If you don’t know or remember much about Head Of The Class, the ABC sitcom about a bunch of gifted high schoolers and their teacher, Mr. Moore (Howard Hesseman of WKRP In Cincinnati fame), that’s not such a bad way to enter into HBO Max’s revival of Head Of The Class. In fact, it’s fair to say that you could enter into the proceedings without even knowing that it was a revival, so little does the series rely on the audience’s nostalgia for the original series. What it does rely on, however, is the boundless wellspring of charisma and enthusiasm that is Isabella Gomez, late of One Day At A Time, and that’s great—provided, of course, that the show doesn’t solely coast on Gomez’s innate gifts.
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. 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.
Fortunately, she’s got fellow teacher Elliot Olsen (Jorge Diaz) to help steer her in the right direction, and if that doesn’t do the trick, there’s always the semi-threatening presence of Principal Maris (Christa Miller) as backup. The eponymous class is decidedly smaller this time around: You get school swim champ Terrell (Brandon Severs), aspiring politician Luke (Gavin Lewis), his best bud and style maven Miles (Adrian Matthew Escalona), kinda-sorta tough coder girl Robyn (Dior Goodjohn), and tech whiz Makayla (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport).
These vague characterizations are all we learn about the students over the course of the first three episodes. But by the second episode, viewers are introduced to Sarah (Katie Beth Hall), a.k.a. Principal Maris’ daughter and a possible love interest for one of the other students. While the principal is clearly more of a secondary character at present, Miller is nonetheless well-utilized, and the fact that she’s both the principal and the mother of one of the students is a solid way to involve her more as the series progresses.
Still, you’d almost certainly never guess that Head Of The Class was executive produced by Bill Lawrence (Ted Lasso, Scrubs) and Amy Pocha and Seth Cohen (Paradise P.D., American Vandal). Robin Givens reprises her character from the 1986 series, now the parent of one of the 2021 students. Her inclusion seems like an afterthought at best, a theory bolstered by the way the studio audience reacts to her first appearance.
Episode two also features a storyline where Alicia decides to indulge in some online gaming with Robyn in the hopes of swaying her into considering a career on the programming side of things, only for it to backfire. The series could do a lot worse than leaning into Alicia struggling with the realization that it’s one thing to empathize with her students, but it’s quite another to try to relate to them by stepping back and acting like the high school student she used to be.
It’s still unclear how much character development the new Head Of The Class will offer. But even in these early goings, the friendship between Luke and Miles is strong, and the interplay between Gomez and Diaz as fellow teachers and new friends is definitely fun. Gomez is just as delightful here as she was throughout the four-season run of One Day At A Time. Now we just need to see if the rest of the show can rise up to meet her—at the moment, it’s got quite a climb ahead of it.