HBO’s reboot of the mid-80s mid-tier sitcom is a slog through artificiality.
Remember when the Saved by the Bell reboot hit small screens? How it stunned critics and viewers alike by being a delightful, intelligent show? One that managed to both send up its previous incarnation and deliver the goods in its own right? Head of the Class is the show we were all anticipating.
What does that mean? It means Head of the Class is a stale multi-cam that feels powered by nothing more than nervous theatre kid energy and enthusiasm. Given how many former nervous theatre kids this writer counts amongst his friends, that even I found this more insufferable than adorable should tell you all you need to know about Class’s watchability.
If you hunger for more, however, feel free to press on.
Like the original mid-80’s sitcom, Class focuses on a group of gifted kids and their teacher who encourages them to embrace the kind of living that has nothing to do with record cards. Here Miss Alicia Adams (Isabel Gomez) is the teacher. Unfortunately, her incitement for the children to expand their horizons feels less like a mentor encouraging personal growth and more like an adult with poor boundaries looking for younger friends. That the show lampshades it multiple times in the first three episodes provided to critics doesn’t make Adams any more pleasant. Gomez is clearly game, but she shouldn’t have to be game for this kind of strained material.
The kids fare better, but they’re paper-thin as well. Luke Burrows (Gavin Lewis) is especially ill-served as the most positive reinforcement hungry of the bunch. Admittedly, he’s playing to the back row, but there are only so many variations on a theme an actor can hit if you won’t give them some other aspect of themselves. His friendship with Miles (Adrian Matthew Escalona) has promise, but the show does little to convince us the duo spend any social time together, never mind call each other best friends.
That’s the biggest problem of Class. Everything, from head to toe, feels deeply artificial. The sets. The flat, overly clear compositions. The interpersonal interactions. It’s all like viewers walked into a stage production that has just got off book. How can we care about moments where it seems like Miss Adams is getting closer to stern administrator Principal Maris (Christa Miller) when neither their initial strife nor their fist bump scene has any sense of reality to it?
It’s all like viewers walked into a stage production that has just got off book.
The only relationship that manages to shake the show’s stifling unreality is the awkward teen romance between the Principal’s daughter Sarah (Katie Beth Hall) and the only student with a shred of athleticism on the debate team Terrell (Brandon Severs). That their interactions feel more like middle school suitors than high schoolers would be more of an issue on a better show. Here having anything the feels real is a relief.
While the show feels mostly like a middle schooler’s expectation of high school, it also has a lot of sex talk. Nothing particularly gratuitous is said and absolutely nothing is done. Still, it clashes with the show’s vibe. One moment, a heavy laugh track is guffawing at a joke corny enough to make my 10-year-old roll her eyes. The next, Robin Givens as Terrell’s mom is issuing an extended riff on sexual responsibility. And before you think, “well, at least it’s progressive,” rest assured all the sex talk eventually works its way around to a generic, “Don’t do it, kids! Not even once!” message.
I can’t fathom a child, teen, or adult who would enjoy visiting this school. This one likely won’t even give those nostalgic for the original an endorphin hit. Head of the Class doesn’t have the front desk because it’s so much better than all the other sitcoms. It has it because no one else wants to hang out with it.
Head of the Class takes its seat on November 4th on HBOMax.