With the overwhelming success of Disney’s “High School Musical” franchise and Columbia Pictures’ “Superbad,” high school is popular again.
I have a hard time imagining the star of my school’s basketball team breaking out into song and dance at random intervals, and the school nerd going wild with the local cops, but somewhere out there millions of other people seemed to not only believe it, but love it too.
But long before Troy and Gabriella found the music in each other and McLovin was buying alcohol, Zack and Slater were fighting over Kelly and Vinnie Barbarino was rhyming his way into trouble.
So in honor of the new-found enthusiasm for all things high school, here’s a look at some high school hits of the small screen.
“Saved By The Bell” 1989-1993
Only at Bayside High School could you find the head cheerleader hanging out with the valedictorian and class nerd. Although not the most realistic display of the high school years, “Saved By The Bell” was definitely one of the most entertaining.
This show was about six friends at a California high school making their way through high school one disaster after another.
Led by Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), the scheming slacker, this group of friends managed to get into some pretty crazy situations (i.e. loosing Screech’s mom’s dog in a poker game; using subliminal messages to get a date; trying to sneak out of detention to spend skip day with friends…the list goes on).
Mostly concerned with the “fluffy” parts of being a teenager - money, dating, being popular - the show also had its moments of depth. Determined to bring up her math grade and be a part of a hot new girl group, Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) becomes addicted to caffeine pills. There is also an episode where the gang meets a homeless family and helps them out, another where Kelly Kapowski’s (Tiffani Thiessen) dad loses his job, and Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) wrecks her mom’s car after driving drunk.
Fourteen years later I still find myself drawn into the episodes - as cheesy as they may be.
Stars: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Lark Voorhies, Mario Lopez, Dustin Diamond, Tiffani Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, Dennis Haskins
“Welcome Back, Kotter” 1975-1979
What high school list would be complete without the Sweathogs? This show is a classic. It never tried to tackle serious issues, which often made other shows seem lame, the writers just tried to make the audience laugh. And laugh we did.
The show focused on Gabe Kotter (Gabe Kaplan), a devoted teacher who returns to his inner-city school to guide the next generation of would-be trouble makers. Assigned to teach the supposedly unteachable Sweathogs, Kotter used his own experiences to help steer the bunch in the right direction.
The sweathogs were led by Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), a smart aleck with a knack for rhyming insults; Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes), A Puerto Rican Jew; Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) the cool one of the group; and Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo) the dim-witted follower.
The show lost a lot of steam after Travolta made it on the big screen and graduated from Buchannan High, but although it only lasted four years, those years were magical.
“Freaks and Geeks” 1999-2000
This show only lasted one season, but not for lack of trying. Possibly the most realistic portrayal of high school life, “Freaks and Geeks” was set in the 1980s at McKinley High.
Although a comedy, the show dealt with issues like acceptance, drinking, drugs, bullying, and the usual teen antagonizers. The show focused on two distinct groups and what life was like for them. It was a nice break from the usual “popular kid” show.
Another big plus was the cast and crew of this NBC gem. The show was produced by Judd Apatow (“Superbad,” “Knocked Up,” “The 40-year old Virgin,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”). The cast included James Franco, Seth Rogen, John Francis Daley, Linda Cardellini, Samm Levine, and Martin Starr, who found roles in other Apatow projects.
The show was great, but in a bad time slot it had troubles establishing a solid fan base, and that’s too bad.