Welcome to AVQ&A, where we toss out a question for discussion. In honor of the upcoming second season of HBO’s Vice Principals premiering this Sunday, we’re asking everyone an important question:
There are few filmic trilogies I hold in higher esteem than the High School Musical series, which envisions a utopian world of gleaming, polished surfaces, mid-lunch dance sessions, basketball games narrated by song-and-dance routines, and a school-uniting monocultural obsession with the ins and outs of Troy Bolton’s relationship with Gabriella Montez (played by real-life paramours Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens). Even the high school’s name—the mysterious “East High”—feels plucked from some dreamlike netherworld. Pay no heed to the series’ middle installment, much of which takes place on a golf course; like the second season of The Wire, its utility becomes more important later on. In the fourth-wall-decimating High School Musical 3, East High and its populace of perfect-looking vaudeville talents stage a musical about the senior year they are actively living out, the lines between fiction and reality collapsing entirely. As a student, I know innately that I would’ve been friends with Troy and the rest of the gang, because everyone is. Everyone is friends at East High, a postmodern dreamscape of good grades, popular kids, and jazz hands.
Obviously, Rydell High from Grease. While the film never explicitly states where the school is located, that a middle-class Australian family would relocate here suggests a desirable school district. Demographically, the school features a diverse set: Jocks, greasers, dweebs, wannabe beauticians, car mechanics, dangerous-seeming-but-benign street gangs. Rydell’s financial situation seems to be on solid footing, as it can afford to throw a fair with carnival rides on the last day of school, and it has earned enough of a reputable cachet to where its school dances are broadcast live on television. Mostly, one has to appreciate an educational environment with an open-minded stance toward spontaneous song and dance.
Growing up in the suburbs, I only wanted to be a city kid, preferably in New York, preferably a talented New York city kid. This lucky fate would have put me right in the path of my preferred cinematic high school from Fame (based on the actual Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School Of Music & Art and Performing Arts). No longer would I be plagued by insipid piano lessons and lame high-school performances of Guys And Dolls. Instead, I would undoubtedly find my musical muse as I went to auditions and learned more about my inner self while running lines in acting class. I wasn’t much of a dancer, but I suspect that the excellent Fame school could even cure my general affliction of clumsiness. I never made it to New York except to visit, but I watched that enviable class of kids in that movie (and listened to the Irene Cara-led soundtrack) many, many times.
Sure, I might get tossed into a TV to have my deepest insecurities exposed to the world—or just get straight-up dissolved by a cloud of identity-erasing fog—but Persona 4's Yasogami High School still sounds like the ideal high school experience. Supernatural threats aside, it’s just so tranquil: Nothing sounds better to me in these busy days than spending my mornings and early afternoons taking in random facts about geography or Japanese mythology, and then wasting the rest of my day idling around the laid-back rural countryside, fishing, grabbing a bite to eat at the Junes food court, or just deepening my relationships with the people whose love and affection I’ll later transform into demons that will help me save this sleepy little world.
Hogwarts. I’d learn magic and use it to incendio cat-callers faster than you can say dracarys (in this fictional world, you don’t need a dragon to set people on fire!). I’d remember to jump that saggy stair, I’d sneak into the forbidden forest and the library’s restricted section, and even if I’m not the chosen one destined to bring down an evil wizard, I’d still get to learn about love and life against the backdrop of secret passageways and wandering portrait subjects. Bullying runs rampant and teachers are negligent, but why would I care? I’d be too busy brewing an illegal potion to turn into other people and soaring on a broomstick to notice.
Can I just say Freaks And Geeks’ McKinley High School? I don’t really want to learn magic or hang out with demons, and I damn sure don’t want to live in a world where people break into spontaneous musical routines. I’d be fine just living out some slightly time-shifted variation of my own high school experience, flitting between McKinley’s social strata of mathletes and stoners, Bill Murray-quoting dorks and garage band rocker wannabes, and overcoming the many minor, banal obstacles of growing up with the help of some good, sarcastic friends. Adolescence is stressful enough. Let’s not overcomplicate it.
We get it, Sean, you were cool in high school. Those of us who weren’t might prefer whatever version we have to attend in this hypothetical scenario be as different from the real one as possible. So screw it, I’ll take Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters. Yes, that will mean being hated and feared by the human masses (assuming, of course, going there means I’m now a mutant, too—wouldn’t be so fun to be the only normie in a class full of budding X-Men), and maybe occasionally almost being killed by invading task forces or supervillains. But it would also mean having Wolverine as a gruff but secretly caring teacher, sneaking into the Danger Room after hours for some virtual-reality tomfoolery, and maybe eventually getting to, like, travel the world and fight a talking pterodactyl. Hell, even gym class would be more fun; I’d gladly join the baseball team if I had some built-in performance enhancers. I imagine high school would still suck at Xavier’s, but it would suck a little less with superpowers, right?
