Zack and the gang are in Speech Class, where the assignment is called “My Best Friend”. As this topic seems somewhat elementary, I have to comment that Zack looks like he’s 12 in this episode. This can’t be a Season 4. Dare you lie to me, TiVo?*
Slater’s up first and talks about how his best friend is someone he’s known for a long time. They’ve traveled together and speak the same language. His best friend is his chameleon, Artie. Who ironically is sitting pretty in Slater’s shirt pocket. Also, Artie is wearing a leash.
At the MAX, Kelly thinks Slater’s “nosie” trick with Artie is absolutely adorable. (The trick is, Slater rubs his nose on the chameleon. I’m sure even Penn and Teller were stunned by how such a feat was possible!) When Slater tries to pass on Artie to Lisa and Zack, both are immediately turned off. Jessie is intrigued and asks Slater for the full story on how he obtained Artie.
“Well actually, Artie found me!” Slater says with a motherly glow. Let me predict this story: It was a cold, blustery night. Slater heard a mere scratching on the door and it turned out to be Artie – 2 inches big, but starving and cold. Slater knitted Artie a sweater, as Artie told him of his war stories while slowly sipping on hot chocolate.
Okay, I was just a little off. Slater’s dad was stationed in the Philippines when he found Artie and the two of them went through fourteen schools together. He’s the only friend that never left his side. OR WILL HE?
Slater asks Screech if he’ll watch Artie while he goes to San Diego this weekend. So – Artie never left his side, but he can’t even take him to San Diego for two days? Looks like this is a one-way friendship. Slater trusts Screech since Screech managed to name all of the ants in his ant farm. “Naming them was easy,” Screech says. “It’s remembering their birthdays that’s tough.”
When Screech asks about Artie’s diet, Slater says that he’ll eat flies, bugs or anything that gets stuck on a windshield of a car. Looking like she’s going to be sick, Lisa decides to head out. Slater then reveals a tiny toy that he states is “Artie’s Chew Toy”. This spun from cute to mentally dangerous really quickly.
Kelly jets out and reminds Jessie that she’ll see her later to work on her speech. Since “My Best Friend” requires a ton of thought. Jessie flakes and says that she promised she’d join in a protest her Mom was throwing, where she’d be chained to a super unleaded gas pump. Zack decides to use the opportunity to get his flirt on and immediately offers to help out Kelly.
Back at Zack’s house, Zack shows the audience his life-sized Kelly Kapowski cut-out. This is one continuous element of Zack’s existence that makes me baffled. First – where would he obtain such an object? Second – what if Kelly found out? If I found out a guy in high school had a cardboard version of me in his room, I’d be a little weirded out. Personally, I vanquished the possibility of this by being horrifically unpopular.
Thinking it’s Kelly at the door, Zack puts the cut-out under his bed and announces that the beautiful creature is here. In walks Screech, holding his Artie shoebox.
Screech hands Artie over to Zack, saying that he needs to watch him for the remainder of the weekend. His other pets “love him” so much that they “love to eat him”, so the Powers household just isn’t safe for an aging, best friend chameleon.
Kelly walks in soon after and instantly grabs Artie away from Zack the second Screech leaves. She cooes at him and says that she’s sure he misses his best friend Slater. Zack tells Kelly to put him down so that they can work on the speech and Kelly leaves Artie by a cold window, with the shoebox uncovered.
Zack’s first speech lesson is eye contact. “Usually a short greeting works well,” Zack says in a romantic voice. “Hi,” Kelly says, staring him in the eyes. “Hi,” Zack responds, looking to go in for a kiss. “HI!”
Jessie “Mood-Killer” Spano walks in through the window, completely interrupting the moment. While Zack tries to kick her out the door, Kelly seems confused about her presence. Seems like they ran out of gas on the way to the protest and Jessie’s Mom refused to fill up, based on principal. Psyched, Kelly is glad that her first choice Best Friend Speech Helper is back on the market and the two leave Zack in the dust.
Back at school, Zack has Artie and tells the girls to quiet down, since he’s “still sleeping.” Jessie notices that Artie is looking a little pale. The gang asks Screech what his opinion is and he says that Artie looks fine. Except for the fact that he’s dead.
(Okay – I have to admit that the timing of me watching this episode is pretty poor. While I can laugh at fictional Artie with his fictional leash, I did just write about pet loss and lose a pet of my own. I feel you, Slater.)
