey-flavored "SPAM", cranberry juice, and a bag of tater tots.

Just as the gang begins to despair, the first guest appearance occurs.  What would a holiday special be without celebrity guest appearances?  This episode has several!

Marv Albert, the former NBC football commentator, makes a guest appearance as himself in a interview during the football halftime show.  He interviews Mike about his charity dinner for children but Mike is humiliated when Screech, again causing problems, interrupts the live interview and proudly points out that he has found a fix for the ruined meal... turkey jerky!

As everyone glumly eats the jerky, Zack gets the call from the airline that he's been waiting for.  As Zack rushes over to tell Kelly, another guest star, the late Jonathan Brandis appears carrying a fully cooked turkey.

Kelly freaks out and announces for those watching who have no clue who this man is "IT'S JONATHAN BRANDIS FROM SEAQUEST."  He mentions he was watching the game when he saw how badly the interview went and brought over a turkey for the kids.  No sooner does he place the turkey on the table and the next guest star appears with more food.  Kelly once again announces to the audience "IT'S MARSHA WARFIELD!" who is best known as Roz from Night Court.

Jenna Von Oy shows up next, and they keep referring to her as "Six from Blossom" rather than her real name.  While Leslie wishes out loud for Tom Cruise to appear as the next celebrity, Saved By The Bell fans get a real treat when none other than Dennis Haskins reprises his role as Mr. Belding!  The Bayside High Principal saw "his kids" on TV and just had to come to the rescue with a bowl of his mother's mashed potatoes.

Brian Austin Green of 90210 fame is the last (and arguably most famous) to appear carrying a plate of food as the studio audience goes wild.  Mike is beside himself with relief and gratitude that the kids will get the meal he promised, but I'd like to point out that a handful of people bringing one turkey and a few plates of food is not enough to feed the 40 or so people in the room.  But I digress...

In the end, Zack has a change of heart and offers Kelly his airline ticket so she can go home with the family she so desperately misses.  Kelly stands to propose a heartwarming toast, saying that she wanted so badly to be home with her family but that no matter where you are and who you're with or what you have to eat, you should be thankful for what you have: health, friendship, and love. 
And that, my friends, is what Thanksgiving is truly all about.