So few TV shows from the 90s hold up, but that’s not the case with Disney‘s Recess. Since the series is now streaming on Disney Plus, a rewatch will prove that while questionable at times, the series manages to stand the test of time.
Disney’s Recess followed six fourth-graders, T.J. Detweiler, Vince LaSalle, Gretchen Grundler, Ashley Spinelli, Mikey Blumberg, and Gus Griswald, during their school adventures as they attempted to make the best of playtime. While the main six weren’t outsiders or hugely popular, they stood right in the middle, making each of them feel familiar to most of us watching. Other reoccurring characters like teacher’s pet and tattletale Randall Weems, playground king, Bob, supervising assistant school teacher, Miss Finster, the Ashleys as the mean girls, and more made the series an after-school joy to watch the series a treat kids could learn from.
Disney’s Recess understood the importance of friendships
The series’ strength undoubtedly lies in the friendship fortified between the core six through an understanding that shows audiences what loyalty means. Despite the stereotypical differences between each of them, they accepted each other’s quirks as they were while often focusing on those differences as strengths. T.J. was a leader, but his decisions aren’t always perfect, and when need be, the group vocalizes this fact aloud, giving him the platform to grow and understand how to be better.
Spinelli isn’t always kind, but where showrunners could’ve resorted her into a stereotypical little rebel; instead, they layer her with vulnerabilities, concerns, desires, and a whole lot of heart amidst the spunky persona. Spinelli’s loyalty to her friends and the lengths she’ll always go to for them are boundless, showcasing time and time again that she’s the best person to have in one’s corner.
Vince was good at whatever recess sport existed, but Vince’s “coolness” easily comes from his openness, and how the series carefully establishes this throughout its run is fascinating to notice as an adult. Vince, much like Spinelli, is profoundly loyal to his friends, but more than that, he’s readily welcoming of everyone’s abilities. People possess gifts in various forms, and Vince sees this in his friends and those around him. He even learns that his brother’s geekiness makes him cool in an episode that visibly shows us that there’s no singular way to embody the word.
On par with the concept of geekiness, where the series could’ve easily made Gretchen a know-it-all, instead, at a young age, we got to watch a little girl’s brightness as a welcoming attribute that’s worth being proud of. Gretchen doesn’t have to tone down her smarts to appeal to her friends, but she knows it’s welcomed in their corner and that it’s her strength. She’s allowed to bask in it.
Disney’s Recess gives us immense heart through characters like Mikey and Gus, allowing us to see that warmth matters in a kid above all things. And while both characters were victims of bullying at times, the series made it clear that they would never have to change to fit in in their friend group. Plus, we’re are sure Mikey’s got a top spot on Broadway, right?
Like most series of the time, questionable decisions stick out like sore thumbs for the adults watching, but because of how prominent the loyalty between the six is, none of that matters in the end. When you watch a show like this, you want the main characters to be people you’re rooting for. You want them to be kids who could stand as examples on the playground, and for the most part, they are.
Despite not necessarily “popular, ” as somewhat known fourth-graders,” considering that word is reserved for characters like the Ashleys, the six had a knack for fighting for playground rights. Whether that’s in the lunchroom or fighting against Randall plotting to ruin something, they would do everything to ensure that every kid enjoys their recess.
And the best part of it is that it feels believable. There’s both a riveting maturity to them and innocence that’s mainly well balanced even when it feels fictional. Though this might be a stretch in selling an authentic fourth-grade experience, it’s ultimately why the series holds up because it doesn’t stay in the age range, but it branches out towards something bigger. And even the flaws within certain storylines manage to showcase the importance of good behavior versus questionable ones.
It’s the kind of series that’s relatively thoughtful for the time, and it allows audience members to connect with kids who are like them. In the core six, most viewers could see themselves in at least one of the characters, if not more. (Seriously though, who doesn’t still want Spinelli’s entire wardrobe? I know I do.) It’s this type of familiarity that allows TV to act as more than just entertainment, but something even more inspiring. Girls don’t have to hide their love for wrestling or books; boys can love sports, singing opera, both, or neither. These kids always made it clear that, above all things, being a good person and appreciating your friends is the way to go.