Roll call! The ’90s-set sitcom Schooled, ABC’s The Goldbergs spin-off, follows teachers of suburban Philadelphia high school William Penn Academy as Goldbergs troublemaker Lainey Lewis (AJ Michalka) returns home in search of a fresh start after failing to hack together a music career.
Lainey enlists quintessential helicopter mom Beverly Goldberg (Wendy McLendon-Covey) to help her score a job as a music teacher at her alma mater, where former guidance counselor John Glasgott (Tim Meadows) is now principal. There, Lainey reconnects with Coach Rick Mellor (Bryan Callen) — who, despite the leap of fashion between the ’80s and the ’90s, has decided to keep his super-short gym shorts — and meets Charlie “C.B.” Brown, a spunky English teacher played by Jane the Virgin‘s Brett Dier. Clancy Brown appears as woodworking teacher Mr. Crosby.
The Goldbergs captures the fashion, music, and culture of the ’80s through the lens of a loving (if sometimes goofy) family, and always ends with a heartwarming word of advice. Schooled features similar one-liners, fast cuts, and sitcom gags that will have fans roaring, but with ’90s style. Despite its grunge-era setting, the cast told Rotten Tomatoes on a visit to the show’s Los Angeles set recently that it’s one of the most optimistic sitcoms on television right now.
“It’s optimistic, and it’s not cynical, and these are teachers that care and make a difference,” Callen told us. Below, Callen and his castmates help break down everything you need to know about their sitcom.
Read on to learn the ABCs of Schooled.
After breaking off her engagement with the oldest Goldberg brother and attempting to kick-start her music career, Michalka’s Lainey wants a fresh start.
“Cut to however many years later in the ’90s — she’s failed at music, tried to tour, tried to get signed, tried to be a part of anything she could,” Michalka said of Lainey’s headspace when she returns to Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, to seek a steady job.
How does she end up as the new music teacher at her old high school, William Penn?
“She gets a hold of Beverly Goldberg,” Michalka said, and true to Beverly’s Goldbergs pushiness, “Glascott can’t say no.”
Meadows also returns and co-stars in Schooled as compassionate Principal John Glasgott, based on the real-life principal of show creator Adam Goldberg’s youth in Pennsylvania.
“I was a band geek, basically,” Meadows told RT. “I can play saxophone, clarinet, flute, and then I started playing the oboe when I was in my senior year,” he said. It was the oboe that got him to think twice about continuing in the band: “It was the first time that I saw myself as being a total nerd,” he laughed.
While music is a defining element of Michalka’s role on the show, Meadows said we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for him to appear dancing or playing the saxophone on Schooled.
“I begged for them not to put me in any musical numbers,” he said. “I’m not a good dancer. The first time I ever asked a girl to dance when I was in school, I didn’t really know how to dance… I just started flailing my limbs, and I kicked her in the shin, and her leg started bleeding.”
What would Principal Glasgott be without his sports-centric rival, Coach Rick Mellor?
Callen said that while it might look like Coach Rick is the macho counterpart to Glasgott’s softness, Coach also leads with compassion.
“Coach Rick is an emotional guy, but he hides it,” Callen said. Ultimately, being both a sports coach and a life coach for his students is what gives Coach Rick’s life meaning: “His life is being a P.E. teacher, and being a coach, and making a difference and watching kids grow — and instilling in them of values and principles that they’ll take with them for the rest of their life.”
Of course, Coach Rick’s ego took a blow when Glasgott was promoted as principal over him. And Lainey’s return to William Penn throws him off his game a little bit.
“Coach Mellor believes in one kind of strength, and that is athletic strength — speed, power, agility,” Callen said. “But Glascott and Lainey show Coach that there are different kinds of strength.”
You might know Dier as Det. Michael Cordero from Jane the Virgin (a.k.a. Jane’s fiancé), or maybe you recognize him as Luke Matheson from Pretty Little Liars spin-off Ravenswood. In Schooled, he plays Charlie “C.B.” Brown, a kindhearted teacher who absolutely loves his job. Dier told us that Charlie is playful, the kind of teacher he would want as a high schooler.
“He’s goofy, he makes it fun,” said Dier, “This guy is like basically a big kid that knows information.”
Dier’s Charlie Brown helps welcome Lainey to William Penn when she’s first hired by helping her connect with the students.
“I kind of take her under my wing,” Dier said, for instance when Charlie tells Lainey, “‘You have to relate to them, you have to make it fun.’”
