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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The back-to-school time of year is special to people—not me, but, you know, other people: the kind of people who still have high-school graduation tassels hanging from their rearview mirrors, or still refer to their college ball teams as “we” and “us,” or whine incessantly about still-not-paid-off student loans.

Essentially, the kind of people who cause me to ponder the potential real-life benefits of The Purge.

However, just because school and those who love school suck doesn’t mean there’s no value in school-based TV shows. Here are nine series—well, eight plus one dishonorable mention—to watch in the spirit of back to school:

Daria (Seasons 1-5 on Hulu): Everything from the dissonant opening chords of theme song “You’re Standing on My Neck” to news-show-within-the-show Sick, Sad World still feels fresh-ish, as perpetually unimpressed high-schooler Daria Morgendorffer sighed for our myriad D-U-M-B sins. With smart social observations and sharp execution (if not great animation), the 1997-2002 MTV series remains the school-daze gold standard.

Clone High (Season 1 on iTunes and Google Play): Another inspired—but quickly canceled—MTV production, 2002-03’s Clone High, satirized teen dramas though the animated angst of the young clones of Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra and John F. Kennedy. In particular, Clone High played like a better-written take on Dawson’s Creek. Unfortunately, India really didn’t appreciate the show’s depiction of Mahatma Gandi, and MTV nixed a second season.

Bad Teacher (Season 1 on Crackle): For reasons known to no one, CBS produced a TV version of the 2011 Cameron Diaz film Bad Teacher in 2014—and then gave up on it after three episodes. Too bad, because Diaz replacement Ari Graynor (currently of Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here) was a far more appealing lead as a dumped trophy wife forced into elementary-school work—and this Bad Teacher was more often funnier than the movie.

Teachers (Seasons 1-3 on Amazon and iTunes): If you’ve ever wondered, “Why is there no all-female Super Troopers set in an elementary school?” you’re just fucked-up enough to appreciate Teachers, a cult comedy that’s been flying under the radar on cable since 2016. Six-woman improv troupe The Katydids (their first names are all variations on “Katherine”) take Broad City’s vanity-free pursuit of way-inappropriate laughs to another, gonzo level.

Freaks and Geeks (Season 1 on Netflix): Journalism law states that any article about school-set TV shows must include 1999-2000 NBC series Freaks and Geeks (and occasionally producer Judd Apatow’s follow-up, Undeclared). In a single, revered season, F&G played like an 18-hour indie-flick that captured early-’80s adolescence perfectly, and launched the careers of Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini and countless others (including Dave Franco’s brother).

21 Jump Street (Seasons 1-5 on Amazon): The Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill movies are funny, but they’re nothing compared to the hilarity of watching the original 1987-91 Fox cop drama and knowing that Johnny Depp & Co. were taking this shit Dead. Seriously. Sure, 21 Jump Street addressed teen issues from AIDS to alcoholism, set to a killer soundtrack, but the undercover high-schooler shtick was stoopid from the—wait for it—jump.

My So-Called Life (Season 1 on Hulu): The 1994-95 series that gave the world Claire Danes and, for better or worse, Jared Leto, only lasted for 19 episodes, but My So-Called Life (a sooo ’90s title) took on teen issues like no show before it. MSCL treated teenagers like humans, didn’t portray adults as buzzkills, and offered story perspectives from all—an approach that subliminally influenced everything from The West Wing to (!) The O.C.

Riverdale (Seasons 1-2 on Netflix): Without warning, The CW’s Gossip Girl-meets-Twin Peaks Archie Comics mutation Riverdale arrived in 2017 as a ridiculous, ready-to-rumble romp. The gang's all here: a ripped-but-sensitive Archie, a broody Jughead, a jittery Betty, and a smarter-than-the-room Veronica, throwing shade and pop-culture references with hyperbolic glee (not Glee—those kids wouldn’t stand a chance at Riverdale High).

Saved by the Bell (Seasons 1-5 on Hulu): Funny or Die’s referential web series Zack Morris Is Trash doesn’t go far enough: Everybody on Saved By the Bell is trash. The wrongly-beloved 1989-93 series introduced the misogynistic hellscape of Bayside High, where Zack harasses, dupes and manipulates teachers and classmates—and, most horrifically in hindsight, his female “friends.” No one acted, so all are to blame—including you, Gen X.

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Now that The Strain is over, TV only has one vampire apocalypse show, Van Helsing (Season 2 premiere Thursday, Oct. 5, Syfy), and it’s finally stepping up to the challenge. In Season 1, Vanessa Van Helsing (Kelly Overton) spent mucho time wandering underground and losing colleagues—saving Canadian dollars on locations and costars, apparently—in a slow buildup to the vamp beatdown. Series creator/writer Neil LaBute—yes, that Neil LaBute—took a glacial approach that was unusual for a Syfy hour, and Overton more than delivered on the human drama and (occasional) vampire-slayer action. Now, the bigger/bloodier battle to take back the world really begins; come back if you got bored and bailed.

No, it’s not a reality show about haunted storage units—Ghost Wars (series debut Thursday, Oct. 5, Syfy) is about malicious paranormal forces taking over a remote town in the remotest of states, Alaska. Anything set in The Last Frontier is automatically 10 times spookier, and Ghost Wars could be a potential challenger to Syfy’s creepiest anthology series, Channel Zero, at least in star power: Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil), Kim Coates (Sons of Anarchy), Kandyse McClure (Battlestar Galactica) and Meat Loaf (!) occupy various quadrants of science, religion, skepticism and psychic ability. It’s another impressive new Syfy entry—a couple of years ago, this would have been about haunted storage units.

What happens when the young daughter of Jane Sadler (Kyra Sedgwick), the producer/writer of a fact-based police drama, goes missing, and she has to deal with the real cops? D-R-A-M-A, that’s what! Ten Days in the Valley (new series, Sundays, ABC) isn’t much different from other crime procedurals—especially not ABC’s defunct Secrets and Lies—but it at least deserves points for letting Sedgwick be a shady, barely sympathetic character with a tenuous grasp on the truth and her own drug problem. Whether it holds up over 10 episodes (as 10 days, get it?) or not remains to be seen; right now, it’s mostly coming off as a network knockoff of HBO’s Big Little Lies, which was no great shakes itself. Yeah, I said it.

O.M. Gawd! Who could have predicted that Riverdale (Season 2 premiere Wednesday, Oct. 11, The CW) would blow up when it debuted back in January? I mean, besides me? (Look it up—I’m on the right side of history here.) The Archie Comics-via-camp-noir teen drama squeezed a whole lotta crazy into its initial 13 hours, culminating in a hysterical maple-syrup/drug-trafficking reveal and the possible murder of Archie’s dad, Fred (Luke Perry). What’s next for Archie (KJ Apa), Jughead (Cole Sprouse), Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes)? Between sexy times, the gang will be tracking a new town threat known as “Sugar Man,” True Detective-style. I’m just a wee bit too excited for this.

On the other hand, I have zero fucks to give about Dynasty (series debut Wednesday, Oct. 11, The CW), a needless reboot of the big-haired super-soap that ruled the ’80s. Why not revive a lesser-known show, like the amazing 1985 series Street Hawk, which was pretty much just Knight Rider on a motorcycle, or the 1987 cult crime classic Wiseguy, which presaged TV’s current incest-is-best craze by 30 years? Or, hell, Square Pegs? Anyway: Dynasty is still about clashing Atlanta families the Colbys and the Carringtons, both rich, both beautiful, both overflowing with White People Problems—come on, read the room/country, CW. If ever there were a time for petulant TV billionaires, this ain’t it.

Season 2 weeded out the casual observers quickly, but USA is sticking by its breakthrough “prestige series” Mr. Robot (Season 3 premiere Wednesday, Oct. 11, USA). With Elliot (Rami Malek) laid up after being gunned down, is Darlene (Carly Chaikin) about to feel the wrath of the Dark Army? Will Elliot’s other half, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), deliver fsociety’s death blow to Evil Corp? What the hell does new-on-the-scene car salesman Irving (Bobby Cannavale) have to do with any of this? Remember that the heretofore most recent episode of Mr. Robot aired long before Nov. 8, 2016, and trust that the new season will deal with the election fallout differently, if not more subtly, than American Horror Story: Cult.

