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HBO Max's Head of the Class reboot is wholesome and bland, but there is some potential

  • "Things I remember about the original Head of the Class, which aired on ABC from 1986 to 1991: that terrific ensemble cast. Howard Hesseman, Robin Givens and the guy who’s now running Paramount Pictures?" says Daniel Fienberg. "Come on! The opening credits and Ed Alton’s theme music. It’s a bop! The Moscow episodes. Your history books may say otherwise, but in my mind, the Cold War was ended by Rocky IV and Head of the Class. Thing I don’t remember about the original Head of the Class: what the show’s actual premise was. As best I can explain, it was about a diverse group of nerds in the 'Individualized Honors Program' at a Manhattan public school who relied on a permanent substitute teacher (Hesseman’s Charlie Moore) to impart lessons about life, or something to that effect. It was a show that generated its appeal around its cast and the often likable relationships among the very, very archetypal teen characters, all played by actors who appeared from the outset to be in their 30s (other than Tannis Vallely’s Janice, who was a prodigy and actually looked 11). All of this is to say that Head of the Class was a successful show, and a generation — my, my, my generation, I suppose — has affection for it. Therefore, of course it would eventually be rebooted as a brand. But what exactly is that brand, and what is really to be gained from bringing it back? After watching three episodes of HBO Max’s new version, I’m still not sure. After a bumpy pilot, the sitcom settles into a low-key likable vibe. It’s a somewhat quaint and innocuous multi-cam that would have felt rousingly progressive in 1986 and would probably be too bland for ABC’s comedy lineup today, a show that neither gains anything nor loses much from tacking on the Head of the Class name. The looseness of the premise is the main thing the new show has in common with the original, along with the participation of creators Rich Eustis and Michael Elias, who collaborate with new series developers Amy Pocha and Seth Cohen."


    • Head of the Class feels out of place on HBO Max: "With its tinny laugh track and line, line, joke rat-a-tat formula, it feels like a network television sitcom," says Amy Amatangelo. "The show is fine, at times even funny—but it seems better suited to airing between The Goldbergs and The Wonder Years on ABC Wednesday nights. What I find particularly challenging about this era of streaming platforms is that so few of them have a brand or a personality. We are at a point where any show could air on any network. Why do we have a gazillion streaming platforms anyway?" She adds: "Again it’s not bad, and it may work for the show’s intended younger audience. But as far as expanding HBO Max’s brand of original series, it’s too generic and not really worth the time. Head of the Class isn’t a failure, but you can easily pass on attending."
    • Head of the Class relies on the boundless wellspring of charisma and enthusiasm that is Isabella Gomez: "The general premise of Head Of The Class is still the same in 2021 as it was in 1986: a rough-around-the-edges teacher is assigned to a group of gifted students and uses unorthodox educational methods to educate the kids on matters both in and out of the school, steering them to make the most of themselves even when they’re not in class," says Will Harris. "Admittedly, the teacher this time around—Alicia Gomez (played by the aforementioned Gomez)—isn’t just rough around the edges, she’s also wet behind the ears, which means that not only is there a considerable learning curve, but there’s also a tendency for Alicia to find the experiences of the kids feeling more familiar to her than the sensation of being a teacher and role model."
    • What's it like for Isabella Gomez to go from the One Day at a Time reboot to the Head of the Class reboot?: "It makes so much sense for me, especially with this character," she says. "She’s so different than Elena. The show is so different than One Day at a Time that I didn’t feel like, 'Oh, I’m doing another reboot.' Right now, we need so much joy and so much laughter after the couple of years we’ve had as humans that I was really excited to sign on board." Gomez adds that Head of the Class benefits from its representation. "Absolutely," she says. "What I liked about it is that it wasn’t even a conversation about that. And in fact, Alicia was Alicia Adams before she was Alicia Gomez. I think that the creative team really went in and auditioned people and just wanted to get whoever was the best for the role. And it just so happened that the cast was super diverse because there’s so much talent all over the spectrum. I was stoked that that’s what the cast looks like."

    TOPICS: Head of the Class (HBO Max Series), HBO Max, Isabella Gómez