The second season of Peacock’s Saved by the Bell reboot debuts today and there is one particular episode that caught my attention titled, “La Guerra de Aisha” directed by Maureen Bharoocha.
In the seventh episode of the sophomore season, we are all caught up with the Bayside gang as they are up to their fun shenanigans. As the title suggests, the episode focuses on Aisha (Alycia Pascual-Peña) as she enrolls in a Spanish class with Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez). Being fluent in Spanish, Aisha is comfortable taking the class until her white teacher explains that she is speaking Spanish wrong. This of course, is a problem and brings up the question: “Who is to tell us that we are wrong about our own culture?”
The answer is no one.
Bharoocha, whose background is Indian Pakistani and Irish Catholic, may not come from a Latinx background, but the story is very familiar to her. She doesn’t speak the language from her cultural background but it doesn’t mean she is isn’t enough.
“I met other South Asians and they ask, ‘Why didn’t your dad teach you the language?’,” Bharoocha tells Diaspora. ” I’m tell them, “dude, this is a lot to unpack’. Everyone has a different path and it’s something that I have felt insecure about in the past. You feel like it’s a knock, and then you’re like that doesn’t make me anything less than.”
Coming from NBCU’s Female Forward program, Bharoocha aligns with the initiative that aims to create gender parity in scripted television. She also made her feature directorial debut in 2020 with the arm wrestling pic Golden Arm starring Mary Holland, Dot-Marie Jones and Kate Flannery. In addition to directing this episode of Saved by the Bell, Bharoocha directed the forthcoming comedy thriller The Prank starring Rita Moreno and Ramona Young.
Diaspora had a conversation with Bharrocha about her love for Saved by the Bell, navigating the conversation about cultural identity with humor and advocacy within storytelling.
Were you an ’80s and ’90s child? Were you a huge Save by the Bell person?
MAUREEN BHAROOCHA: Yes. I think something that got me the job is when I met Tracey Wigfield and Franco Bario. I totally geeked out. I’m such a Saved by the Bell fan. I’ve seen every episode. I watched The College Years. I feel like I stopped at The New Class (laughs).
Yeah, I’m not going to lie, I stopped at The College Years.
MB: I got through it. I was wanting to know what college was like!
Seems like all those teen shows of that era went to college around the same time — like 90210.
MB: Honestly, I think back on it and I watched Saved by the Bell in middle school and that’s what I thought high school would be like. The same thing with My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks. Those shows were what I watched right before I went into high school. I didn’t actually watch those shows when I was in high school, but I watched them before thinking this is what it’s going to be like.
Since you were a huge fan of Saved by the Bell what were your thoughts when they announced the reboot?
MB: I wasn’t sure what to expect. I love that show, but I’m not a big three camera sitcom person anymore –but just like how (the reboot) was shot, I was blown away when I watched the first season. I thought it was just so visually interesting. I thought it was really fun, so smart, and I thought the biggest takeaway from the first season was in the last episode, I think. It’s Slater talking to Jessie and I thought it totally encapsulated what is so perfect about the new re-imagination. Slater said to Jessie: “We all made fun of you when we were in high school for not wanting styrofoam and the oil on the field,” but this generation is a bunch of Jessies and I thought that was so true.
Jessie wasn’t a character that made me say, “I want to be like her” but what I love is that’s what this generation is all about. They’re all about showing up and taking on the issues, and having a new perspective and understanding. I think that is so brilliant and smart. The show flips it on its head. What we had in our past was fun and you can still enjoy that, but maybe we got some stuff wrong and let’s figure it out. I think that’s brilliant about the new or re-imagination.
And this new generation of actors in the reboot — they are super talented and wildly funny.
MB: They’re so funny. I’m blown away by them. Every single one of them so funny, has such a unique voice, and such a unique comedy sensibility.
In the episode you directed it tackles something very interesting when they start to explore Alycia Pascual-Peña’s character Aisha and her Latinx identity. What was your reaction to the script when you first read it?
MB: I felt so lucky that this is the script that I got. While I’m not a part of the Latino community, I’m half South Asian and I thought one thing I just totally deeply connected on was the idea that somebody else is telling you that you’re doing your culture wrong or I don’t understand if you’re this or you’re that. I’ve gotten a lot like, “Oh, you don’t look South Asian,” or even from other South Asians it’s like, “Oh, you know how to eat with your hands.” It’s like, “Yeah, I’m Indian, Pakistani. I grew up doing that.”
