In Dustin Diamond’s memoir about his time as Screech on the much-mocked and much-beloved (ironically?) 80s sitcom Saved by the Bell (as well as its spin-offs), he takes a no-holds barred approach to spilling the dirt on his cast mates. Diamond recounts his days on the set with his much-older peers, his brushes with other celebrities of the day (as much as Jaleel “Urkel” White can be counted as a celebrity), and his myriad sexual encounters with women. Be prepared, readers, for you’re in for a bumpy ride.
There are so many problems with Diamond’s memoir that it’s hard to know where to start. This might be the biggest disasterpiece I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot of really, really crappy books). Perhaps the biggest problem is that from the onset, Diamond presents himself of the voice of authority and experience. This is even present in the book’s subtitle, which states that it goes “behind the scenes of Saved by the Bell with the guy who was there for everything.” The problem is that not only was Diamond not there for most things, but he’s clearly also delusional, or a pathological liar. That works for Diamond’s purposes, though, because the only way that readers are going to believe the contents of this book is if they are very stupid or total superfans who want to be scandalized.
The fact remains, though, that Diamond doesn’t present anything particularly scandalous or shocking, and the allegations he does make are not backed up by facts or anecdotes or even tidbits of stories. All of the alleged bad behavior that went on onset is the stuff of normal teenagerdom, and it becomes clear, early on, that Diamond wasn’t actually present for any of it. Once readers realize this, the book alternately bores and grosses out.
Diamond is incredibly bitter about his entire life, and much of his vitriol is aimed at his fellow cast members. There doesn’t seem to be any legitimate reason for Diamond’s hatred of his costars, but it’s present all the same. He takes them all to task for various reasons: Mark-Paul Gosselaar was fawned over by the producers and was thus “the Golden Child;” Mario Lopez was a womanizer who started working out too early in life; Tiffani-Amber Thiessen was a whore; etc. Particularly disturbing is Diamond’s weird obsession with Gosselaar’s heritage: more than once, he makes comments about Gosselaar’s Thai heritage that are blatantly racist. There are moments where you realize that this can’t all be true: there’s several anecdotes about Diamond playing around with Lopez and Gosselaar on set, and when he had a stalker, he lived with Thiessen and her family until the situation was handled. These things don’t add up.
If the book were being honest–if, indeed, Diamond could be honest with himself–this memoir would talk about the fact that Diamond was on a show where he was surrounded by people both older and cooler than him, and that despite his desperate desire to belong, he never did. This would be an interesting memoir: one in which Diamond is capable of being both vulnerable and self-reflective. Of course, none of that is present here, as Diamond puts on an air of smugness and weird superiority from the first line.
Instead of offering any sort of actual content, though, Diamond prefers to focus on sex. He spends a great deal of time hinting at all the sex his cast members were having with one another, but there’s no evidence to support this. There’s a fairly lengthy passage where Diamond makes the claim that he’s pretty sure both Gosselaar and Thiessen were having a threesome with producer Peter Engel in order to curry favor. In these (frankly, imagined) scenes, Diamond sits outside the office and stares at a closed door. Never is it more clear that most of–if not all–this is in his head.
This review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about Diamond’s preoccupation with sex. In the memoir, he claims to have slept with over 2,000 women, the majority of whom he picked up at Disneyworld. Diamond also repeatedly refers to his penis as “the monster in [his] trousers.” It’s not the claims that I take issue with–I don’t really care if he’s slept with that many people, and it’s certainly not my business–it’s the vulgar way he goes about describing these encounters. He talks about women he’s slept with with the kind of callousness you expect from some drunk old douche in a bar, and his disregard for them as human beings is repulsive. All of this frank discussion about sex hints at what is really going on, of course. Saved by the Bell took away his sexuality (watch an episode–any episode–of SbtB and you’ll see it immediately), and Diamond is on a mission to reassert his masculinity and sexuality. It’s gross and sad and more than a little pathetic.
This revisionist history of the cult-classic 80′s sitcom is worth skipping, even for the die-hard fan. Diamond’s recounting of his time on the show and his life afterwards is almost impossible to slog through. It’s not just his insufferable tone or the fact that he’s clearly lying: the book is not well-written and doesn’t appear to have been edited at all. Mistakes and typos abound. With nothing new to offer readers, nothing about this memoir is worth reading. Pass on it, and watch the series again instead.
Behind the Bell by Dustin Diamond. Transit Publishing: 2009. Borrowed copy.