Turd In The Rough.
(Reddit Open Review Contest)
I was 15 or 16 when Saved by the Bell first aired on TV, but I can’t wax nostalgic about it like many people do because I never made it through a single episode. I thought the show was mega lame, since I used to get my kicks doing hardcore stuff like mountain climbing and skydiving. All right, fine, I used to get them playing Champions of Krynn and doing the five knuckle shuffle to Hustler centrefolds in my bedroom.
Although I wasn’t exactly a fan of SBTB, I was aware that some guy named Dustin Diamond played the character Screetch on the show. I also knew that Diamond published a gossipy memoir years later about the lurid off-screen shenanigans all his colleagues got up to, but it backfired somehow and made everyone hate him. That gossipy memoir is, of course, the subject of this review.
Before I sink my teeth into the meat of Behind the Bell, such as it is, I’d first like to draw your attention to its terrible cover. Seriously, look at it:
What the hell? Diamond looks like a second rate magician whose pièce de résistance is levitating a cardboard cut-out of some kids with his crotch. It’s a cautionary tale for aspiring cover designers, a warning that Photoshop can do a lot of things, but concealing a lack of imagination isn’t one of them. Or are things not what they seem? What’s interesting is that the man responsible for this cover is François Turgeon, and if you go to his website (and scroll quite a way down) you’ll see that it’s a steaming heap in a collection of otherwise great designs. Does this mean its awfulness is deliberate? I really can’t say for sure, but it’s an intriguing possibility.
Anyway, Diamond begins Behind the Bell with the non-revelations that Hollywood has a seedy side, that a lot of people there who find fame as kids are pretty messed up (including himself), and how the actors on SBTB weren’t like their characters in real life. He also tells us how he constantly felt like an outcast on the set of the show, how much he thinks fame sucks, and how he craves being surrounded by good people in his lifelong quest for truth and personal growth. Oh yeah, and he also wants us to know right off the bat that Tiffani-Amber Thiessen is a total slut.
We’re not even halfway through the introduction and Diamond’s prose already oozes animosity. He has a hate-boner for many, many people, but he seems to harbour the granddaddy of all throbbing hate-boners for Thiessen. He can barely mention her name without inferring that she must have opened her legs for every guy alive during the 1990s. Obviously, he has some sort of moral objection to that or something, right? Not likely, because he devotes a great deal of space later in the book to bragging about how he’s nailed at least 2000 women. That makes him the male equivalent of a cum dumpster (cum dispenser? Cum dumpster-filler-upper? Fuck it, I don’t know) so he really can’t talk. So why the hate? Well, Thiessen had an air of queenly superiority about her, apparently. Also, she didn’t like Diamond and told him at least once to go fuck himself. How this makes her an epic whore is a question I suspect only elementary school playground logic can answer.
The non-Thiessen girls on the show aren’t treated anywhere near as roughly. Diamond seems to give Elizabeth Berkley a break at least partly because he thinks she was impressed by a photo he took of his dick. He says Lark Voorhies was a bit weird and distant, but then she would be because she was probably abused by men, huh? And although she wasn’t a cast member, NBC vice-president Linda Mancuso was totes cool because she let him throw a fuck into her, allegedly. We’ll never know if she really did or not because she eventually died of breast cancer. (In case you’re wondering, I too had a moment where I pondered if it might be possible to get cancer as a result of letting Screetch into one’s cooter. We’re horrible human beings).
Diamond definitely didn’t get on with the boys from SBTB. For instance, he derisively refers to Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the ‘Golden Child’, denouncing him as a marginally talented, leg-shaving, steroid-doing bottle blonde who probably only got the job because of the strength he lent the guy when they auditioned for their roles together. Ouch. Mario Lopez was a man-whore, a bully and likely would have become a convicted rapist if NBC’s lawyers hadn’t paid one of his victims $50K to keep her mouth shut. Double ouch. (Diamond offers zero evidence for any of these claims, in case you were curious). He also refers to many of his professional colleagues in the wider world of show business including Neil Patrick Harris, Jeremy Jackson and those guys from Kriss Kross, as assholes and ‘douchenozzles’.
One of the strangest claims Diamond makes is the one that he has grown and matured. It’s puzzling not just because of his book’s hateful content, but also because when he reflects on the misfortune that has befallen him over the years, he places the blame squarely on everyone except himself. He wasn’t one of the cool kids on set of SBTB because they failed to see how cool he was. Co-workers and network people sabotaged him out of spite. His parents blew all the money he made as an actor. He got the ball rolling on a Scooby Doo movie adaptation but then terrible showbiz people took over and screwed him out of everything. It’s always the same – bad stuff was always someone else’s fault, or happened because people were out to get him. There are times in Behind the Bell when it looks like Diamond might actually man up and take responsibility for something, but ultimately he doesn’t follow through. A great example of this is in Appendix B, where Diamond includes a bizarre open letter to former lovers. It’s headed by the delightfully poetic phrase “to all the chicks I banged before” and although one line does appear to offer a heartfelt apology for having crushed anyone’s feelings, he concludes it with a backhander of a postscript: “Call me.”
Behind the Bell is a rather short read, and would be even shorter if it consisted only of Diamond’s overwhelming rancor and negativity. Fortunately (or unfortunately), he throws in plenty of random crap to pad it out. There’s the thrilling tale, for example, of how he inadvertently adopted a bunch of cats. There’s another one about the time he got into a heated dispute with a neighbor over a crust of pizza. There are lengthy sections devoted to his pleasuring of hundreds of girls at Disneyland with his humongous dick, bro, and all his wacky, far out, weed-smoking escapades, man. If you wanted to read about what a week on the set of SBTB was like, it’s in there too for some reason. Or how about a selection of his favorite SBTB episodes, because why not? If that’s not entertaining enough, there’s also the story about the time he heroically prevented a cat from messing with his own pets by shooting it with a bb gun. And, God help us, there’s even a SBTB drinking game. The list goes on, but the stuff I’ve already mentioned is as depressing as it is dumb.
In summary, despite repeated claims that he’s changed for the better and moved on from the unpleasant events of his past, nearly everything Diamond writes suggests otherwise. The truth – something the guy will probably never acknowledge – is that he was a moderately famous child actor who let petty jealousy and deep resentment over his outsider status on the set of SBTB fester until it completely destroyed him. And unfortunately, Diamond remains just as broken as he was at the age of 15. Perhaps that’s why he thought publishing a Piece Of Shit™ like Behind the Bell would garner him the acceptance and adoration he so desperately craves. As we know, it brought the opposite which is why it should come as no surprise to anyone that nowadays he cowers behind the assertion that a ghostwriter made most of it up.