As Billy Madison once sang "Back to school/back to school/to prove to Dad/that I'm not a fool."
There are several reasons so many shows have at least one "back to school" episode (some even have more than one!), the primary one being that schools generally start around the same time as the fall TV season. Timing, as great minds have noted, is everything. Besides that, the first day of school is a universally shared/reviled experience! But maybe the biggest reason of all is that just like any insecure middle schooler, a returning series wants to make it clear how much cooler and more attractive they've become since the spring. With that in mind, here's a list of our favorite back-to-school-themed episodes:
Full House S3E2: Back to School Blues
Full House was a terrible show (and I say this as someone who is still known to watch hours of its reruns on Nick at Night), but it has stuck in the collective memory of millennials because of a few choice episodes, this being one of them. DJ excitedly heads off to her first day of junior high, only to find out she's not dressed sluttily enough to sit with the cool girls. To make matters worse, she has the same slammin' outfit as the lunchroom monitor everyone thinks is a HUGE LOSER thus rendering her a HUGE LOSER by association. She eats lunch in the phone booth (oh man) listening to the operator recite the date and time. Oh Deej, take it from me, it doesn't get better.
Community S2E1: Anthropology 101
The first season of Community was kind of a split decision. The first 12 or so episodes were a fairly traditional (if such a thing can be said of a single-camera comedy) sitcom before veering into the weird, pastiche-heavy, practically anthology-like glory it became. This second season opener was its pilot should have been, taking all the genre clichés of the back-to-school episode and turning them on their sides.
The Simpsons S5E3: Homer Goes to College
You try tutoring Homer Simpson in nuclear physics and see how far you get. When a person's view of college comes from repeated viewings of Animal House-esque comedies and considers it his moral duty to pick on nerds, getting him a passing grade in something the vast majority of the educated public doesn't understand becomes an exercise in nihilism. And yet Homer's tutors, with their Star Trek obsessions and rock collections, try their hardest — only to find themselves facing expulsion. If there's one thing The Simpsons taught us, it's to never try.
Degrassi The Next Generation S3E1: Father Figure (1)
Degrassi! It's so REAL! Except that at its best it's also completely and utterly ridiculous, going so far beyond soap opera territory that it's an entity unto itself. One thing it does accurately capture is the identity confusion of the teenage psyche — it just spins it out to epic proportions. Poor Emma Nelson is just trying to figure out who she is, both in terms of the high school social structure and as part of a blended family, so she runs off in search of her biological father without telling anyone of her intention. I'm not sure where this stacks up against her battles against STDs and eating disorders, but she can't even claim the gold medal in the misery olympics that is Degrassi High School.
Friday Night Lights S2E1: Last Days of Summer
Season 2 was probably Friday Night Lights' weakest season, but FNL at its worst was still better than pretty much anything else at its best. In the season premiere, Coach Taylor is off in search of greater glory at TMU while Tami, in the final days of a pregnancy, has to deal with her teenage daughter's histrionics. Matt Saracen is dealing with his mentor's abandonment, while Tyra and Landry... sigh... take the law into their own hands. To be clear "The Last Days of Summer" isn't on the list because it's great, but because it proved that this gem of a show still had stories to tell after its first, perfect season. As the great Tami Taylor once said, "There's no weakness in forgiveness."
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia S6E9: Dee Reynolds: Shaping America's Youth
The gang (as they're known) really shouldn't be allowed any contact with developing minds. How they were not legally barred from working near or with children after their ill-advised community service escapade is a mystery. Yet here we have Charlie doing his best Good Will Hunting, janitor savant impression, while Mac, Dennis, and Frank hijack Dee's drama class in order to show their incredibly racist, homemade cinematic masterpiece: Lethal Weapon 5. Also there are juggalo jokes. Given the current state of public education in Philadelphia, this may be a chilling portrait of things to come.
Frasier S8E11: Motor Skills
This one should ring true for those who are used to being at the top of every class, only to find themselves suddenly out of their depth. For me it was a class called "20th Century French Literature and the History of Ideas" but for the brothers Crane it was auto repair. Despite being multiple degree holders and leading lights of their profession, this is the first episode in which we see Frasier and Niles in a class. They fail miserably and decide to turn into happy underachievers — and manage to fail miserably at that as well.
Mad Men S6E12: The Quality of Mercy
Northeastern boarding schools are the source of much literary fixation, so it only makes sense that a literary show like Mad Men might find itself besotted by the idea as well. Sally, whose recently crushed innocence still has a few softly sparking tendrils of life, applies to Miss Porter's to get away from her nightmarish parents, only to find 1) that girls from boarding schools are kind of awful (myself included, jk?), and 2) creepy Glenn has become a champion of women's safety to the detriment of his budding sex life.
What are your favorite back-to-school episodes? Let us know in the comments — unless you want to get an F for participation.