Zack kicks off the episode with some exposition about this week's speech-class assignment, the topic of which is "My Best Friend." Substitute teacher Coach Rizzo (a possible relative of Coach Sonski, judging by his over-the-top Brooklyn accent) intros Slater, who starts his speech with, "Okay, check it!" Fine oratory technique. Using approximately 27 cliches in the span of three sentences, Slater introduces us to his best friend—his chameleon Artie, whom he pulls out of his shirt pocket for the grand finale. Slater must have this chameleon well-trained, since most of the lizards I've ever seen would not be content to just hang out in a shirt pocket for an indefinite amount of time.
At the Max, Slater is demonstrating more of Artie's talents, such as how he can raise his head long enough for Slater to give him an Eskimo kiss. The gang is enchanted, minus Zack, who thinks it's ludicrous (word) and Lisa, who thinks it's disgusting (double word). Slater happens to be skipping town for the weekend, so he asks Screech to watch Artie. Why doesn't he just cart him along in his shirt pocket, if Artie's so happy in there? Anyway, as Slater and Screech skip off to scour some windshields for Artie's dinner (and Lisa leaves to vomit upon hearing about Artie's diet), Kelly attempts to reconfirm with Jessie their plans to work on Kelly's speech that night. But no dice: Jessie's off to chain herself to a gas pump with her mom, presumably as practice for later chaining herself to an oil derrick. (Where's Franklin when you need him?) Fortunately, Zack knows nothing says "booty call" like "study date," so he jumps right in to help.
Later at his house, Zack is admiring his cardboard cutout of Kelly (Sporty Volleyball Model) in advance of their date when Screech shows up with Artie. Turns out the rest of Screech's pets find Artie pretty tasty, so he needs to find a new home for him, stat. Zack reluctantly agrees to take over chameleon-sitting, and manages to shove Screech out the door just as Kelly arrives. Kelly immediately grabs Artie's shoebox and commences with the baby talk. Zack tells her to give it a rest so they can work (read: so he can hit on her), so she tosses the shoebox cavalierly on the desk. Zack has just started to work his mojo on Kelly when Jessie comes careening through his window (nearly trampling poor Artie in the process; I'm not entirely sure that wasn't what led to his ultimate demise), explaining that she and her mom ran out of gas on the way to the gas protest, and her mom refused to fill up. That doesn't explain how they got back so fast, but let's just assume they ran out of gas in their driveway. Anyway, Kelly and Jessie beat a hasty retreat, leaving Zack with nothing but a chameleon and a cardboard cutout for company.
The next day in the hall, the gang notices that Artie is starting to resemble said cardboard cutout—stiff and inanimate. In other words, dead. Which is really bad timing, since Slater's just gotten back from San Diego and is dying to see his BFF. Zack and Screech shove poor dead Artie in a locker (it appears to be Lisa's, which is NOT going to be pretty when she opens it again) and manage to put off Slater until they have time to procure an Artie replacement. Unfortunately, the girls have done the same thing, and Slater is presented with two Arties at the Max. Although the gang really needs to do a better job of coordinating their chameleon substitution, I am impressed that they managed to also find two shoeboxes identical to the one Slater originally had Artie in. Despite Zack's attempts to pass off the duplicate chameleon as Artie's new girlfriend Artesia, Slater knows something's up. Unfortunately, he just thinks it's that Artie's lost in Zack's room, and promises to come over and look for him after wrestling practice.
Knowing they can't keep up the ruse for long (although I feel they could at least try letting one of the replacement Arties loose in Zack's room for Slater to find), the gang imagines what will happen to them if Slater finds out about Artie. Which is that he will dress up in a crocodile costume, talk in a weird raspy voice with an indeterminate accent, and give his tongue a Gene Simmons-worthy workout while meting out their punishments. Which are: Screech must grow old playing Solitaire (with actual cards—that is punishment!), Jessie will wear a ridiculously high-cut bathing suit while sitting on a block of ice, Kelly will jump around in a frying pan with some eggs (what, no bacon?), and Lisa will be forced to dress like a suburban grandma. I guess Zack doesn't get a punishment, or his is too awful to show (actual prison?), because we cut out of the fantasy sequence as he's crying to Sheriff Belding that they didn't mean to do it.
Later that day at Chez Morris, Slater is on a rampant hunt for Artie, from which not even the discovery of the Kelly cardboard cutout can distract him (though it did slow him down for at least a few seconds). The gang shuffles guiltily in while Slater's in the closet (heh), and when he sees them all standing around avoiding his gaze, the jig is up. Kelly offers up the shoebox containing the actual Artie (maybe it was in her locker?), and Slater is surprisingly glib, quipping, "It's just a dead lizard."
Ah, but a river of pain runs beneath his tough-guy facade, as we learn the next day in speech class. Kelly gets up to talk about her German shepherd (seriously, do none of these kids have actual human best friends?), which prompts some relentless heckling from Slater. Coach Rizzo sends him to the principal's office, where Belding puts on his therapist hat and attempts to get Slater to open up. His method of choice appears to be a staring contest, which is surprisingly ineffective, so it's a good thing Zack walks in and gives Belding the dirt. Belding finally breaks Slater down by telling him the story of his parakeets Sonny and Cher, and how Cher flew the coop one day when Belding left the cage open. Yeah, but she went on to win an Oscar for Moonstruck, whereas all Artie's going to get is a poorly attended funeral in a Bayside classroom. Eh, better than nothing.
Artie's shoebox has been all tarted up in red fabric and a pink rose for the funeral, over which Zack is presiding. After less-than-comforting eulogies from Lisa and Coach Rizzo (which basically amount to "At least he was color-coordinated" and "I'm sure he was great, but I don't really know"), Screech and Jessie deliver a rousing rendition of the soon-to-be-classic "Oh Artie Boy," complete with Carnegie Hall-worthy vibrato and Casio keyboard accompaniment. Following this fine musical interlude, Slater comes through with the only touching tribute of the service, telling Artie what a good friend he was, but not to worry because now he has other good friends. Yeah, so good they'll kill your chameleon.
Quote of the episode Lisa: Get that thing away from me! The only time I get this close to lizard skin is when Anne Klein puts a buckle on it.
Grade Clare: B-. You guys know how I feel about Slater-centric episodes, but this one is kind of a classic. I still can't listen to "Oh Danny Boy" without mentally changing the lyrics to "Oh Artie Boy."