It’s officially the time of year which parents love, children dread and teachers…nervously anticipate. That’s right—it’s back-to-school season. Whether you’re rushing to buy the perfect protractor or you’re soaking up every last moment of glorious summer freedom, like it or not, in the next few weeks, life is going to change. Here at HPB HQ, back to school gets us thinking of all the great schools we’ve seen on screens big and small over the years. While we’ve covered school days in film on one occasion or another, I thought it would be worth looking at some of the best TV series set in the world of education. It’s hard to rank them all, so instead I went with the classic “superlative” approach. Enjoy!
Most Likely to Star on Broadway: Glee
The students of William McKinley High School went through a lot in 6 seasons with a smile on their face and a song in their hearts. Say what you want about this show’s rocky run, but I’ll never forget when I heard the New Directions take on Don’t Stop Believin’ for the first time.
Cutest Couple: Saved By the Bell
From Zack and Kelly to Jessie and Slater to…okay, not Lisa and Screech, SBTB had a lot to say about teenage love. This was the school show of the early ‘90s. Who can forget the epic fashions, the kids’ strange relationship with Mr. Belding, and, of course, caffeine pills?
Favorite Teacher: Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper
As the child of an educator and a school registrar, I was one of those kids who liked most of the teachers, hence why HWMC was one of my faves. From Mark Curry (what happened to him?) to Nell Carter (gone too soon!), an excellent cast brought plenty of laughs to this fun show.
Best Hair: Welcome Back, Kotter
I’ll be honest and say that my exposure to WBK was on Nick at Nite (in the days when the channel played actual classic shows, not sitcoms that just ended!), but the luxurious locks of this ‘70s comedy cannot be ignored. I bet John Travolta wishes he still had that hair now…
Most Dependable: Doug
Oh, Doug Funnie. Such a dreamer, such a hero. I’d say just about every ‘90s kid grew up wanting to be Doug or at least be friends with him. From chasing after Patti Mayonnaise to taking on the world as Quailman, Doug was always there to make you think deeper. Killer Tofu!!!
Most School Spirit: Friday Night Lights
Based on the 1990 novel and 2004 movie of the same name, FNL is one of the best school shows of its time, representing the one-of-a-kind experience of high school football culture, especially in Texas. Fun fact: Friday Night Lights author H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger will be at our Dallas Flagship HPB on Saturday, September 19, to sign the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book.
Most Likely to Succeed/Become Famous: Freaks and Geeks
James Franco. Seth Rogen. Jason Segel. All are now household names, thanks to this highly-acclaimed NBC series produced by Judd Apatow. Canceled after just one season, F&G is a classic example of “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Most Popular: Beverly Hills, 90210
The glitz…the glamour…the fashion! The CW basically owes its existence to this ‘90s legend, which turned life in the high school “it crowd” into, well, a soap opera for the ages. You mean your teenage years weren’t like this? Because mine certainly were…
Class Clown: Community
Every good comedian lives a complicated life. This unique ensemble comedy has lived a rocky life, from cast departures to cancellation, and thanks to its loyal fanbase and cult following, Yahoo! resurrected Community for at least one more season.
Most Likely to Get Married First: Boy Meets World
Every school has that one couple…high school sweethearts who are destined for the long haul. Enter Cory Matthews and Topanga Lawrence—the ‘90s relationship we all wanted and dreamed about. Nice to see the Matthews are still happily in love years later on The Disney Channel spinoff Girl Meets World.
Best Dressed: Pepper Ann
This chick has style. Geeky but imaginative, Pepper Ann always owned her awkwardness. She was “much too cool for 7th grade,” and I wished I could be. Maybe because I was headed for the 7th grade at the time…which was when I got braces.
Most Athletic: Coach
My dad was a coach, so this is a nostalgic favorite series for me. College athletics is a…passionate world, to say the least, but Coach always managed to poke fun at school spirit without being offensive.
Most Opinionated: Daria
Here’s one teenager who tells it like it is. Originally a recurring character on Beavis and Butt-head, Daria soon came into her own over the course of five seasons and two TV movies on MTV. Daria and her best friend Jane Lane presented an honest, if jaded, view of high school life.
Best Friends: Recess
The best groups of friends are the ones that never make sense together. Put a prankster, a tomboy, a jock, a geek, a “gentle giant,” and a military brat together, and what do you get? Recess—also known as “What I was watching every Saturday morning in 1997.”
Most Misunderstood: My So-Called Life
Much like Freaks and Geeks, My-So Called Life never quite found its audience until after cancellation. That being said, the realness and relatability of this teen drama has made it a “cult classic.” Claire Danes and Jared Leto star in this can’t-miss series.
Most Dramatic: Degrassi: The Next Generation
High school is an eventful experience. In its almost 40 year run on television, the Degrassi franchise has seen it all. Specifically, The Next Generation covered everything from teen pregnancy to racism to suicide. Plus, it’s way better than Saved By the Bell: The New Class.
Well, that was a fun trip down the hallways of schools gone by. There are certainly many more school-themed TV series that I couldn’t list here, so I’m curious—what school show do you root for?