I think that it is while what’s so great about it is the specifics of the episode are so important and very true to what’s happening with a lot of people in the Latino community I think it’s a universal story. It’s a universal feeling that when you are told that however you are isn’t the right way to be, it confuses other people. It’s like it doesn’t matter. I was just honored that this was the episode that I got to tell, and I could relate to it so much.
The other thing was I learned a lot. I learned a lot from listening to Marcos and Victoria who wrote the episode to Haskiri (Velazquez) and Alycia’s own experiences with this happening to them.
In addition to this white man “teaching” Aisha about her own culture there is so many layers to peel back in this episode. There’s a whole thing about appropriation and also Aisha questions if she is Latino enough.
MB: I feel like what it does is it makes you question yourself and that’s not really a thing that you need to do. That’s what’s so brilliant about the episode. It’s so funny, but it takes this interesting turn. I think the other thing that’s so cool about it is that you have Daisy and Aisha having that conversation, but then what’s so cool is you have Slater come in. It becomes a generational conversation as well, so I think it’s working on a lot of levels on that.
I love how they brought it back to Slater because his cultural identity was never explored in the original series. I love how the writers just made it almost full circle in this interesting way. Speaking to that — how do you think this particular episode showcases the importance of representation in front of the camera as well as behind the camera?
MB: I think one thing that it so brilliant about this episode again is the writing. I think it’s the kind of writing and details that only somebody that has an experience in this kind of thing can really tell. It’s the nuance. It’s the little details. It’s how people feel. So I think, one, that’s why it’s really important for underrepresented voices to tell these stories because sometimes the nuances is lost if you don’t get it.
Two, I think what’s so great for me is that I have this experience in a different way. Again, the themes that are in this episode come across cultures and cross races. So, I think that’s really important as well. It’s not that everybody can’t tell everybody’s stories, which I hope one day everybody is doing that, but I think what is so important is that these underrepresented voices and people get to continue to tell these nuanced stories that are infused with humor and comedy and that you still can bring something larger away from them.
Once again, can I just say this cast and the show is just funny, insightful, full of heart and unexpected in the best way possible. I am not just saying that to pander.
MB: I think that’s a testament to Tracy and how she saw the show, and again it’s also a testament to all the actors, the fact that Josie (Totah), Belmont (Cameli), Dexter (Darden), Mitchell (Hoog), and everybody on the show brings such a uniqueness to their character. I think each person is growing in their own way. What makes it have heart is that they don’t feel like cookie cutter types of characters. They really feel unique.
In addition to Saved by the Bell, you made your feature directorial debut with Golden Arm which joins Over the Top in the very much in the specific genre of arm wrestling films.
MB: Yeah. (laughs) I feel like in the lexicon of movie history in the world there’s five.
How has the film and Saved by the Bell made you grow as a storyteller and an advocate for representation?
MB: One, I love actors. It’s so exciting is to work with different actors and see what they bring to the table. With Golden Arm all of the actors in that movie were friends and people that I respect and admire, so when you invite people to be in a movie they’re going to bring something that you never saw coming. It’s very exciting as a director to be surprised by something. You have a vision, but you always have to be able to be adaptable if something better comes, because that makes everybody look better and it’s magic.
Everbody says there are seven types of stories… but the thing that’s going to make those stories fresh is that same story from a different perspective and I think that’s why it’s so important to see things that you’ve never seen onscreen.
When I worked with Ron (Funches) and Eugene (Cordero) on Golden Arm, they said they never gotten the chance to play this type of character or have a love interest in this way in a movie. One, I didn’t even think about that, and then two it’s kind of exciting that that happens. That needs to happen more — where we have the people that we don’t always see as the leads or the love interests. We need to see these things that we’ve never seen on TV and on cinema so that we can expand our minds and understand others. That again is what’s so great about Saved by the Bell is that it is the thing that shapes you. It shaped me. It shapes who you think is cute and who you think is popular. When you see that reflected differently nowadays it’s like that’s what the kids are growing up with. They can see different people be the popular kid, or the guy that you have a crush on, or the hot girl. It just expands your mind.