Zack tries to make excuses for dead Artie, saying he was probably just bored stiff over the English class they just went to. “Should we try CPR?” Jessie freaks. Class valedictorian, everybody! Lisa suddenly feels emotional over the loss, despite being disgusted by him all along. Jessie and Kelly, however, realize that they might be to blame. Jessie left the window open last night and Kelly put him under a hot desk lamp. Screech feels guilty that he gave Zack the responsibility of looking after the pet in the first place.
Pretty soon, Slater walks by, fresh from his San Diego gala. While Screech and Zack carelessly shove the lifeless Artie into a locker, the girls decide to vanish – they want nothing to do with consoling their friend, apparently.
Zack tells Slater that Artie is back at his place, sleeping. Slater seems pissed off – I guess despite the gang meeting Artie for the first time the other day, Slater brings him around in his pocket everywhere. EXCEPT SAN DIEGO.
Slater says that Artie is typically a sound sleeper – when he’s out, he’s “dead to the world”. Screech makes a point to comment on the proper use of words. Slater suggests the three of them ditch class to go get him and Zack tries to buy time by saying the grand reunion should happen at the MAX later.
Since Zack can’t perform miracles, he decides to buy another chameleon at the pet store to try and fool Slater. Has anyone had parents who tried this technique? I’d imagine it’d be traumatizing – for a second grader. Slater’s bound to know!
He doesn’t, but the jig is up when the girls come by with a similar shoebox, holding a similar fake Artie. They claimed that Artie was a guest at their slumber party, while Zack starts to panic like never before. Slater takes some time to figure out how there could be two Arties. The girls call on Zack to explain why “Artie” doubled and Zack says that one of them is short for “Artesia”, Artie’s gal pal. For some strange reason, Slater doesn’t buy it.
In fact, Slater assumes Artie got lost in Zack’s room and says he’ll come by after wrestling practice to help Zack look for him.
The gang has a group-fantasy about how Sheriff Belding was bound to arrest them, using Artie (Slater in a lizard costume doing his finest chameleon impression) as a witness. Lizard-Slater punishes Screech by giving him solitary confinement. Jessie is the second to be punished, having to sit on ice for leaving that drafty window open. And – you know what? This fantasy is so amazing that I went ahead and just taped it off my television – for you!
Back in the real world, Slater busts into Zack’s room to find Artie. Slater gets impatient after emptying Zack’s shoes and realizing he’s not in there. Zack, a bit sullen, tells Slater that he doesn’t think he’ll find him this time. Slater uncovers Zack’s giant Kapowski cut-out and I hope he tells the police about it. Or someone. Someone has to know.
In comes the gang, with the real shoebox. They figure it’s time to tell Slater the truth. “It’s just a dead lizard,” Slater says with a shrug. He walks out, probably to secretly cry in the bathroom.
The next day in Speech Class, it’s time for Kelly to give her presentation. Kelly’s best friend is named Freddie and he’s Kelly’s German Shepherd. “Everyone knows pets don’t count as best friends!” Slater loudly interrupts. He continues to interrupt throughout the entire speech – rude, sure. But kind of insensitive of Kelly, if you ask me.
Slater gets sent to the Principal’s office after Coach Rizzo had enough. Belding seems concerned about Slater’s outburst – after all, he’s on the wrestling team! Zack and Screech walk in to try and explain the outburst, but they don’t get too far – Belding got the information he needed, and kicks them out. Belding tries to sympathize by talking about his old birds, Sonny and Cher. “Life isn’t always fair. And neither is death! But that’s life,” Belding says. Slater gives Belding a tight grip and feels much better about the situation – especially after Belding suggests a funeral.
The funeral is held in a classroom, and the only attendees are those who were previously blamed for killing him in the first place. Zack speaks and says how Artie didn’t have an enemy in the world. “Except the hoot owl!” Screech interrupts.
Lisa goes up to share her Artie moment. “He was a gentle soul. He never hurt a fly! Except for when he was eating them,” Lisa said, prior to mentioning how color coordinated Artie was. Coach Rizzo is next and he doesn’t have much to say, but mentions a donation to “Save The Lizards”. Then Jessie sings a song. This one I didn’t tape – “Oh Artie Boy” is pretty memorable.
Slater gets up to say a few words next and his speech is all about how he’ll be okay. Now he has human friends, but his lizard friendship was much appreciated for those prior years.
Then they decide to flush him in the boys bathroom, despite the fact that they managed to buy him a perfectly adequate chameleon-sized casket.
Lessons Learned: Sometimes, chameleons don’t live for as long as it takes for you to move 14 times.
*Supposedly this was shot for season one and then thrown in with season 4. Season 4 also has an episode called “Slater’s Sister” – don’t worry. Her fate isn’t as bad as Artie’s.