Alicia Adams isn’t just a teacher. She’s a cool teacher.
The premise of HBO Max’s “Head of the Class,” which premiered Thursday and is a reboot of the ABC staple that ran for five seasons in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, is just that simple: A group of smart students navigate high school and the world outside with the help of a slightly hip debate teacher who thinks she’s way cooler than she actually is.
“She was the kind of teacher that was my favorite teacher when I was in school. The teachers that made the most impact on me were the ones who treated me like an adult and didn’t baby me, who made me an equal,” Isabella Gomez, who plays the overeager educator, told the Daily News.
“Alicia treating the kids like that and having this spunk and this natural rapport with them was so much fun.”
The kids, actual teenagers playing teenagers, are nerds. They deal with crushes, bullies, auditions, the normal stresses of childhood.
“They’re just being allowed to be kids and allowed to be awkward and allowed to be weird,” Gomez, 23, said. “Most of us don’t look like the ‘Riverdale’ cast when we’re sophomores in high school.”
For “Head of the Class” showrunners Amy Pocha and Seth Cohen, normalcy was the key.
“It was riding that fine line of making something that felt authentic and real without ever making it a ‘Very Special Episode’ or heavy-handed,” Cohen said. “We could touch on things in a way that people do; they don’t have to sit down and talk about it for 30 minutes.”
There’s drama, of course — a strict principal (Christa Miller), or the cool kids who film the nerds for their own sick social media fame — but like any good sitcom, each episode of “Head of the Class” sticks the landing with a happy ending.
As the season progresses, Alicia and her students grow together; part of the appeal, Gomez said, is that Alicia knows she’s not done learning yet, either. Some students are more eager than others. Some, like the headstrong Robyn, keep Alicia at arm’s length.
“As you watch the show, you’ll notice she’s going through a journey, not of self-discovery because she’s super secure in who she is, but learning that it’s OK to be vulnerable and that you’re allowed to show people how you feel,” 15-year-old Dior Goodjohn said of her character, Robyn.
Goodjohn, in her first series regular role, said she saw herself in Robyn, but also in the other characters too. She wants the same for teenagers watching at home, who have spent most of their lives watching the world fall apart around them.
“My generation, we all had to collectively go through a lot. Regardless of how it looks on paper, we all went through that journey of self-discovery so young. This is me being a hippie-dippie, but a big part of it is that my generation came down here as the last hope. We were all sent here to make sure that, not that everything goes according to plan, but that we fix everything,” she told The News.
“We’re in an era where a lot of things that were detrimental to society and the planet as a whole happened so fast, (and) it definitely kind of forced us to get it and realize that we’re going to have to make change.”
Cohen and Pocha believe they’ve made a true family show that can truly appeal to parents and kids alike. For adults, they’ve got Easter eggs from the original show, including a guest appearance by star Robin Givens, who broke out as spoiled brat Darlene Merriman.
For newcomers, it’s an idealized version of reality — one where, just maybe, things will be OK.
“There’s something about that generation that is so independent, they’re all activists and they’re all knowledgeable and cultured and they’re all willing to be there for each other and empathetic,” Gomez said.
“They’re a different brand of kid, so there has to be a different brand of teacher. There has to be someone who sees them and relates to them and what they want to do and how to talk to them. They’re not little kids, they’re adults in their own right.”