'School of Rock': TV Review

School of Rock Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Michael Elins/Nickelodeon
A rocking good time, middle-school style.

The kids are all right in this Nickelodeon series based on the 2003 movie of the same name.

We talk about being in a period of "peak TV."

But we're also in a period of peak remake TV, as Hollywood mines productions of the past for its latest fodder.

And so Nickelodeon turns to the 2003 Richard Linklater movie School of Rock for its newest series. (There’s also a Broadway musical School of Rock, so the movie is definitely having a moment.) As in the Jack Black headliner, Dewey Finn (played here by Tony Cavalero), a wannabe rocker with no teaching experience, takes a substitute-teaching gig. The movie's Mr. Finn did it because his band fired him and he needed money; the show’s Mr. Finn does it because “I’m at that stage of my life where I want something real.” Welcome to the kinder, gentler School of Rock.

And since this is a series aimed at the tween set, the show is much more from the perspective of the students. The movie opened with Black rocking out. The series begins with resident heartthrob Freddy (Ricardo Hurtado) skateboarding through school without messing up his Justin Bieber hair. There are also best friends Summer (Jade Pettyjohn) and Tomika (Breanna Yde). Tomika is a no-nonsense tomboy who is fiercely loyal to her friends. Summer has a crush on Freddy, who is oblivious to Summer’s affection. Lawrence (Aidan Miner) is the technology wizard prone to inadvertently setting off rockets, and Zack (Lance Lim) is an overachiever whose parents want him to go to Yale. They’re actually all overachievers, but none of them are the social outcasts they were in the movie.

While not trained to be a teacher, this Mr. Finn is an all-around nice guy. “Being your teacher is way cooler than playing any club,” he tells the kids. He even steals doughnuts from the teacher’s lounge to give to the kids. “We just won the substitute-teacher lottery,” exclaims Freddy.

But the kids quickly realize how utterly clueless Mr. Finn is. He doesn’t know Shakespeare or math, and he keeps thinking the school day is over. “I knew there was a catch: This teacher can’t teach,” says Tomika. But Mr. Finn realizes he can turn his gifted middle-school students into a rock band and compete in the upcoming Battle of the Bands. It's a preadolescent fantasy, as they all decide to keep the band a secret from the principal. Best not to overthink the logic on that one.

Cavalero, who sounds and acts a little like Black, has a great lackadaisical charm. A fun game to play might be to count how many times a character says the word “awesome” because in School of Rock, almost everything is awesome.

There’s some goofy humor and lots of physical pratfalls, but the comedy, which is executive produced by Linklater and producer Scott Rudin, has a sweetness to it. There’s no snarky undertone. The kids act like kids. They want to learn.

Each episode will feature a performance. In the premiere, the kids rock out to “What I Like About You.” Although one could argue about the appropriateness of lyrics like “Tell me I’m the only one. Wanna come over tonight?” it’s a fun performance. Next week’s episode features Yde doing an excellent a cappella version of Meghan Trainor’s "Lips Are Movin." Again, a song about a cheating boyfriend might not be the best for middle schoolers. But of the many top 40 songs the series could showcase, this does seem like one of the least offensive.

As tween series go, School of Rock is one parents won’t have to battle over their kids watching.

Studio: Paramount Television
Cast: Lance Lim, Aidan Miner, Ricardo Hurtado, Jade Pettyjohn, Breanna Yde and Tony Cavalero
Executive producers: Richard Linklater, Scott RudinEli Bush, Jim and Steve Armogida

Premieres Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon
Airs Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon