Showrunner Tracey Wigfield and star Josie Totah break down Lexi's attempt to solve transphobia once and for all.
While there’s no shortage of laughs on Saved by the Bell, there’s also some unexpected tears -- well, happy tears -- thanks to an unexpectedly powerful episode that arrives halfway through season 2. Written by Chris Schleicher and Jen Chuck and directed by Heather Jack, “From Curse to Worse” sees Lexi (Josie Totah) suddenly forced to speak out when a competing school bans a transgender girl from its soccer team. But instead of taking on the fight with her fellow LGBTQ students, she attempts to write a play that will solve transphobia once and for all.
Now that season 2 is streaming on Peacock, ET spoke with Totah, who is also a producer on the series, as well as showrunner Tracey Wigfield to go inside the making this very special episode.
“Our show has a really awesome time with having a lot of fun, but also getting into really important stories. And I think that it’s important to Tracey and all of our writers to tell a very funny show, but then have these sort of learning lessons along the way,” Totah says, adding that they wanted to tell an “evolved version” of the stereotypical transgender journeys that have been previously told on TV.
And one way to do that was by taking on the issue of transphobia through the lens of Lexi’s privilege that comes with her being the star of her own hit reality show, Becoming Lexi: I Am Me, as well as being one of the most popular students at Bayside High.
“I think recognizing Lexi’s privilege, like, within her own trans community, is something that’s extremely interesting and is very nuanced and something that I haven’t seen anywhere,” Totah continues. “So, I was really excited when we started talking about this and figuring out a way to tell a story that is authentic and ultimately leads us to see Lexi becoming closer with herself.”
For Totah, the episode also blurs the line between fiction and reality, especially when it comes to being a public persona and having a platform to speak out on various issues when it comes to being transgender. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the entire world because knowing that I’m able to help people like myself makes all of it worth it,” she says, adding, “But I’m not going to say that’s not difficult when things happen and you feel like you have to carry the weight of [that discussion] and having to do that work.”
What separates Totah from Lexi in this instance is “when you’re trans it’s something I don’t forget about, and it’s something I think about every single day. But having such an amazing community of people looking up to you, inspires you, and it gives me the confidence to speak out about these things and it empowers me,” she says.
In the episode, “everybody is looking to Lexi to solve this problem for them,” Totah says. And while “ultimately she realizes that she wants to confront it, they’re putting all this pressure on her.” And in the process of dealing with all of that attention, she decides to write a play set at Stonewall in the year 1969 million that will address all of these issues. “Don’t you want to solve transphobia the way that Hamilton solved racism?” Lexi asks when confronted about the play’s message, which Totah says is “clearly problematic.”
While the show throws a zinger at Hamilton, Wigfield says it’s in no way a dig at creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has “tweeted really nice things about our show.” In fact, Lexi’s play was inspired by a YouTube video she saw years ago showing a high school production “that tried to take on too much,” Wigfield recalls. “They were, like, talking about hate and then it was about 9/11.”
“I think Lexi is kind of a crazy character and coming from a real place,” Wigfield continues, explaining that Totah and Chuck, who is also transgender, were taking on that “feeling of being powerless and feeling like, ‘There has to be something I can do.’” And the result was Lexi’s play.
But during the process of making it, and meeting members of Prism, Bayside’s LGBTQ club, Lexi realizes how misguided her approach was and how isolating it can be being the only out transgender student. Eventually, she overcomes her fear of confronting these issues when she realizes she also has a community that she, too, can lean on for support and that the group can be a source of pride and celebration. “Joy is a form of resistance, and her being happy is, in its own way, a protest, which I think is an important lesson,” Totah says.
And that joy and the way the episode ends with Lexi embracing Prism and lip-synching to Kim Petras was written in spite of those many afterschool-type specials or episodes that typically showed LGBTQ youth sharing stories of trauma. “So, it felt nice to sort of show the opposite,” Wigfield says, while Totah adds, “We didn’t want the episode to end in a funeral home or something that was depressing. Instead, she’s happy and she’s found herself.”
When it comes to the final product, “I think that it’s authentic. And I think that the best part of our show is that we get to tell these lessons in a way that’s not hitting you over the head, or at least I hope it’s not. Instead, it’s very funny and digestible. And the best part of comedy is that you can slip things in there,” Totah concludes. “And I think that we did a pretty damn good job with that.”
Saved by the Bell season 2 is now streaming on Peacock.