PASADENA, Calif. — The William Penn Charter School shout-outs keep coming on ABC’s Schooled.
The show began last month with an episode that touched on the high school career of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who graduated from Penn Charter in 2003.
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In Wednesday’s episode, the 1990s-set spin-off of The Goldbergs features an appearance by actor Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager), a 1971 graduate of the Philadelphia Quaker school that inspired the show’s “William Penn Academy." Picardo plays himself as fledgling music teacher Lainey Lewis (AJ Michalka) seeks to harness his celebrity power as she tries to raise money to put on a production of Rent.
Plus, star Tim Meadows gets to meet the former Penn Charter administrator who inspired his character, principal John Glascott.
In the episode, Lainey finds herself at a disadvantage when she discovers most of the money for extracurricular activities is going to sports, not the arts. “They all know if they have a kid who excels in the arts, they go to Germantown Friends,” Glascott tells Lainey when she asks how the school’s parents could be OK with this situation.
Penn Charter alum Adam F. Goldberg, who created The Goldbergs and cocreated Schooled with Marc Firek, could be recalling a situation he may have perceived to exist when he last attended the school as an award-winning young playwright (he graduated in 1994). When he visited his old school in 2017, I tagged along as Goldberg got a tour of Penn Charter’s Ball Theater, part of the school’s David L. Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts.
Let’s just say Lainey would think she’d died and gone to heaven to stage Rent — or anything — in that space.
“Robert was a school legend who was president of the drama club when he went there,” Goldberg said in a statement released through a publicist, in which the writer recalled Picardo coming back to the school to speak at a school assembly during Goldberg’s freshman year.
His fondness for Picardo’s performance as Coach Cutlip in The Wonder Years led him to include Coach Rick Mellor (Bryan Callen) — a character inspired by longtime coach (and Penn Charter grad) Rick Mellor — in the world of The Goldbergs and Schooled.
For Meadows, whose character is something of a composite, with the surname coming from Penn Charter’s assistant head of school Beth Glascott, meeting former dean of students John Dover yielded at least one surprise: They both sport goatees.
“The only reason I wore a goatee on the show was because I hate shaving,” Meadows told me during an ABC luncheon last week during the Television Critics Association’s winter meetings. “It wasn’t because I made a character choice 'cause I saw a picture. And then just to see that he actually had the same facial hair was sort of like eerie.”
The move from the 1980s-set Goldbergs came with promotions for both the character, who’s gone from teacher to principal, and for Meadows, who’s one of the stars of Schooled.
“It’s more work being a principal and a principal actor,” set the Saturday Night Live veteran. “I do more scenes and a lot of the other characters come and talk to me about their story lines. Whereas when I was just doing The Goldbergs, [I’d] come in at 8 in the morning, do my scenes [and get paid]. This is like, ‘No, you’ve gotta come back tomorrow.’”
Meadows’ family likes the new show, “which is a good barometer for me,” he said. “My sister, I was talking to her this morning. She was saying she had been watching the show and how much she loves it and she said, ‘It’s nice to see you be a nice guy as opposed to, like The Ladies Man or [other] sketches you’ve done on SNL. She’s like, it’s nice to see you be like a nice person who has a heart.'"