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Riverdale (Thursday, Jan. 26, The CW), series debut: It’s exactly what you think it is—Archie Comics given a dark ’n’ broody CW-teens makeover, like Twin Peaks meets Gossip Girl. Riverdale is also far better than most are going to be willing to give it credit for: It’s sharply written (though the first ep is exposition-heavy, because kids today) and winkingly self-aware murder noir dressed up in muted-classic Archie couture that firmly states, “Yeah, we’re actually doing this—and we’re going hard.” The gang’s all here, including a ripped-but-sensitive Archie (K.J. Apa), a mysterious Jughead (Cole Sprouse), a jittery Betty (Lili Reinhart), a seductive Veronica (Camila Mendes) and an ambitious Pussycats-fronting Josie (Ashleigh Murray), and they all arrive as surprisingly fleshed-out characters. Riverdale will be the first TV obsession of 2017—count on it.

iBoy (Friday, Jan. 27, Netflix), movie: Because AndroidBoy didn’t quite have the same ring to it, here’s iBoy: British teen Tom (Bill Milner) gets a Limitless-ish upgrade when an intended kill-shot from a gangster explodes his iPhone into his brain, essentially turning him into a human Internet hotspot. Instead of using his new powers to dominate trivia night at the local pub, Tom becomes a Kick-Ass-style vigilante bent on taking down the baddies who shot him and assaulted his friend, Lucy (Maisie Williams). Whereas Black Mirror would have twisted this into a bummer treatise on connected tech, iBoy cranks the tension and action to 11, never pausing to consider the deadly ramifications of future OS updates. It’s dumb fun; just go with it.

To Tell the Truth (Sundays, ABC), new season: Yes, ABC has had a rough season, launching only one semi-hit (Designated Survivor, aka Not the Mike Pence Story as Far as We Dare Hope) while canceling a pair of dogs (Conviction and Notorious—’member those?). But are schedule-fillers like Match Game and To Tell the Truth really the answer? Revivals of decades-dead game shows that were pure cheese even in their day? If so, I demand a reboot of the greatest game show of all time, 1974-1975 landmark The Money Maze, wherein couples would race like rats through a shoddily constructed maze to push a cash-prize button at the end. Throw in celebrity couples (Kanye and Kim! Barack and Joe!) and a new host (Mitt Romney!), and make this happen, ABC!

The Bachelor (Mondays, ABC), new season: As with the previous, what? 48? seasons of The Bachelor, this column chose to ignore the Hot Tub STD Machine’s latest premiere. BUT! Along came Corrine, the most glorious trainwreck ever to (dis)grace the mansion. A blonde time-bomb of sex, audacity, insecurity and sheer crazy who makes for great TV, Corrine stands out in this season’s bland, interchangeable pack of women by seemingly channeling Haley, the oft-naked suitress of the classic Bachelor parody Burning Love (Hulu it). Bachelor Nick, a master of understatement if not styling gel, simply calls her “fun,” despite their every meeting being like an all-expenses-paid excursion to a strip club VIP room. Sure, The Bachelor is still a terrible, terrible, terrible show with zero societal value … but, as performance art, I’m currently all in for #MCGA (Make Corrine Great Again).

The 100 (Wednesday, Feb. 1, The CW), season premiere: The 100, now entering its fourth (!) season, is a future-set sci-fi series about 100 pretty juvenile space delinquents exiled to Earth, since rendered “uninhabitable” by a nuclear apocalypse (likely triggered by a 3 a.m. tweet), to survive and figure who to hook up with before one or the other gets killed (which happens often; they’re currently The 44). After three seasons of fighting off Grounders (meanies left behind on the planet back in the day), Mountain Men (ditto), a mind-controlling artificial intelligence (huh?) and split ends (everybody’s hair still looks fantastic), now the kids have to deal with residual planetary radiation. (There goes the hair.) As dystopian soap operas go, The 100 is smarter and more complex than most—check it out before it’s too late.