Charlie teaches English, but he also “runs a ton of clubs,” including a “Wizard’s Club,” according to Dier. He said Schooled features “tons of ’90s references” and he loves it. “I’m kind of reliving my childhood right now, through the show,” he said.
Dier says he once almost lit a classroom on fire in high school. How, you ask? He blames instant ramen.
“I heated up ramen, and it almost exploded,” he confessed, but his drama teacher was “really cool about it.” Dier draws inspiration from that teacher, in fact, when portraying Charlie Brown on Schooled.
“He felt like a friend and that’s why I think he inspired so many kids,” Dier said of his real-life high school drama teacher. “I also imagine how I would want to be taught as a kid.”
What could possibly make Principal Glasgott hire Lainey, a troublemaker in high school with absolutely no teaching experience? It’s simple, said Meadows: “What makes me hire Lainey is Beverly Goldberg.”
In The Goldbergs, Beverly is famous for making demands of the teachers at William Penn. At the start of every year, she marches into the principal’s office and hands over a list of the classes her children will be taking — class assignments be damned. Beverly Goldberg gets what Beverly Goldberg wants. And on Schooled, it’s no different.
Glasgott hires Lainey to get Beverly “out of my hair,” Meadows said. But there’s also something in it for him: “I think my character also loves the fact that he’s still teaching Lainey… giving her a job and taking her under his wing is still a part of teaching her.”
What’s Meadows’ quintessential high school movie?
“Mean Girls, obviously,” he said. “Heathers would probably be second, Clueless third.” After a pause, he admitted that he loves Bring It On, too. “That’s a good one where people are funny dancing,” he laughed.
And when asked what he’s bingeing right now, Dier admitted he “just finished” The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix and loved it for the same reason we did: “That sixth episode where there’s an 18-minute oner,” he said. “That was insane.”
Lainey actually uses that great early-’90s technology known as “The Internet” to find the job. Then, after failing to convince Principal Glasgott that she’s the woman for the job, Lainey enlists Beverly’s help to persuade him.
“[Coach Rick and Principal Glasgott] butt heads a little bit, but they’ve been friends for a long time,” Meadows said. “There’s a little jealousy in the very beginning, because Coach Mellor thinks that he should be [principal], too.”
Callen said that Coach and Glasgott often clash over philosophical differences. Principal Glasgott is “trying to reinvent the wheel” with less strict teaching methods. “Problem is, Rick Mellor is working off the knowledge and wisdom of the ancients,” said Callen.
Eventually the dust settles and the two balance each other out, in large part because Lainey and Charlie bring their own values and skills to William Penn, too.
“You need the young to kind of break those molds,” Callen said, and Lainey and Charlie definitely shake things up.
While Lainey doesn’t plan on sticking around William Penn long-term, she eventually changes her tune.
“She’s a mess for the first few episodes,” Michalka said with a laugh. But soon, Lainey finds meaning and value in building her students’ confidence and learning from them, too. “She ends up really relating with some of these kids because in some of them she sees herself.”
Some people peaked in high school; others dread ever returning. Lainey’s transition is softened by her old mentors, Principal Glasgott and Coach Mellor.
“Having Glascott and Mellor kind of grounds her, because those are the guys that also helped raise her,” Michalka said. Coach Mellor gives Lainey a sense of belonging, and she gains a new sense of respect for Glasgott: “She can’t but notice Glasgott really does run this place, and his kind of nurture for the school is something that she really looks up to.”
Lainey uses her high school experiences to understand her students — sometimes to connect with them, other times to stay a couple steps ahead of their pranks. “Because there is kind of a rebellious, hip edge to her, the kids see that as a fun way to learn,” said Michalka.
And while “her teaching mechanisms are bizarre,” she stays one step ahead of her students because she “invented” all their tricks for skipping class and sneaking around. That allows her to discover “a really great way to hone in what she wants, get the kids to another level, and also accomplish what she needs to accomplish in order to make Glascott happy.”
“Music’s a big part of the show,” Michalka said, but not just because of Lainey’s musical background — or her own, seeing that Michalka is a pop star in her own right.
“When Lainey was going to William Penn, her and Erica would join a talent show, or they would perform at a dance, or whatever it may be,” Michalka said. But now, it’s Lainey’s students who take center stage. “Now, I’m kind of the one to sit back in the audience and watch the kids work. Lainey’s in a different position now, which I think is really lovely.”
What The Goldbergs was for poufy hair, brightly patterned sweaters, and workout wear, Schooled is for chokers, plaid, and smelling like teen spirit. Prepare to break out your Doc Martens and sing along to Nirvana with some iconic fashion choices.
