When Peacock announced a new version of the beloved Saved by the Bell, some fans didn’t know what to expect. So many reboots have failed us in the last few years, and how was this new version going to capture the essence of the early ‘90s comedy? Thankfully, Tracey Wigfield’s iteration is an entirely new beast, and the new cast is top-notch. My absolute favorite performance comes from Josie Totah as Lexi, a character that could be perceived as a Regina George-like mean girl, but Totah infuses her with empathy and pathos.
Totah has star-caliber comedic timing, and she always understands the assignment. She is the type of performer, like Kathryn Hahn and Rose Byrne, who knows her strengths and leans into it in every performance.
We are used to seeing trans characters associated with tragedy but Lexi’s journey is unlike anything we’ve seen on television before. She will speak about her experiences as a trans person, but Saved by the Bell doesn’t relegate her character to preachy or “special episode” storylines. Totah makes Lexi lovable, flawed, and eager for love.
Awards Daily: What do you think is Lexi’s dream musical theater role is?
Josie Totah: Probably Wendla Bergmann of Spring Awakening or Regina George in Mean Girls.
AD: I love that Lexi and Mac have such a competitive/sibling-esque bond. We don’t see that a lot with male-female friendships without it ending up with a romance. What was your favorite thing about that dynamic?
JT: Working with Mitchell was so fun especially because our two characters are both maniacal human beings. My favorite part of their dynamic is that there is no straight man. They are both too insane human beings who will not stop until they win at whatever it is they’re getting at.
AD: How did you and the creatives want to subvert the stereotypical mean girl role?
JT: Lexi being trans gives a different weight to that archetype right off the bat. We don’t just throw out a flippant story about her parents being rich and never having time to see her because they’re always on a yacht or a jet and say this is why you should feel for her. She’s a three-dimensional person who spent her whole life hating herself so she took it out on everyone else around her. Lexi’s ‘meanness’, although it ultimately becomes a somewhat loveable quality, is a direct result of her insecurity. As you get to know her she becomes more likeable in that sense and her wins feel more earned.
AD: The students at Bayside have a lot of famous connections and privilege is such a huge theme in this reboot. Do you think Lexi is aware of her position and she loves it too much to give it up? Do you think she ever questioned that privilege before the Douglas students showed up? (I love the line in the pilot, ‘Why didn’t they hold a fundraiser where Rita Wilson sang because that meant Tom Hanks has to come?’)
JT: Privilege is a major theme of the show and Lexi as well as the other kids, really have a rude awakening in the first season. I think Lexi certainly understands the concept on a deeper level than her counterparts at Bayside because she is a part of a marginalized community, but that doesn’t mean that she’s exempt from being ignorant and at times very offensive. Our show explores the varying levels of privilege within communities and we dive even deeper into these themes in the second season.
AD: Do you have any favorite episodes of the original franchise?
JT: I didn’t have any particularly favorite episodes but I remember really enjoying Teenline and was excited that we got to recreate that again.
AD: Lexi and Jamie have known each other for so long before they get together in the season finale. Is Lexi worried about their relationship changing?
JT: I think Lexi is just getting used to having a guy in her life in a romantic way. She probably has kissed a lot of rando famous TikTokers, but this is her first serious love interest. It will be exciting to see how she handles that and how it affects her own self security.
AD: What do you think it would have meant to you to see a transgender character thriving in high school when you were younger?
JT: I think I would have most definitely felt so much less alone. Growing up, I never saw a future for myself because there was no one that looked like me or even remotely related to my identity on screen. I remember feeling like there was no one else like me in the entire world. I’m so happy to see more representation for trans characters on screen and I pray studios and storytellers make more opportunities to break those barriers and increase inclusivity.
AD: What are you excited for with Season 2?
JT: I’m mainly excited to be with all my good friends eating free meals and running around in six inch heels yelling at everyone—on screen of course. I’m excited to see these characters’ stories dive deeper and for us to have even more in depth conversations on the nuances of privilege and also fart jokes and all that good stuff.
Saved by the Bell is streaming now on Peacock.