Max (Ed Alonso) and James, the actor (Mark Blankfield) were just part of the reason to love the Saved by the Bell gang’s ridiculously large hangout.
Let us all take a moment and recall those halcyon days of yore, our high school years, where restaurants the size of gymnasia with decor halfway between a sock hop and a Trapper Keeper littered the landscape. And let us further pause and remember the simple pleasures of burgers and sodas and milkshakes and curly fries, all neither eaten nor paid for, in a venue whose purpose was so multi that it was truly a Swiss Army knife of plot points.
I refer, of course, to Bayside’s beloved The Max, the restaurant-cum-dance-club that launched Hot Sundae, broke up Zach and Kelly, gave us The Sprain, showed us Mario Lopez in spandex, and introduced us to (like, for the very first time) Belding’s very pregnant wife and her stereotypical food cravings.
The Max, the restaurant, was a business marvel as much as it was a cultural touchstone. As we saw through the years revenue was essentially zero and, between the neon, the jukebox, and the candlepower required to make the interior shine as it did (to say nothing of the occasional disco dance party with fully programmable lighting), the electricity bill for that place must have been enormous. It’s small wonder that Max, the owner, was constantly at risk of being bought out or kicked out or mortgaged out or whatever it was that happened to him really just that one episode.1
But The Max was never truly at risk. What high school ecosystem can survive without a space between school life and home life, where everyone goes and yet fire code is never broken? First dates and only dates, plans hatched and shenanigans undertaken, sage counsel from the few adults, and gleeful co-conspiratorship from those same manchildren – The Max was whatever it needed to be.
Let’s talk about those manchildren for a moment. For a season and a half real-life magician/entertainer2 Ed Alonso dropped in on the gang with a friendly ear or oddly useful magic tricks as required. As the titular Max, Alonso was a surrogate parent3 one moment and a smiling cheerleader hanging over the railing the next. He routinely played the out-of-school straight man, at turns wise and helpless, actively or accidentally providing the main cast with direction.
That dichotomy4 continued with the late addition of James, a perpetually out of work actor who never met a piece of scenery that didn’t taste delicious. It’s true Mark Blankfield5 created a certain pathos that neatly balanced the marginally more mature gang of the later seasons, but really – all we ever needed out of James was his pitch-perfect impersonation of a Harvard… admissions officer? That was what it was, right?
As for the rest of the staff at The Max, the place was a job creator before we understood the vital role small business played in our nation’s economy. New ownership stepped in around season 3 and henceforth, whether you were a main character in sudden need of a job or a previously unreferenced student with an episode-specific problem or agenda, there was a bedazzled shirt and black apron waiting for you. Plus let’s not forget the romantic monkey wrench that was Jeff Hunter!
On second thought, let’s forget that completely.6 It’s much better to think of The Max as five-year-old’s cardboard box that it was – a restaurant, a hangout, a dance club, a radio station, a study spot, a meet cute, a home away from home.
Who really cares what type of meat was actually in the burgers?
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- Save The Max! Save The Max! Woo! ↵
- And NPH bestie. ↵
- Given how rarely parents were seen on the series, it’s entirely possible he was running an orphanage. ↵
- No, I was not intending to use a word like that anywhere in this piece. ↵
- Who would go on to play Blinkin in Men In Tights, which is exactly where you’re vaguely remembering him from. ↵
- And anything from The New Class, but particularly that terrible fire and subsequent terrible remodeling. ↵