It’s been said most television sitcoms can fall into three categories–shows about friends, shows about a family, or shows about a workplace. Many dramas typically fall under one of these categories as well. One location that’s seen it’s fair share of television series is the school, which can be a mixture of all three.
Here are some of the classic live action television series about school:
Dan Harmon’s show about a group of misanthropes who form a study group at a community college quickly became a cult favorite, and lasted five seasons on NBC before getting cancelled and renewed for a sixth season by Yahoo! Screen. The show, which revelled in both referencing and subverting all things pop culture, launched and boosted several careers, including comedy veteran Chevy Chase, Alison Brie, and Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino.
Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks, a period drama about high school outcasts in 1980, also launched multiple careers, including Linda Cardellini, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, producer Judd Apatow, and creator Paul Feig. No wonder the one-season wonder picked up an Emmy for Outstanding Casting in a Comedy. The show had the hallmarks of Apatow’s and Feig’s future work–pop culture-referencing humor with a ton of heart.
The memorable pilot for Glee launched a new wave of musicals on television, including Smash, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and live performances of famous musicals. The show worked with high school stereotypes like jocks, cheerleaders, and nerds, but over six seasons it shaded its characters with a ton of depth. Glee covered nearly every social issue a high schooler might encounter, as well as covered hundreds of famous pop, rock, and musical numbers. The show, which included NYFA alumni Chord Overstreet and Naya Rivera–the latter as the deviously talented Santana Lopez–also wore its progressive heart on its sleeve, and was praised for its three-dimensional LGBTQIA+ and other diverse characters.
Friday Night Lights
Adapted from the 2004 film by Peter Berg, itself adapted from the nonfiction book by H.G.Bissinger, this NBC drama ran for five seasons, earning critical acclaim throughout its run. Like its source material, the show was based around a Texas town’s obsession with high school football, but quickly transcended that material to become a grounded, fully-realized portrayal of working class families. The show, and its characters, wasn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, and from time to time punctuated its character drama with breathtaking football action and laugh-out-loud comedic beats.
Saved by the Bell
Originally a workplace vehicle for Hayley Mills about middle school called Good Morning, Miss Bliss, the show was renamed Saved by the Bell in season two and re-tooled to be about the students, now in high school, led by the charismatic Zack Morris. The show became both a syndication and Saturday morning staple for an entire generation, and has persisted in pop culture through TV movies and spin-offs like The College Years and The New Class.
My So-Called Life
In 1994, ABC aired this teen drama that lasted for only a season but dealt with several major issues for teens in the 90s in its short time, from drug use to alcoholism to school violence. The show launched the careers of Jared Leto and Claire Danes; the latter winning a Golden Globe for her lead role.
The first season of Veronica Mars was a murder mystery whodunnit with a clever gimmick–what if the hard-boiled private eye was a teenage girl? Suspects and witnesses came from every clique in high school as the title character navigated a murder investigation with her homework and dating life. Kristen Bell’s winning performance as well the show’s shocking twists and clever, snappy dialogue, made the show a cult hit. It lasted another two seasons before being cancelled, but was brought back to life as a feature film and most recently with another season of TV.
Ludovic Coutaud is a NYFA alum and writer. For more information, click here.