TV

Josie Totah Knows the Power of Kim Petras

"Saved by the Bell" tackles transphobia in the new season of the Peacock revival.

Spoilers ahead for Season 2 of Saved by the Bell

Lexi Haddad-DeFabrizio, a transgender teen played by trans actress Josie Totah, is one of the most popular girls at Saved by the Bell’s Bayside High. In the revival’s second season, she is thrust into the spotlight not for her trendsetting fashion or stellar cheerleading, but because parents from a local school are suing to keep a trans student from playing soccer.

The plucked-from-the-headlines storyline sparks concern from Lexi’s friends, but instead of confiding in her fellow Bayside baes, Lexi decides to take matters into her own hands and writes a school play that is “so powerful, it solves transphobia — nay, all prejudice.”
 

Lexi’s show, written over the course of a single sleepless night, is a fever dream about the LGBTQ+ community’s continued fight for equal rights. Unfortunately, her stabs at symbolism — like a cow representing Harvey Milk, duh! — are lost on her classmates. It is then that Lexi finally accepts an invitation from Bayside High’s LGTBQ+ group, the Prism Club, to attend a meeting. The episode ends with her slaying a lip-sync battle to a Kim Petras bop.

“I was in the writers’ room that week,” Totah, 20, tells Logo over Zoom. “I actually had just got my second COVID vaccine at the time. This was back in March, and I was literally unwell. I felt like I had just overdosed on something. And I didn’t tell any of the writers because I didn’t want them to be embarrassed that I was not feeling well. So it was during that day that we were breaking stories for this episode. I was pitching things while also being nonverbal because my motor skills were down, but it was a very fun week. And we came up with this idea, which was to explore Lexi’s privilege within her own identity and get to see a more nuanced story that we don’t usually see in movies and television when it comes to LGBTQ+ characters.”

The episode, titled “From Curse to Worse,” feels particularly special, but Totah believes every minute of the show is meaningful. “I don’t think we’re teaching people. I don’t think we’re attempting to give people lessons, but we’re just talking about real things. And if you learn from it, you learn from it, and if you laugh, you laugh. We just want you to have a good time.”

Isabella Vosmikova/Peacock

As for Lexi’s unhinged school play? According to Totah, most of the jokes written for her character’s stage show didn’t even make it into the final episode.

“All of those words came from our wonderful writers,” she gushes. “I think we were trying to come up with different ways to showcase this lesson that Lexi will learn, whether it’s through a talent show or, you know, the school play, which it ended up being. We were sort of playing with different realms, but this seemed like the most fun. It seemed like the most Lexi, to write a play overnight that she thinks will solve all of transphobia. And again, it’s just such an awesome episode. Jen Chuck who wrote it is one of the most talented writers. I’m so, so happy and proud that we have them on our writing staff, along with Chris Schleicher, whom I’ve known since I was 15 years old, and I trust with everything. He is so talented. They really just wrote such funny stuff.”

The episode ends with Lexi dancing and lip-syncing to “I Don’t Want It All,” Totah’s favorite song by pop princess and transgender activist Kim Petras.

Greg Gayne/Peacock

“She is literally iconic,” Totah says, “and what a beautiful tribute. That song kind of brings me to tears sometimes. It’s so good. It reminds me of filming that episode, getting to be with [co-stars] Dex [Darden] and Belmont [Cameli], who are two of my closest friends. That was so special. It was just such a fun week. That week in particular, scheduling worked out weird. I had to film five scenes in like one day, and it was almost a 16-hour day. So it was emotionally draining, but obviously so, so fun.”

Saved by the Bell Season 2 is now streaming on Peacock.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
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