"I think it's cruel and unusual punishment to try to learn the entire history of the entire world in a year! It just doesn't make sense," an impassioned Isabella Gomez says of the AP World History class she took in high school.
She earned her lowest grade ever, a B , and she cried.
Now Gomez has gone from student to teacher in her role as Alicia Adams in the HBO Max reboot of Head of the Class, originally seen on ABC in the late '80s. The 2021 update will launch its 10-episode run in November, with a foursome of showrunners heading production: Bill Lawrence, Amy Pocha, Seth Cohen and Bill Callahan.
In the half-hour comedy, Gomez is part debate teacher, part surrogate mother to a group of high school overachievers. It's a role she takes on naturally with her castmates, both on and off screen. This, despite her not being much older than her supporting players.
"I'm very much Mama Bear with them," she says. "They're my babies and I adore them, but they don't need me per se. They really can handle stuff on their own, so it's a cool kind of hybrid relationship."
Gomez is no stranger to TV comedy. As Elena Alvarez in One Day at a Time (also a reboot), she played opposite Justina Machado and the legendary Rita Moreno. Though a newcomer surrounded by iconic talent, Gomez says being on that set was like being with family. And family is everything to this Colombia-born actress.
"I still live with my parents," she says. Though "that is ending shortly, and my dad is distraught." In her home country, it's traditional for young women to live at home until they are married, and Gomez says her father is old school. "My dad will not speak to me if I don't speak to him in Spanish. If I'm speaking English, he will not reply — he will literally pretend he doesn't hear me."
But maintaining her roots both at home and at work is important to Gomez. "It's something really special to drive onto a lot blasting my music" — old-school reggaeton like J Balvin — "and being like, 'I'm bringing my culture into this place,'" she says with pride. "And also, just locking eyes with other Latinos and having that moment. Having that nod of 'We are here, and we made it.' That's really special."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 11, 2021