Drama on Campus: A review of the ‘HR805’ pilot episode filmed at CAHS

Crystal Sung and Anastasia Reimann

A shot of the auditorium where the audience viewed the pilot. Photo credit Crystal Sung.

Not every high school has had a TV show filmed on their campus. In the summer of 2017, the cast and crew of “HR805” filmed their pilot episode on the CAHS campus.

“All of us on the producing team have children that either attend Coastal or Classical Academy,” producer and writer Mr. Lon Sierra said. “It seemed like a logical choice to ask the school if they would allow us to film there. He called the experience “a fantastic opportunity,” saying that “it was a completely positive experience and we … hope we can film there again in the future.”

“HR805,” which stands for “Homeroom 805,” follows the lives of several students who all share the same homeroom class, presided over by Mr. Bruce Canari (Lon Sierra), a legally blind history teacher with many life lessons to share.

Contrary to what the title of the show implies, in the pilot, viewers see much more of the students’ individual lives than their interactions in homeroom. The struggles of the students are diverse. Slone Whitton (Amanda Goff), the resident goth, has a neglectful mother addicted to pills. Olivia Bower’s (Jessica Sarah Flaum) parents have been fighting a lot recently. Bo Phillips’s (Jonah Duhe) grandmother (played by Sandy Hotchiss) is struggling with memory loss, and it’s implied from the pilot episode that Bo has his own issues, as well.

Along with several other students, they are placed under Canari’s guidance. And while it seems like Canari is just the man to get them to open up, the scheming of school principal Ms. Nadine Sutton (Sadie Johannsson) and her son Mitchell (Jarryd Gooch) could threaten the potential sanctuary Canari and his advice could offer these students.

Last month, the cast and crew hosted a free screening of the pilot episode. After hearing about the show through classmates who had help work on the project, we attended with the intent of writing a review on the pilot.

Photo credit Nevaeh Imel.

We’ve never been to a screening of anything before, so this was a completely new experience for us. After taking photos on a small “red carpet,” we entered an auditorium with strobe lights, where we spent several minutes ducking flying beach balls of various sizes before the pilot episode began.

The show’s first episode begins in a manner highly resembling your typical TV drama: with a 911 phone call leading into a flashback. It’s unsure who has been hurt or what the condition of the injured person is.

However, where “HR805” sets itself apart from made-for-movie “issue” episodes is in its balance of calm and emotional moments. This opening could have been cliche and melodramatic. But the episode gracefully transitions from the chaos to the calm, focusing instead on introducing us to other characters and their separate struggles before bringing us full circle to the accident.

Over the course of the episode, viewers encounter characters with surprisingly relatable lives and face pitfalls that resonate very closely with common teenage struggles, including drug addiction, societal pressure, turbulent home lives and the desire to feel tethered to a world where everyone is more connected but feels more isolated than ever.

According to the “About” section of the show’s website (hr805.com), executive producer and cast member Mr. Steve Sivulka’s goal in creating “HR805” was to discuss the issues teenagers face in a relatable, realistic and constructive way. “I’d love to create a show that honestly portrays the issues that high schoolers are facing with today: peer pressure, bullying, drugs, sex, self-harm, body image, gender identity, abuse, abandonment, pornography, divorce, etc. Why not just lay it all out there and bring these issues to light in a show? Why not portray them in a way they can relate to and appreciate?”

While the pilot episode introduced far more plot threads than it resolved (because, after all, it is the pilot), the characterizations of different archetypes are fascinating and funny. We were presumptuous in assuming, again, that this show would address such issues the same way a Lifetime drama would. But, contrary to our expectations, not only did we sympathize strongly — we felt their struggles were ours, and we found ourselves wanting each one of them to have their victory, regardless of how likable, humorous or morally grounded they were. Identifying with them and their lives was oh-so easy.

Reprinted with permission from hr805.com.

“I liked my character because he’s a lot like me in a way — just five times dumber,” Classical Academy senior Dalton Ryan echoes this sentiment. He starred as Rich Watson, the classic Californian teen surfing through the ocean and life. While Ryan easily fit into his role, he felt that filming on his own high school campus “was pretty surreal …  especially just now watching now on the screen” while “seeing the students I know.”

Though any adults that appeared in the pilot episode were side characters, we were just as intrigued by the adult characters as we were by the teens. Reminiscent of Robin Williams’s character in “Dead Poets’ Society,” the witty and wise teacher Bruce Canari dominates the unruly homeroom. His very first lesson (no spoilers here) balances tact and reprimand all at once. His role in the lives of the students has great potential for the coming episodes, though his conflict with Principal Nadine Sutton seems asymmetrically stilted.

Sadie Johannsson’s character as the haughty Principal Sutton was the only character who reminded us that yes, we’re watching a teen drama. It wasn’t so much her acting as the way she’s written in the pilot — a rude, cynical control freak with an inexplicable vendetta against Mr. Canari — that makes her character overly melodramatic. Viewers are given no justification for her attitude or actions (some of which could border on illegal activities in regards to her son Mitchell) over the duration of the pilot. It was hard to accept her as a believable character.

However, assuming the show releases more episodes, this is only the pilot, and there’s plenty of time to introduce a believable backstory for this conniving administrator. She certainly commands the attention of any scene she’s present in, and I would love to see how that show of power interacts with the personalities and arcs of the other characters in the show.

Final verdict? We were excited to see our school featured on screen, we were compelled by the issues the pilot touches on, we connected easily to the characters and we are eager to see more episodes of a show touted by its creators as a counter to negative messages promoted by young adult television.

As for continued episodes of the show, Mr. Sierra intends to pitch the pilot to any outlets that could be interested, including Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and Facebook VOD. “We’re hoping to find somebody who will come alongside us and give us the funding needed to shoot a full season of 13 episodes … if CAHS will allow us … we may shoot another episode this coming summer.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: The executive producer’s name was incorrectly listed as Steve Froehlich. It has been fixed to Steve Sivulka.