Labor Day signals the end of beach weekends, summer Fridays, and your all-white denim wardrobe — and, for many, it also means the start of the school year. If the prospect of long lectures and late-night math homework is stressing you out, you might need a reminder of the parts of heading back to school that can be exciting. Thankfully, plenty of TV series were practically made to help romanticize the hilarious, high stakes, drama-filled time capsule that is returning to campus. Whether you’re at least a little excited about seeing your college friends again or already counting down to Thanksgiving break, this guide to the perfect back-to-school TV shows will remind you of the joys of the start of the semester — or, at least, give you some (fictional) new friends who truly get what you’re going through.
“Dear White People”
Created by Justin Simien, this four-season college drama follows several Black students enrolled “at an Ivy League college that’s not nearly as ‘post-racial’ as it thinks,” according to its Netflix description. Grounded by a witty, charismatic, and fiery lead in Logan Browning (who plays Samantha), the show is an excellent exploration of racism and racial politics through the lens of higher-ed — and has an excellent sense of humor and rich relationships between its characters, too. If you’re a college student, it’s very likely to resonate with you; and if you’re not, the show’s lessons about what racism can look like in privileged, supposedly progressive spaces is incredibly valuable in and of itself. Stream on Netflix and Apple TV.
“Community” series creator Dan Harmon was 32 when he started taking classes at Glendale Community College, the school that “emotionally inspired” this show’s fictional Greendale. At face value, Harmon’s got a pretty cynical take on community college, and “Community” isn’t exactly an advertisement for the joys of returning to school. But in between jokes about the college spamming its students or the dean being entirely inept at his job, this cult classic finds real joy in one of the best things about college: forming deep, lasting bonds with your (sometimes eccentric) classmates. Stream on Netflix and Hulu.
If you want to gain a new appreciation for your teachers, watch “Abbott Elementary,” Quinta Brunson’s mockumentary-style comedy that landed seven Emmy nominations for its first season. It follows a group of underpaid, overworked teachers at a predominantly Black Philadelphia public school, and the many obstacles they have to tackle in order to support their students. In addition to reminding you to thank your teachers, it also features a delightful romantic subplot with all the fun will-they-won’t-they tension. Catch up on all of season one before the second season returns Sept. 21. Stream on ABC, Hulu, HBO Max, and fuboTV.
“Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide”
Seventh-grader Ned Bigby (Devon Werkheiser) has an admirable goal in this classic 2000s sitcom: to put together a tips-and-tricks guide to surviving middle school. The insider wisdom in Ned’s guidebook doesn’t come easy — Ned and his friends have to survive impossible math classes, a close call with detention for life, and, perhaps most disastrously, kissing the wrong girl on a double date. Whether you or your child is entering the middle-school years, or you’ve already made it through the fires of sixth through eighth grade, this show will remind you of just how fun and terrifying those pre-teen years can be — and maybe teach you a few tips to “surviving” adult life in general, too. Stream on Amazon Prime and Netflix
Don’t let the title fool you — this show is far from the boring, probably unhelpful Sex Ed classes you may have been forced to take in school. The series’ three seasons (season 4 is in the works) follow high schooler Otis (Asa Butterfield), who starts a bootleg “sex therapy” business with his classmate Maeve (Emma Mackey) based on the things he’s learned from his actually credentialed sex therapist mom, Jean (Gillian Anderson). “Sex Education” captures all the bottled-up anxieties of high school (sex-related and otherwise). If you, too, are feeling a few start-of-semester nerves, its delightfully awkward teens are sure to make you feel a little more at ease. Stream on Netflix
Looking for a high school drama that’s a little more fantasy than reality? Check out this stylish Swedish show (don’t worry, its got subtitles) about a prince starting out at a new boarding school and the boy he falls for. The show is tender, intimate, and surprisingly grounded for a royal romance — aside from some of the lavish sets — and brims with all the intensity and messiness of a high school first love. Stream on Netflix
“Saved by the Bell”
Iconic ‘90s sitcom “Saved by the Bell” paints high school with so much rosy nostalgia that it makes even homework look fun. Admittedly, its charming (and rule-breaking) six best friends don’t spend that much time actually studying, and are far more concerned with prom dates, dance contests, and trying not to get expelled. But in case you need a reminder of how much fun the semester can be when you spend a little less time worrying about grades and report cards, these kids’ charming misadventures are sure to hit the spot. Stream on Peacock, Netflix, Hulu, fuboTV, and Philo