Head of the Class was a somewhat unusual sitcom in the late 1980's. Unusual because it depicted not one or two but an entire classroom full of intelligent high school students.
The show was an ensemble show, but it was basically created as a vehicle for Howard Hesseman. Hesseman played Charlie Moore, a history teacher at Millard Fillmore High School who taught the students in the Individualized Honors Program (IHP). He had other classes, too, but the IHP students were his favorites.
The principal of Fillmore High School was Dr. Harold Samuels (William G. Schilling), an overweight and somewhat clueless administrator. He never fully trusted the IHP students (rightfully so), but took great pride in their acheivements. His administrative assistant was Bernadette Meara. There seemed to be a bit of an attraction between her and Mr. Moore, but nothing ever came of it; when Billy arrived, though, it was a different story.
The IHP students were very intelligent academically but, as high school students, had plenty of problems that needed solving. Mr. Moore was always ready to lend an ear and always seemed to know how to tell the students how to solve their problems while making it seem like they came up with the answers on their own.
The students in the IHP for their first three years:
- Dennis Blunden (Dan Schneider), resident computer whiz; his seat in Mr. Moore's class was at the classroom's computer. Best friends with Arvid, Dennis was always getting his friend involved in various schemes and other problems. Dennis was Dr. Samuels' worst nemesis. Dennis had a weight problem, which didn't help the computer-geek stereotype any.
- Arvid Engen (Dan Frischman), the class's mathematics geek. As skinny as Dennis was portly, Engen was as socially inept as they come. He wore pocket protectors religiously and was constantly pushing up his glasses. He could always be counted on to go along with Dennis' ideas. He had a crush on Sarah at one point.
- Sarah Nevins (Kimberly Russel) sat at the same back-row table as Arvid, to his right. Sarah was fairly average, not excelling in any one area, and she was probably one of the least-developed characters on the show. She was usually only seen in the company of Darlene and Simone.
- Simone Foster (Khrystyne Haje) sat across the aisle from Sarah. She was quiet, sensitive, and creative; she liked poetry and specialized in the arts. She had an inexplicable attraction to Eric.
- Alan Pinkard (Tony O'Dell) sat in front of Simone. He was the preppy of the class; he always wore a dress shirt and neck tie. He was arguably the smartest student in the IHP and was always competing with Darlene to get the higest grades. He expected to be chosen valedictorian but lost to T.J.
- Janice Lazarotto (Tannis Vallely) sat in the aisle (no desk!) between Alan and Darlene. Janice was 11 years old as a freshman; she had been advanced through the grades very quickly because of her intellect, but, not surprisingly, her social and emotional behaviors were still those of a pre-teen. She moved on to college (Harvard, if I remember correctly) after her junior year, but she returned for the last episode to get her high school diploma with her old classmates.
- Darlene Merriman (Robin Givens) sat across the aisle from Alan, at the front table with Maria. Darlene had a severe superiority complex, even moreso than Alan. She didn't care too much for the others in the class, particularly not Dennis. She was often seen in the company of Sarah and occassionally Simone. Like Alan, she also expected to be chosen valedictorian
- Maria Borges (Leslie Bega) sat next to Darlene at the front desk. She didn't seem to belong in the IHP, and the intelligence she must have had was never evident. If a dumb or clueless statement or question was needed, Maria would usually be the one to utter it. Maria left Fillmore after her junior year for a performing arts school.
- Jawarhalal Choudhury (Jory Husain) sat on a chair along the side wall, across the aisle from Maria and next to the side door. He had a good view of the hallway from there, as there were windows along that wall. Jawarhalal was an Indian exchange student who moved to California after his junior year. The writers never seemed sure quite what to do with him.
- Eric Mardian (Brian Robbins) sat on a stool near the blackboard, along the same wall as Jawarhalal. He was another unlikely IHP student; he wore black leather and rode a motorcycle. Outwardly, he held contempt for anything academic, and tried to fit in the school's 'cool' crowd; yet he would never have wanted to leave the IHP. He had a huge crush on Simone and hit on her constantly.
After the kids' junior year, Jawarhalal, Maria, and Janice left the show. Replacing them:
- Alex Torres (Michael DeLorenzo), a Hispanic student who seemed to compete with everyone. He was athletic and caught more than a few female eyes. He seemd to like Darlene and sat next to her in the front row.
- Viki Amory (Lara Piper), taking over Maria's niche as the dumb blonde (only actually blonde this time). She even sat in Maria's old seat next to Darlene. Pretty much a one-note character.
- Aristotle McKenzie (De'voreaux White) took Jawarhalal's seat the window and never really did much more than his predecessor.
Head of the Class found itself in a bit of a bind during its fourth season (the students' senior year). The students should, by all rights, have graduated at the end of the season, but the producers wanted the show to continue. They ended up splitting the senior year into two seasons, the fourth and fifth. However, Howard Hesseman did not wish to return. He was replaced by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly as Billy MacGregor. Billy (he insisted the students call him Billy) was just as wise as Mr. Moore, but considerably less reserved. He greeted the students every morning with a rousing "Good morning, geniuses!" and taught history like it was a standup comedy act.
Joining the class in the final season was Jasper Kwong (Jonathan Ke Quan). He sat in Janice's old spot and ended up in a romance with Sarah. Also along in the final seasons was T.J. Jones (Rain Pryor). T.J. was a former remedial student who, it turns out, was actually smart enough to join the IHP; she just never applied herself. She ended up joining the IHP after getting her grades up with Mr. Moore and Billy's help, and as recognition of her turnaround, she was named valedictorian.
The IHP competed as a group in organized Academic competitions, similar to the real-life College Bowl. The original eight members of the team were Arvid, Dennis, Alan, Darlene, Janice, Simone, Sarah, and Jawarhalal, with Maria and Eric as alternates. Eric was only technically an alternate, as he hated the competitions, although he did save the team once when pressed into service. The entire IHP took a trip to Moscow in their junior year to compete against the Russian national team. An unprecedented agreement between the two teams resulted in the match ending as a draw. Head of the Class was the first U.S. prime time show to film an episode in the U.S.S.R.
Another favorite pasttime of the IHP students was producing the school musical. Freshman year, they performed Grease, starring Eric (big surprise) and Maria. Their sophomore show ... I don't remember. As Juniors, they produced Little Shop of Horrors, starring Arvid and Maria. And their senior show was Hair, with Alex as Claude.
Head of the Class deserves a better reputation than it had. While the basic characters were all stereotypes, they matured as the series progressed, and each one brought something unique to the show. And it's always good to see intelligent students portrayed in the media as main characters for a change, instead of as comic-relief sidekicks. But most importantly, the show was genuinely funny, and it's almost too bad its setting forced it to end sooner than it needed to.
Thanks to IMDb for some picky details that no one would ever remember. I also used the TV Tome episode guide (http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/ShowMainServlet/showid-1346).