Jessie Spano is so excited. She’s also so scared.
The most histrionic scene in all five seasons of Saved by the Bell is etched in the minds of every child of the early ’90s. While Joey Lawrence’s “Woah” and Pauley Shore’s “Wheez the Juice” fell by the wayside, Spano’s exclamations after overindulging on caffeine pills stood the test of time.
So, if you’re someone like Dan Levy and creating a web series that’s an amalgamation of your favorite early ’90s sitcoms, this is a scene you want to spoof. And wouldn’t ya know, Levy channels one helluva Elizabeth Berkley.
In the first installment of Atom‘s latest web series, Dan Levy’s Laugh Track Mash-Ups, Levy plays your stereotypical, naive high school student from which all after school specials are made. Dripping with impressionability, Dan dives headfirst into illegal substance abuse with the helping hand of resident bad boy, Snake. His downward spiral is frowned upon by his whitewashed social circle, but they’re all present at his hospital bed side when he wakes up from the drug-induced hysteria, apologizes, and pledges to be a better person.
It’s an installment of your favorite childhood sitcom, condensed into a seven-minute minisode, with familiar didactic overtones and references to TV shows like Hangin with Mr. Cooper, Saved by the Bell, Clarissa Explains it All, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Family Matters, Dinosaurs, Alf, Blossom, Home Improvement, and many, many more. It’s also very good, but only if you’re not expecting a clever send-up or tongue-in-check critique.
In Laugh Track Mash-Ups, Levy prefers emulation over derision. Everything becomes a lot more comical when you think of the series as an ode to or reenactment of those classic sitcoms, instead of just a way to make fun of them. Over e-mail, Levy and Laugh Track director and editor, Payman Benz, told me how the series came to be:
Tubefilter: How’d the show end up on Atom?
Dan Levy: Me and Todd Strauss Schulson pitched it to Atom a few months ago. We didn’t have all the ideas, we just really wanted me to be a butler to an all black family. Then he booked his first feature, Harold and Kumar 3, and said Payman would do it and do it well. He was so wrong!!!!!
Tubefilter: What kind of budget were you working with?
Payman Benz: We didn’t have much, I can say that. Like any other web series, we called in many, many favors. They seem simple but there’s a lot that went into them. First off, we shot them all at a studio in the valley where A LOT of porn is shot. That’s why the sets are so weird/perfect. But renting a porn studio for 3 days isn’t cheap. We also needed 90s wardrobe, and our costume designer Eva Fredrickson had a field day putting everything together. She rocked it.
All the technical requirements, plus the 5 million actors we had working with us made this project bigger than any of us expected going into it. But we all loved it and loved the ’90s, so we had to make it work.
Tubefilter: Did you do anything else to get that early ’90s feel?
Payman Benz: We shot these with 3 cameras, in standard-definition DV, 30 frames per second. I wanted them to be as ugly as shows in the 90s were. If we shot these in HD, they would not have been as funny.
Tubefilter: You got anything else for me?
Payman Benz: The ’80s aren’t funny anymore. The ’90s are back. Whoomp, there it is.
Check out weekly installments of Dan Levy’s Laugh Track Mash-Ups on Atom. And keep your eye out for a slew of appearances by talented actors, including James Adomian, Danny Pintauro (Jonathan on Who’s the Boss?), Jareb Dauplaise (Hard Times of RJ Berger), Tiny Lister, Kate Micucci, Kato Kaelin, Casper Van Diem, Hal Rudnick, Taryn Southern, Greg Benson, and Eric Andre.
If you find yourself wanting to watch more of Dan Levy’s work, you can catch his other web series, My Long Distance Relationship on Crackle.