Zack And Kelly Face Jessie And A.C. In The Battle Of The Saved By The Bell Power Couples
Which couple truly reigned supreme over Bayside High?
When you think of the quintessential '90s sitcom Saved By The Bell, one person comes to mind immediately: Leon Carosi, the proprietor of the Malibu Sands Beach Club. After him, though, you think of Zack Morris. While SBTB was mostly an ensemble piece, it's Zack who drove much of the action, Zack who broke the fourth wall to talk to the audience, and Zack who was the male heartthrob -- a real Tiger Beat cover boy type. For much of the show's run, Zack was paired off with Kelly Kapowski. Sure, there were the Tori episodes -- truly a dark time for America -- but otherwise Zack and Kelly were an iconic TV couple; there's a reason the show ended with a made-for-TV movie where they got married in Las Vegas. Bearing all this in mind, you might be quick to presume that Zack and Kelly were the preeminent power couple of Bayside High. However, don't be so rash, and don't forget about A.C. Slater and Jessie Spano. When you really dig down and study the proverbial tale of the tape, this is a close battle that needs to be broken down...and that's exactly what's been done.
Which Boy Is Best?
First: yes it is a bit reductive to break this battle down along gender lines. However, we're dealing with teenagers here, the most reductive people on the planet: it's thematically resonant (and also a lot easier). So here we have Zack versus Albert Clifford. That feels fitting, considering that when SBTB began, Slater was the interloper who was hassling Zack, much to the chagrin of the five people who had watched Good Morning, Miss Bliss. At the time, they were fighting for Kelly, but now they are fighting to be deemed the alpha male of Bayside.
Zack is the coolest guy in school. He's so cool, his best friend can be the school's biggest nerd and nobody blinks an eye. All the girls love him. That certainly would help give him some sway over the female population at Bayside.
Zack is also decidedly smarter than A.C. Now, you might think that could be to his detriment in terms of consolidating power within the school, but Zack is both smart and laid-back. Sure, he got a 1502 on his SATs, but he also spends most of his time trying to get around doing schoolwork and pulling one over on Mr. Belding. He's an inveterate schemer who will go to extreme lengths to get what he wants. Then again, a lot of his schemes end up failing, and he did get swindled by Gem Diamond. Maybe he's not as smart as we, or he, thinks.
Slater, on the other hand, has a standing within the school that definitely denotes his power. He's the top athlete: be it wrestling or football, nobody beats Slater. That's makes him quite popular in his own right, and also would assuredly make him sort of a de facto leader for his fellow football players and wrestlers; he's the brawn to Zack's brain. If this were a straight-up fight, it wouldn't even be a question, even in later seasons when Zack gets a little jacked himself.
Then again, Zack can stop time. That goes a long way.
Winner: Zack (and therefore also Kelly).
Which Girl Gets The Glory?
Kelly is, in some ways, the female Zack, inasmuch as she's generally considered the cutest girl, as well as the most popular. A college guy dated her once, which certainly earns her some cachet. Plus, there's no reason for anybody to dislike Kelly: she's super-nice and friendly -- almost guileless. One can't imagine Kelly really striving to be the queen bee of Bayside. It would just sort of happens organically, perhaps without Kelly even realizing it.
Jessie, on the other hand, is insanely ambitious. Though her SAT scores left her disappointed, she's one of the smarter kids in the school, or at least one of the hardest-working. Jessie is loud and opinionated, which could turn some people off. She's almost the polar opposite of Kelly, except she is also super-popular because she's one of the five major, non-nerd kids in the school.
It's that drive and ambition that could give Jessie the edge, though. Kelly doesn't seem like she would care about being one-half of Bayside's power couple. Jessie seems like she would view it as her destiny. Kelly may be head cheerleader, but Jessie is involved in just about everything in the school, including student government. Her reach extends everywhere. She'd work night and day to figure out how to make herself the most popular, or at least most respected, girl in the school. Being pretty and nice and inoffensive can get you popularity in high school, but popularity, and the power that comes with it, can be manufactured. Kelly is the athlete getting by on her physical skills. Jessie is the one who works her ass off to become great. Always bet on the latter.
Winner: Jessie (and therefore also A.C.).
Which Couple Is A Better Match?
As a recent episode of New Girl taught us, it benefits a couple to have a few differences so that their personalities and goals don't entirely overlap. (It also taught us it's bad to date your third cousin, but that's a lesson for another day.) Zack is a charming schemer, while Kelly is truly nice. They are the carrot and the stick in tandem. Plus, as the best-looking boy and girl in school, that's going to go a long way.
Of course, A.C. and Jessie aren't exactly being pelted with rotten vegetables like monsters. But while Zack and Kelly have complementary personalities, they can't rival Jessie and Slater. Slater is a man's man and a jock, while Jessie at least tries to play the part of a feminist. She'll also throw one of her fellow females under the bus at the drop of a hat, but hey, she's young. The fact is that, as a couple consolidating power, Jessie and A.C. just work better. They have a greater reach. The student body at Bayside consists of the six main characters, a bunch of jocks, a bunch of nerds, and then those two twin girls. Who's going to cater the favor of the jocks and nerds simply through their personalities? Spano and Slater.
Winner: A.C. and Jessie.
Which Couple Has More Staying Power?
We know that the SBTB universe ended with Zack and Kelly getting married, and Jessie barely making a cameo. We saw A.C. get involved with a poor woman's version of Jessie -- Alex -- on The College Years; apparently, Slater had a type. Based solely on the events and characterizations of Saved By The Bell proper, which couple seems more likely to stand the test of time?
You would think the oil-and-water pairing of Jessie and Slater would be primed to blow up; she's always calling Slater a pig and so on. Slater's unrepentant chauvinism is definitely a hurdle in their relationship. However, don't these two kind of feel like the sort of couple who are always arguing, but that's what makes their relationship thrive? They seem to like the challenge, and they also seem like they want to bang each other. Also, Jessie has a poster of The Cure in her room, which seems strange. How much do we really know about Jessie? What's hiding just beneath the surface?
Meanwhile, Zack is a ladies' man who can't turn it off. He's a flirt and a charmer and he's always got a scheme in the works. So devoted is he to his machinations that he's willing to sell anybody down the river to make it work. That includes Screech, Jessie, or even Kelly.
The two also notoriously had a terrible breakup during the run of SBTB: we know it's possible for a wedge to be driven between them. Kelly dated a college dude, and Zack ended up with Stacey Carosi for a summer. That serves to illustrate that Zack and Kelly don't stay single for long: there are too many potential suitors. Conversely, can you imagine a girl trying to hit on Slater while he's dating Jessie? She's cutthroat, and don't think the girls of Bayside don't know it.
Additionally, remember when Zack, Screech, and Slater snuck their way into an 18-plus club with their fake I.D.s? Slater was surrounded by girls who were into him, and all he did was talk about Jessie. He may be a pig, but he's a devoted boyfriend.
Winner: Jessie and A.C.
Look, everybody loves Zack and Kelly...except when they hate Zack for some scheme he's pulled. While Zack is always able to work his way back into everybody's good graces, that's only until his next screw-up. Slater is king of the jocks, and Jessie is basically a less obnoxious Tracy Flick. Meanwhile, Zack and Kelly may seem like they are destined to be together on account of their popularity and good looks and so on, but their relationship actually seems more combustible than Slater and Jessie's. You would think Zack and Kelly would be crowned Bayside's power couple. You would be wrong.
Winner: A.C. Slater and Jessie Spano