Drafting off what Sean said: I went to an all-male, Catholic college-prep high school that was like being conscripted into a Texas Republican fraternity for four years. Rushmore came out four years after I graduated, and Rushmore Academy looked like a better version of what I had: no religion, cooler teachers, more fun clubs. Sure, the Blume twins are dicks, and Magnus had issues, but nothing’s perfect. (The fact that Rushmore filmed at one of my school’s rivals probably feeds into this.) It looked like a place I wouldn’t have dreaded visiting every day, and what else can you really ask for in high school?
Two of my favorite “high school movies” are Battle Royale and Heathers, but both of those would be pretty terrible (not to mention deadly) to actually attend. So I’m going to go with Bronson Alcott High School from Clueless. Sure, it’s as cliquey as any other high school, but everyone from the stoners to the Persian Mafia seems to get along pretty well, all things considered, under the benevolent watch of good-hearted Valley Girl Cher Horowitz. Not to mention that the wit, social consciousness, and fashion sense of the average Bronson Alcott student is miles above that of your typical teenager. It’s because it’s in Beverly Hills, duh.
I probably would’ve liked to attend John Adams High from Boy Meets World, but it’s not because I think I’m special enough to have been mentored by the great Mr. Feeny or taken in by the cool Mr. Turner. That stuff is reserved for kids like Cory Matthews and Shawn Hunter, who the whole universe revolves around. No, I would’ve liked to attend John Adams High because—as a relative nobody compared to those two goofballs—I could’ve melted into the background along with any number of other kids and simply laughed along with their antics while on my way to class. I could’ve even been friends with that Minkus kid who the show forgot about for a few years, and maybe the two of us could’ve had our own series of wacky adventures.
There are a whole lot of fine, squeaky clean institutions on this list, but how about we get a little more grimy? San Clemente High School, as depicted in Rian Johnson’s debut film Brick, isn’t exactly the safest place to get an education. The cliques are volatile, a shadowy crime ring is pushing some hardcore junk to the student body, and, oh yeah, they’re killing off people who cross them. But god damn it, I love the fact that every teenager at this school talks like they’re a stereotypical character out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. Heading to class everyday would be like leaving home and walking into a bizarre film noir dimension where you have to keep up with the rat-a-tat speech patterns of hard-boiled outsiders and shady femme fatales. Assuming I’d be able to keep my head down and not get dragged into any elaborate murder schemes, that sounds like it’d be a pretty fun alternative to your typical high-school experience.
My first instinct here was to say Degrassi Community School, because there’d never be a dull day, everybody would be so dang polite, and I could tell people I went to school with Drake. But then I remembered that everyone on Degrassi is nursing some personal misery or another (which is how an Aubrey Graham becomes a Drake); there’s another 2000s TV high school where there’s no dearth of excitement, the students are a little happier, and it’s in sunny California, Cal-if-for-nyah. Harbor School is where the pretty and privileged residents of The O.C. send their snarky spawn, and in its halls I’d compare notes about last night’s show at The Bait Shop, loiter around the coffee cart while attempting to impress Summer Roberts with my witty observations, and lobby for the school’s official recognition of Chrismukkah. Is this answer just an expression of a latent desire to reshape my own high school experience in the image of Seth Cohen’s? Maybe. But until I find the Urban Outfitters track jacket that was swiped from my house during a St. Patrick’s Day party in 2007, we’ll never know for sure.
As much as I’d want to say Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Sunnydale High purely to be able to claim I helped chip in to get Buffy her “Class Protector” award, the mortality rate at that place is way too high for my taste. So let’s go with a school that’s just as exciting, but with way less death, at least as far as has been depicted onscreen: Sky High, the school from, well, Sky High. The secondary education for superheroes in training sounds like a damn delight in nearly every way. Sure, you’re not guaranteed to be a hero, but since we’re fantasizing my attendance, let’s assume I have powers as well. And yes, there are bullies, but everyone else seems cool enough that we could quickly put together a teen legion of heroes to beat them down. Hopefully, by the time I’m a student, Kurt Russell’s The Commander will have retired from active crimefighting to teaching.
Season two of HBO’s Vice Principals, starring Danny McBride and Walton Goggins, returns on Sunday, September 17, at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.