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The Mick (Sunday, Jan. 1; Fox): Broke lowlife Mackenzie (Kaitlin Olson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) gets stuck raising the kids of her just-incarcerated rich sister. It’s Uncle Buck meets Mary Poppins meets, well, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Ransom (Sunday, Jan. 1; CBS): A good-looking hostage negotiator (Luke Roberts) and his good-looking team resolve kidnapping and ransom cases in Your Town, USA (which is really Canada—shhh!). Ransom moves to Saturdays after tonight, so it’s already canceled.

One Day at a Time (Friday, Jan. 6; Netflix): A remake of the ’70s sitcom—with a Cuban-American twist, complete with single mom (Justina Machado), precocious kids, a sleazy building manager and, unfortunately, a damned laugh track. Almost had it, Netflix.

Emerald City (Friday, Jan. 6; NBC): A dark “reimagining” of The Wizard of Oz that’s been kicked around for two years, with a smoldering Puerto Rican Dorothy (Adria Arjona, True Detective) and a promisingly weird Wizard casting choice (Vincent D’Onofrio!).

Taboo (Tuesday, Jan. 10; FX): Long-missing James (Tom Hardy) returns to 1814 London to inherit his father’s empire, only to become caught up in a treacherous legacy that may get him killed as well. FX’s sexiest period drama since The Bastard Executioner.

Jeff and Some Aliens (Wednesday, Jan. 11; Comedy Central): Loser earthling Jeff (voiced by Brett Gelman) is observed by, and annoyed with, a trio of aliens crashing in his apartment. As Comedy Central cartoons go … this is one of them.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (Friday, Jan. 13; Netflix): Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Joan Cusack, Aasif Mandvi, Alfre Woodard, Don Johnson, Catherine O’Hara and other erase that trainwreck 2004 Lemony Snicket flick from your meh-mory.

Sneaky Pete (Friday, Jan. 13; Amazon Prime): A fresh-out-of-prison con man (Giovanni Ribisi) assumes the identity of his former cellmate to hide from a vengeful gangster, only to learn that his new “family” is just as dangerous. Smart upvote, Primers.

Throwing Shade (Tuesday, Jan. 17; TV Land): Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi adapt their pop-culture-skewering podcast to television. Wait, you can do that? Any networks out there want to turn my podcast into a TV show? Comedy Central? Telemundo? Anybody?

Riverdale (Thursday, Jan. 26; The CW): The “dark-sexy” Archie Comics drama no one asked for, with CW-ized Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and even Josie and the Pussycats! Sound terrible? More like, terribly entertaining! Bring it!

Powerless (Thursday, Feb. 2; NBC): Vanessa Hudgens, Alan Tudyk, Danny Pudi and Ron Funches star in an (insurance) office-place comedy set in the DC Comics universe of superheroes and villains. The Good Place is no longer NBC’s strangest sitcom.

Santa Clarita Diet (Friday, Feb. 3; Netflix): Husband-and-wife SoCal realtors Joel and Sheila (Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore) lead boring suburban lives … until they don’t. No further details, but it’s probably not about dieting.

24: Legacy (Sunday, Feb. 5; Fox): Another looming terrorist attack, same real-time 24-hour format—but no Jack Bauer! This time, Dr. Dre saves the day! Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) takes over for Kiefer Sutherland; otherwise, same show.

Legion (Wednesday, Feb. 8; FX): The producers of the Fargo series take on The X-Men, even if they’re not actually called X-Men. (Apocalypse just ruined everything.) Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens stars, along with Aubrey Plaza and zero bald guys.

Doubt (Wednesday, Feb. 15; CBS): TV’s latest attempt to make Katherine Heigl a thing is yet another pretty lawyer show—but the cast (which includes Dulé Hill, Steven Pasquale, Elliott Gould, Dreama Walker and Laverne Cox) might save it. Might.

Crashing (Sunday, Feb. 19; HBO): Comedian Pete Holmes stars as a Pete Holmes-like comedian flailing in the New York City comedy scene, along with Artie Lange, Lauren Lapkus and T.J. Miller. A Judd Apatow production; proceed with caution.

The Good Fight (Sunday, Feb. 19; CBS): The Good Wife spin-off no one wants to watch will become even harder to get: After it premieres on CBS proper, The Good Fight will move to CBS All Access, a streamer with about 30 subscribers. Why not double-down and add Katherine Heigl, CBS?

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