Zack Morris not only attended the perfect high school, but, to me, he was also the perfect guy. And the perfect boyfriend. Zack set the bar so high for my teenage romantic expectations, I sometimes wonder even now, so many years later, if anyone will ever be able to live up to them. Yes, he was a schemer, a smart ass, and cocky as hell sometimes. But, man oh man, he was dreamy and had a good heart, so my starry-eyed younger self adored him. That hair! That smile! Those high-top sneakers with the jeans tucked in and the tongues pulled out!
Let’s look at the facts.
1. Zack was willing to do anything for the girl he loved.
When Kelly Kapowski’s father lost his job, Kelly was too embarrassed to tell Zack she couldn’t afford to go to the prom. Once Zack realized the truth behind Kelly backing out on being his date, he showed up at her house and surprised her with a romantic makeshift prom just for the two of them. As someone whose father balked at the price of formal gowns, leading me to borrow a dress from a friend for my own senior prom, I empathize with Kelly and adore Zack for this episode. He didn’t need the limo, the Prom King crown (I mean we all know he totally would have won), or any of the hoopla. He just wanted his girl by his side. SWOON.
2. He was a philanthropic activist.
In one episode, it was discovered that Bayside was sitting on giant deposits of oil. An excavation company was about to offer the school tons of money to allow drilling, which of course would lead to tons of amazingly cool renovations and improvements that Zack initially supported. Then a poor, injured, oil-slicked duck was found as a result of the test drilling and Zack realized there were more important things than money. In a typical Zack Morris grand gesture, he stormed the board meeting concerning approval for the drilling and made everyone see the environmental harm it would cause. What a guy.
3. When things didn’t go his way, he handled them like an adult.
When Kelly takes a job waitressing at The Max, the Bayside after-school hangout, she ends up falling for her new boss, Jeff. He kisses her one night and Kelly ends up breaking up with Zack at a school dance. The song “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” is sung (lip-synced) in the background by Jessie and A.C. Slater. Kelly cries. Zack looks like a wounded puppy. They’re dressed up as Romeo and Juliet for the dance. I blew through two boxes of tissues in twenty-three minutes. And although in a follow-up episode, Zack tries to make Kelly jealous by dancing to “their” song with another girl (Because he’s hurt! His heart was broken! She cheated!), he ends up handling it all like a grown up. He tells Kelly he wants her to be happy and he shakes hands with the shady, girlfriend-stealing Jeff.
Many episodes later, when the Bayside gang discovers that Jeff is stepping out on Kelly (I told you he was no good!), Zack joins in on comforting Kelly rather than pulling out what could have been a very justified, “I told you so” moment. Maturity is so attractive.
4. He always picked the right girl
When Kelly was hemming and hawing over whether to partner in a dance contest with Zack or Slater, Zack was secretly learning how to dance with Jessie. Although he had bragged to Kelly that he had moves that would guarantee them first place, he actually had two left feet. Jessie had some sweet moves that she was SO EXCITED to teach him, turning Zack into a real contender on the dance floor. But when it came time for Kelly to make her decision over which guy to pick, Zack realized how superficial Kelly was behaving and what a great friend Jessie had been to him. He told Kelly to go with Slater and instead, asked Jessie to be his partner. A man with his priorities in order!
5. He was a truly good friend.
The character of Zack Morris proved that the most popular and handsome guy in school could also be the nicest. When the gang revived the Bayside radio station, the school paper gave Slater’s deejaying skills a poor review. So what did Zack do? He tried to prevent Slater from reading the review. In the same episode, he helped organize a fundraiser to save The Max, which was having serious financial trouble. He also ran after an upset Jessie, calmed her down, and stopped her from walking out on her father’s wedding to her new stepmother. Such a caring, thoughtful guy.
6. He got into just the right amount of trouble.
Yes, he made fake IDs. And yes, he made Screech sleep at the mall so they could be the first in line for U2 tickets. And yes, he tried to set Kelly up with a nerdy guy to distract her so he could make a pass at the new school nurse. And of course, he stole the mascot from a rival school. But he did it all with such boyish charm! That’s probably why Mr. Belding always forgave him: he knew that underneath it all, Zack was a good kid. And one day, Zach would make it up to Belding, by delivering his miraculously umbilical cord-free baby in an elevator during an earthquake. Such a hero.
A couple of years ago, I tweeted at Mark-Paul Gosselaar (aka real-life Zack) asking for a shoutout on my birthday, and he immediately obliged. I still find reasons to bring this up in casual conversation. And when I feel nostalgic for my knight in shining romance on the other 364 days of the year, I can just listen to April Richardson’s podcast, “Go Bayside!” where she and a guest watch and comment on episodes of Saved By The Bell.
Of course, the notion of a perfect boyfriend is a fictional concept, but a part of me will always cherish my embarrassing teenage fantasy about walking up to Zack Morris in the hallway and, with total confidence, asking, “Hey, wanna get a burger at The Max after school?”
We’d order a chocolate milkshake with two straws. Fictional or not, it’s imperative to follow the Bayside rules of romance.
Danielle Sepulveres lives in New York and has written for dirtyandthirty.com, xojane.com, The Comedy Experiment, and TheaterMania. You can buy her book, LOSING IT: The Semi Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin, on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. She is still on a never-ending quest to find a real life Zack Morris.