Meadows was once a self-described “band geek,” but he didn’t realize it until he played the oboe.
“One day, I was in my senior year sitting in my room practicing the oboe,” he said. It was seeing himself play the instrument that did it. “I looked in the mirror, and I saw the biggest nerd in the world and it was me.”
He laughed: “I was playing the oboe, and I said, ‘All right, that’s it. I’m done. I’m done.’ … I made up my mind that I was not going to be learning any more instruments in the woodwind family.”
Dier’s Charlie Brown is a bit of a goodie-goodie, a rule follower. But in real life, Dier’s high school classmates knew him as a prankster.
“I was a goofball in high school. I was the class clown, always in trouble,” he said. “I bought a hundred bouncy balls once and let them all loose in the school.”
And that’s on top of (accidentally) almost setting a classroom on fire.
“It begins because I feel like she doesn’t really understand how to connect with kids on a deep level,” he said. Charlie is “thrown off by how weird she was.”
But Lainey is independent and eager to prove herself, and Dier is excited to see where that relationship leads them.
The first is the 1994 film in which actor Clancy Brown played Captain Hadley. The second is the now-40-years-old film franchise that Dier’s C.B. loves in the series.
In addition to teaching English and running a so-called “Wizards Club,” Charlie Brown also runs a Star Wars-related club — which may or may not result in a lightsaber battle, he hinted.
Unlike other high school-set series, Schooled focuses on the lives of teachers rather than students or their families. But Callen said there’s something else that makes Schooled stand out from other series like it.
“It’s not cynical,” Callen said. “This is actually a show where we’re trying to make a difference, where the teachers really care, and within that there’s a lot of comedy.”
When Lainey first arrives at William Penn, she’s not seeking to launch a teaching career or plant long-term roots.
“She wants to do music but this is temporary,” Michalka said. “She wants to be a professional musician.”
But as time goes on, she discovers something unexpected. She forms bonds with her students and reconnects with her former mentors. Said Michalka, “She realizes, this is really my calling and this is where I’m supposed to end up — and I love this job.”
One of the things that makes The Goldbergs stand out are its end-of-show bits of wisdom. Each episode ends with an explicit “moral” — they’re authentic without being preachy, nostalgic without being too cheesy.
Callen said that there are similarly valuable lessons to be learned from Schooled. His character is known for being tough-as-nails, traditional, and super-duper “manly” (all while wearing super-tight shorts). He said that there are certainly lessons to be learned from P.E. class: “Sports teach you how tough you are but they teach you how tough you’re not,” and the persistence of practice can also really up someone’s confidence.”
But there’s something else to be learned from Coach Rick’s masculinity, particularly in contrast to Principal Glasgott’s softness. Callen said his first acting teacher modeled it for him, too: “[He] said that I had one idea of masculinity, because it was imposed on me, and told me that I was allowed to be emotional — and embarrassed, and scared — and those things were manly too.” That was “profound” for him, he said, “because there’s a lot of pressure in our culture for a man to be a man.”
Callen really valued having a mentor who taught him he could break such molds and be himself, and Coach Rick and Principal Glasgott both fill that role for the students of William Penn.
If you went to school in the ’90s or early ’00s, there’s no need to watch Goldbergs reruns to imagine what William Penn will look like. Think back to those blue chairs, faux-wood tables, classic vending machines, and barely working water fountains. Picture red dodgeballs, hand-painted posters, crowded cafeterias, and decades-old band equipment.
And of course, Coach Rick’s thigh-exposing shorts are short as ever. Callen admits that even as ’90s fashion introduced knee-length shorts, Coach doesn’t budge on his speedo-looking style.
Principal Glasgott is famous for being a well-intentioned know-it-all. In The Goldbergs’ flashback episode, he fights with his sister when he acts like he knows best when it comes to raising her kids. He also fights with Coach about which of their teaching styles is most effective. But when his former student Lainey arrives and shakes things up, even wise guys like Coach and Glasgott have something to learn.
What exactly are those lessons?
“She reminds him that his job is important and that you’re going to make mistakes,” Meadows said. “She’s sort of an example of his success as a teacher, even though her life outside of teaching wasn’t great.”
As if the fashion and music of the ’90s wasn’t enough, the cast of Schooled revealed there will be surprise cameos and lots of nostalgic Easter eggs for fans to gush over. Dier had a Pokémon card collection as a kid in the ’90s, and hinted that they — along with other ’90s collectibles, including Tamagotchis — will appear throughout the series.
Schooled airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.