'Schooled' Star AJ Michalka Previews What's to Come From the 'Goldbergs' Spinoff

Scott Fishman
Preview ABC/John Fleenor

When AJ Michalka started on The Goldbergs as Lainey Lewis, she had no idea where the opportunity would lead. Erica Goldberg’s (Hayley Orrantia) best friend and her brother Barry’s (Troy Gentile) crush became such a fan favorite with viewers, she graduated to series regular on the '80s-set comedy for a number of seasons.

Now, Lainey is at the forefront of ABC's upcoming spinoff of the sitcom, Schooled. The series takes many of the characters from The Goldbergs and fast forwards to the '90s to find out where they landed.

“In some ways it feels the same in that it’s a continuation of The Goldbergs,” Michalka tells TV Insider of the feel of the new series. “The set feels familiar with a lot of the same department heads working on the show, a lot of the same crew, a lot of the same cast. In a way, we are getting a chance to start a new show but not be the new kids in town."

ABC/Craig Sjodin

Despite working in a similar environment and with familiar faces, Schooled is unique in many ways, the actress explains.

“Not just that it’s a different era, but these are stories being told,” she continues. “This is from the lenses of these teachers. The workforce of William Penn. The honor and respect that these stories are telling toward Principal Glascott (Tim Meadows) and Coach Mellor (Bryan Callen) and the hard work they’ve put into these kids the last 10 years and beyond. It’s different because we are coming from a family show centered around the Goldbergs in the ‘80s. We're painting these teachers as heroes, which I think is exactly the way they should be depicted.”

Lainey transitions from high school alum to the new music teacher at William Penn Academy — not a far stretch, considering the character’s rock ‘n’ roll dreams and Michalka's own success on the charts alongside her sister in their group, Aly and AJ.

“It’s interesting because Lainey used to be on stage a lot more. You will see that in Schooled, but now it’s about the students,” she details. “Lainey is guiding them, and they get on stage, and she gets to watch them perform where I never really got to do that…I get to come from the other side, which is really neat.”

If you're wondering how long you'll have to wait to find out what happened to Lainey and Barry, it won't be long.

“I think you’re going to get that story dealt to you in January when we kind of hand the show off from The Goldbergs to Schooled,” Michalka says of the back-to-back airing. “It’s really interesting how they did that with Season 6. We kind of wrap up the story with Barry and Lainey and transition to Schooled on that same night.”

The Goldbergs returns for the second half of Season 6 with an episode on the verge of Barry and Lainey’s wedding date. Michalka hints at what fans of the young couple can expect.

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Plus, the actor shares what it's like to work with co-stars Jeff Garlin and Wendi McLendon-Covey.

“I think it’s going to be a little heartbreaking in some ways, but I also think it’s going to be one of the most exciting episodes,” she teases. “That’s because it’s based on a movie everyone loves. I think The Goldbergs does that really well. You’re seeing these two kids grow up and figure themselves out. Even though they are figuring things out together, they end up coming to the same conclusion.”

And Michalka's friendship with Troy Gentile outside of the show shines through.

“I think he is brilliant,” she gushes. “I think Troy is really funny and brings something so original to this show. As weird and bizarre as Lainey and Barry’s relationship is, it works. I think people love it because it’s genuine.

“I do think there is something about us because we are so close that translates to working romantically on screen, which is so funny because Troy and I would never lean romantically toward each other. But I think we are such good friends that the love we have for each other translates on screen. That is a genuine friendship. I think that is what works with great relationships on set.”

ABC's "Schooled" stars Bryan Callen as Coach Mellor, AJ Michalka as Lainey Lewis, Brett Dier as Charlie Brown, and Tim Meadows as Principal Glascott. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

On the topic of throwbacks, Michalka’s other television project, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, is also bridging the generational gap. Voicing Catra on the acclaimed Netflix reboot is another way for her to help bring out the nostalgia of television.

“It not only comes together as a feminist hero piece, which I love, and the original did, but I think with even more heart than the original," she reasons. "In this show, they’re a lot younger and not obviously styled the same. The original was really heavy handed sexually, I think. The show was cool and really beautiful in its own way.

“But it has become more about the empowerment of these kids, these young superheroes with super powers that other kids are being able to see…I think now you would say, ‘I want to turn this cartoon on for my daughter because it’s actually going to teach her these incredible things about what women can do.’ I think it’s doing that. It’s a beautiful piece, and I really think these 13 episodes are inspiring people of all ages — not just people who have seen the show, but people who have never even heard of it.”

ABC/Ron Tom

Much like the animated series, Michalka is proud of her work on The Goldbergs and Lainey’s evolution, which got her to this point.

“We are getting an incredible shot by the networks,” she notes. “Just the way they’ve placed us behind The Goldbergs and constant placement with promos. You don’t always get that as a TV show. I’m just thankful ABC has supported us as much as they have because [creator and executive ] Adam [F. Goldberg] has created a world that really works. Now he gets to create it with another throwback in this same world behind it."

Schooled, Premieres, Wednesday, January 9, 8:30/7:30c, ABC