HBOMax has a ton of titles to choose from but mixed in with the popular favorites like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Sopranos is a truly deep cut: Head of the Class. I have to be honest, when I came across the show I hadn’t heard of it. It first aired in 1986 as a star vehicle for Howard Hessmen, still popular from his days on WKRP in Cincinnati.
The role was a little against type for him, as a progressive teacher to a room full of gifted students. But what starts out as a gimmick very quickly turns into a fantastic hidden gem that is a great time capsule of the era.
Like WKRP, the show works best as an ensemble where the kids, including a young Robin Givens, take pride in their intelligence and really treat the teacher as more of an equal than simply a mentor. As it turns out many members of the class would go on to pave the way for much of pop culture well into the 90s and 00s, we just didn’t know it at the time.
Brian Robbins (Eric) went on to run a production company with William Schilling (the principal) which would go on to produce notable shows like Smallville and One Tree Hill. Class Clown Dan Schneider is co-president of the television production company Schnedier’s Bakery which produced iconic shows like iCarly, Zoey 101, Game Shakers and more for Nickelodeon.
The show itself is very much a product of its time. On more than one occasion the class meets their Russian rivals during the academic decathlon but rather than enrage paranoia they go the route of peace, which is refreshing. In fact, in 1988 the show filmed a two-part episode called “Mission to Moscow” where production filmed on site in the Soviet Union, making them the first Americans to do so.
Though the concept of the show seems rather mundane you have to understand what pop culture was like in that era. This is the same era that made Revenge of the Nerds and painted smart kids as outcasts with crippling social flaws, anyone fat was instantly made fun of and geeks were still very afraid to let the world know about their passions. Head of the Class instead treats its characters with respect and admiration. Yes, these kids are gifted but they are also just kids. Even Janice, the extremely gifted 10 year old of the group isn’t called out for her age. It is an issue occasionally but for the most part everyone treats her with respect. That is refreshing coming from the era.
So if you’re looking for a deep cut look no further than Head of the Class. It is only a couple of seasons but totally worth your time both for entertainment and historical purposes.