Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: High School

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

I'm off to my annual retreat in the woods this evening, so here's a quick run-down of three of my favorite high school TV shows. If you've ever thought "jeez, all high school shows seem the same!" well, then, you're kinda right. These shows couldn't be more different, but you just might see a formula somewhere...

Sabrina The Teenage Witch (1996-2003) What if you woke up on your sixteenth birthday to learn that you were the descendant of a long line of (good) witches, and that you were a witch yourself? This is what happens to Sabrina Spellman (the great Melissa Joan Hart), and as if high school weren't hard enough, now she has to learn lessons from her aunts Hilda and Zelda, as well as their familiar, Salem (a witch cursed into the body of a talking black cat for trying to take over the world). Caroline Rhea and Beth Broderick are sitcom perfection as the doting, adoring aunts, Nick Bakay makes Salem a maniacal delight, and Hart proves that her performance on Clarissa Explains It All wasn't a fluke, making Sabrina one of the most relatable teenage characters ever, despite her highly unrelatable situation. Due to Hart's popularity and the fun, satisfying quality of the show's humor and heart, it was the top-rated show of ABC's "TGIF" lineup for all of its four years on the network. After that it moved to The WB, also the home of...

Popular (1999-2001) What if you woke up one morning to find out that your mom/dad met and fell in love with the dad/mom of someone in a clique on the opposite side of the social spectrum from you? That's what happens to Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb) and Sam McPherson (Carly Pope), and as if weren't hard enough being a teenager, now each of they have to become sisters in a high school created by Ryan Murphy. Yes, this is the Crown Prince of Television's first series, and the template of all Ryan Murphy shows begins here: Great pilot, diverse casting, living on the cutting edge of social issues like obesity and homosexuality, a dash of surrealism... and the unfortunate tendency to go off the rails after a solid set-up. While Bibb and Pope hold the show together admirably as the leads, it's the supporting characters who really stand out, in this case the villainous Nicole Julian (the delicious Tammy Lynn Michaels) and her second-in-command, Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman), one of the most original, flat-out hilarious TV characters ever created. To even describe what happens in one episode of Popular would be nearly impossible, given how many ingredients Murphy and co-creator Gina Matthews throw into it, but it's always entertaining, and very unique.

Veronica Mars (2004-2007) What if your popular best friend was violently murdered and your father, the town Sherriff, was crucified for going after one of the town's favorite sons, causing you to lose your social standing and your perfect boyfriend? Such is the tale of Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), junior detective for hire. And as if it weren't hard enough being a teenager, she has to balance school with work (her Dad's PI office), side jobs from her classmates, and solving her best friend's murder. Wise beyond her years, the once-popular Veronica is now a calloused, cynical version of her former self, struggling mightily to keep herself and her dad (the great Enrico Colantoni) afloat in a city that would rather they both just die. Bell gives one of the best performances of a teenager on TV, delivering creator Rob Marshall's quips with a keen ear for hard-boiled private dick dialogue but never ever losing Veronica's heart, and the relationship between her and Colantoni is one of the most sharply-drawn father-daughter relationships I've had the pleasure to witness. All that, and the mysteries - both episodic and season-long - are involving and just twisty enough to keep you guessing until the last moment. It's one of my all-time favorite TV programs, and now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch it all the way through again, for the third time.


  1. Yikes! Even though I'm familiar with all three titles I don't think I've seen a single episode of any of the trio, maybe...Sabrina but SO long ago. However Sabrina reminded me I was tempted to use Halloweentown High with Debbie Reynolds but that was a TV movie.

    I like films set in high schools but there are just so many, or were, that it's hard to see them all. Here's three that I was a faithful viewer of though.

    Skins (2007-2013)-British series about a group of teens in Bristol going through what is known there as sixth form which in the US would be high school. Controversial when it was showing for its graphic depictions of sexuality, drug abuse, bullying and many other issues with more than its share of nudity. Well-acted but grim. Another element of its notoriety was the casting in one of the leads of Nicolas Hoult who at the time was most well known as the youngster in About a Boy.

    My So-Called Life (1994)-Regrettably short lived series that chronicled the angst filled high school life of teenager Angela Chase (Claire Danes) as she suffers the agonies of first love with the handsome but vague Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto), tests her boundaries with new friend, wild child Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer), redefines her friendship with childhood bestie Sharon Cherski (Devon Odessa), seeks to help and protect the abused Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz) while next door neighbor the brilliant but nerdy Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall) yearns for her. At home she watches as her seemingly happily married parents Graham and Patty’s (Tom Irwin & Bess Armstrong) relationship begins to fray. Outstanding on every level.

    Room 222 (1969-1974)-Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haines) is a popular young history teacher at Los Angeles’s Walt Whitman High School. Along with guidance counselor Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas), amiable Principal Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine) and eager if occasionally bumbling student teacher (over time English teacher) Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine) they deal with the issues of the students, parents and the establishment in the changing face of education in the 70’s. Excellent Emmy winning series, one of the first to honestly portray multiracial classrooms and teaching staffs, looks at a multitude of problems including early marriage, corporate irresponsibility, freedom of speech, senility, the effects of unexpected death and more with many future stars, among them Bruno Kirby, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr, Jamie Farr, Rob Reiner, Richard Dreyfuss, Kurt Russell, and Mark Hamill, passing through.

  2. I watched Sabrina and enjoyed it even though it was hokey. I have not seen the other 2 but now I am intrigued by your review of Veronica Mars

  3. I completely forgot about Sabrina. I used to watched it every day after school as a kid.

  4. I watched a few episodes here and there of Sabrina. It was okay. I only watched as much as I did because, and my age might be showing here, I had a thing for Caroline Rhea.

    Only vaguely aware Popular ever existed. Well aware of Veronica Mars, but don't I've ever seen a full episode. Just 5 or 10 minutes here and there.

  5. Sabrina went on until 2003? Wow I did not know that. I actually still have the CD for the original soundtrack. I got into a big argument with my dad over the song "Smash" because I thought it was literally about hitting someone and he was like "Nah little girl, this is about drugs." lol

  6. Ahhh I loved Sabrina! Watched the whole thing over again a couple of years ago, time well spent. Nevr heard of Popular, must have been one that didn't quite make it over here. Veronica Mars was a late discovery, ended up becoming obsessed with it one summer. Still great.

  7. I watched a lot of Sabrina the Teenage Witch as kid. I too saw Popular and only found out it was created by Ryan Murphy recently but yes, remembering how the dialogue was, it's so him.