It’s back to school time! Students around the world are gathering up their notebooks, zipping up their lunch boxes, and returning to the world of academia.
For those of us who are past school age, we have to turn to the screen to go back to school. No, not Zoom school. TV school!
If you’re trying to re-experience those first-day-of-school butterflies or reminisce about your wild college years, here’s a whole list of TV comedies set in schools (including where you can watch each of them).
The show centers around the fictional Greendale Community College, where the funding is low and the staff is under-qualified, but the study groups are thick as thieves. Of course, given that Community’s creator is Dan Harmon (also known for Rick and Morty), the characters and situations grow increasingly wacky as the show progresses. Harmon even shared that one plotline in Rick and Morty was originally meant for Community.
People who are familiar with the community college experience will get a kick out of the humor, like the hectic scramble to sign up for the perfect class schedule or the sanctity of calling “dibs” on a study table—but the heart at the center of Community is the idea of people with different backgrounds and life stories banding together to survive. Can’t-miss episodes include the ABBA-fueled zombie Halloween party and any of the paintball episodes.
This show from writer and actor Quinta Brunson just finished its freshman season, but has already cemented itself as one of the best school comedies of modern television, with big plans for Abbott Elementary Season 2.
The show revolves around Janine (Brunson), an optimistic and determined young teacher working in the Philadelphia public school system. They’re underfunded and led by a clueless principal (played by the now-Emmy nominated Janelle James), but that won’t stop Janine from pouring her heart, sweat, and tears into her students’ educations.
Abbott is sweet and sincere, but still packed with ridiculous humor that will appeal to teachers and non-teachers alike.
If high school were a soap opera, that school would be William McKinley High. Set in the town of Lima, Ohio, Glee tells the story of the rise of New Directions, a show choir with the talent and ambition to make it all the way to regionals.
Glee depicts more of a caricature of high school—the bullies are exaggerated, the teachers are unprofessional, the pranks are heightened (I would NOT want to be slushied), and the stakes of glee club performance are extremely high. But, backed by the ever-talented and scarily intense Rachel Berry (played by Broadway star Lea Michele), those stakes feel appropriate.
Former drama club/glee club/choir kids can reminisce about their glory days through the absurd lens of William McKinley High School.
Creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle crafted an immersive middle-school experience with Pen15, the Hulu original all about coming-of-age in the early 2000’s.
Don’t be alarmed—Erskine and Konkle are in their 30’s, but they play the pre-teen versions of themselves (surrounded by actors who are actually pre-teens). The comedians are so perfect as awkward middle-schoolers, you often forget they’re not actually pre-pubescent.
Season 1 is full of gags you’d only appreciate if you were a kid in the 2000’s (like AIM chat rooms and dial-up Internet), but the emotion-packed Season 2 delves into the harsher realities of growing up as a girl under the pressure to be seen, loved, and accepted by peers.
Freaks And Geeks
This one-season comedy from Judd Apatow was canceled before its time—but in the years since its untimely ending, the show has picked up a cult-following of devoted fans who praise the show for its accurate depiction of high school.
Like the title says, the show follows a group of “Freaks” (led by James Franco) and a group of “Geeks,” with the main protagonist, Lindsay (Dead to Me’s Linda Cardellini), internally battling her good-girl upbringing with the help and influence of the class-skipping, pot-smoking Freaks.
The show accurately depicts the realities of teen life, including rebellion, peer-pressure, and finding friends in unlikely places.
While not quite a sequel to Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared was Judd Apatow’s answer to the question, “What would happen if the Freaks had gone to college?”
Starring many of the same actors, including Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, Undeclared follows a group of college friends and acquaintances, many of whom are totally lost when it comes to selecting a path for their future.
Undeclared is the perfect show for people who had trouble finding their way in college. Like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared only got one season, but garnered a pretty huge following of viewers who responded to the show’s themes.
Fans of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton will love A.P. Bio, the show about an outcast philosophy professor who’s stuck teaching science to a class of over-achieving Honors students. Jack (Howerton) doesn’t know squat about biology, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have plenty to teach these impressionable kids.
Jack crafts plans to use his students as pawns in his personal vendettas, but along the way gains an appreciation for them as they begin to show him respect.
A.P. Bio was originally canceled after two seasons on NBC, but earned an additional two seasons on Peacock after fan outcry. This one is an acquired taste, but a must-see for people who love to watch Glenn Howerton do his thing.
Never Have I Ever
From writer and creator Mindy Kaling, Never Have I Ever tells the story of a young girl’s mission to reinvent herself and improve her high school experience following her father’s death.
The show is funny (hello, Kaling literally wrote for The Office), but has also been praised for its south-Asian representation and lack of stereotypes. If you love Kaling’s work, you’re sure to be a fan of this journey of high school self-discovery.
Set during the Troubles (a non-fictional period of violence and political unrest in Northern Ireland) in Derry, Derry Girls is the story of a group of friends and their adventures at an all-girls Catholic college.
Derry Girls does an excellent job of capturing the contrast between living in uncertain times and carrying on with life as usual—the girls aren’t oblivious to the violence going on outside, but they’re a lot more worried about meeting boys, having fun with their friends, and simply surviving young adulthood.
This series captures the social caste system of Greek life. The characters are, of course, seen partying and acting reckless, as college kids often do—but keep in mind the show originally aired on ABC Family (now known as Freeform), so Greek is a little more family-friendly than similar college-centered shows.
Some fraternity and sorority vets have criticized the show for its “stereotypes,” with USC even banning the show from filming on campus. However, if you’re looking for a show that highlights the positives and negatives of Panhellenic life, Greek might be for you.
A spinoff of the long-running ABC show, Black-ish, grown-ish is the story of eldest daughter Zoey’s first taste of independence as she moves away for college.
Zoey (black-ish actress Yara Shahidi) struggles with her expectations not meeting reality as she begins to navigate friends, romance, and academics. It’s a wakeup call for Zoey, who’s used to calling the shots and getting her way.
This MTV show will appeal to anyone who’s experienced the embarrassment of being alive while attending high school. Awkward. follows Jenna, a girl who flies under the radar at school until an unfortunate accident (and rumored suicide attempt) leaves her in double-arm casts.
While the show depicts a lot of typical high school stereotypes, Jenna’s life is anything but normal. Her mother is a former high school queen bee whose reign came to an end after becoming pregnant (with Jenna). While trying to survive the day-to-day embarrassments of high school, Jenna also has to deal with the struggle of having a mother who wants to vicariously relive her glory days through her. Be warned: “Awkward.” is not just a title. You will cringe. Often.
Saved By The Bell
We can’t leave out the classics! Saved by the Bell is undoubtedly one of the most beloved high-school sitcoms of all time, complete with a tight group of friends, a groovy after-school hangout spot, and hijinx that would only happen in a fictional high school.
All that aside, Bayside High is one of the most recognizable fictional schools ever, and rewatching the series is sure to give you that same feeling you got when you watched it on Saturday mornings as a kid.
Boy Meets World
Boy Meets World is the quintessential TV school story, where all the main characters have the same class schedule and the teachers always happen to graduate up to the next grade with their students.
Chronological faux-pas aside, Boy Meets World is a great coming-of age show that tackles some of the deeper topics that plague kids. It’s fun and light-hearted, but never strays too far from the mission of teaching young viewers how to deal with conflict and growing pains.
Catch up on new and upcoming TV releases, including those set in schools, with our guide to the 2022 TV schedule.
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She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.