Get ready to go back to school in the 1990s, sitcom style.
On Wednesday, ABC debuts “Schooled,” its spinoff of the popular 1980s-themed sitcom “The Goldbergs.” The older series is largely based on the vivid (and home video-inspired) recollections of its creator and executive producer, Adam F. Goldberg, depicting the wacky escapades of a middle class, suburban Philadelphia family.
“The Goldbergs” has frequently featured storylines at (barely) fictional William Penn Academy, which is based on William Penn Charter School, the Philadelphia private school that has operated continuously since 1689, and from which Goldberg graduated in 1994.
On “Schooled,” which airs Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern/Pacific time, William Penn Academy is the focus as time advances into the 1990s and Lainey Lewis (AJ Michalka), who on “The Goldbergs” is the girlfriend (and later fiancée) of Adam’s bumbling older brother, Barry Goldberg, joins the faculty as the new music teacher.
If you’ve watched “The Goldbergs,” you will have caught on that while the family’s story proceeds in a linear fashion, the writers jump back and forth between various 1980s cultural events from throughout the decade. For example, one episode might be based on a 1986 movie such as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and the next inspired by a film such as 1983’s “Risky Business.” (To not do so would place the show in a chronological box that would limit its creativity.)
The presumption is that “Schooled” will do the same thing. On the premiere, “Be Like Mike,” the 1990s reign of NBA great Michael Jordan is the inspiration. The star of the William Penn basketball team starts wearing the longer basketball shorts that took over in the 90s, while Coach Mellor (Bryan Callen) clings to the short shorts of an earlier era.
(In the advance screener I viewed, the dunking contest in the episode plays out to R. Kelly’s 1998 hit “I Believe I Can Fly.” It probably wasn’t the producers’ intention to have the episode air the same week that the six-part “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary series debuts on Lifetime, chronicling the singer’s alleged pattern of sexual abuse of underage girls. Kelly has long denied any wrongdoing.)
Besides Goldberg and other top producers Marc Firek and Doug Robinson, “Schooled” has some other carryovers from “The Goldbergs.” One is Callen’s Coach Mellor character, who is based on a real William Penn Charter physical education instructor. Another is Tim Meadow’s Jonathan Glascott, who has been promoted from guidance counselor at William Penn in “The Goldbergs” to school principal in “Schooled.”
He hires the seemingly unqualified Lainey Lewis as music teacher after some prodding (in a cameo) by Beverly Goldberg (the multitalented Wendi McLendon-Covey). The initial jokes center on the young-looking Lewis being mistaken for a student or foiling students’ excuses for getting out of class. Lewis explains to one girl in her music class that the “I need to go to the nurse’s office to get out of a boring class thing” won’t work with her, because “I invented it.”
The producers of “The Goldbergs” made a pilot for “Schooled” in 2017, but ABC chose not to pick it up. The pilot aired as a special episode called “The Goldbergs: 1990-something.” According to The Wall Street Journal, the episode got strong ratings, and ABC decided to try the spinoff after all. But some actors were already committed to other works, so “Schooled” was revamped with a focus on the teachers.
ABC made only the first (new) episode available for review, and based on that the show and the premise seem promising, but I think I need more evidence to roll in. Upcoming episodes feature Principal Glascott and Coach Mellor in a romantic battle over a math teacher, and Lewis seeks to stage a William Penn production of the Broadway show “Rent.”
The tone is light. “Schooled” will no more cast a serious light on education issues of the 1990’s than “The Goldbergs” explored Reaganomics or Glasnost.
“The Goldbergs” is still fun in its sixth season, though one worries whether it might soon be scraping the bottom of the barrel for its 1980s cultural touchstones. This season’s new hit, ABC’s “The Kids Are Alright,” about an Irish-American Catholic family with eight boys, is inspired. (I’d like to see that show feature more school storylines.)
In our nostalgia-fueled culture, a show like “Schooled” will probably resonate best with those who were still in school in the 1990s.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.