Recess ran for six seasons (65 episodes) between 1997 and 2001 and portrayed the lives of six fourth graders—mischievous prankster and leader of the gang T.J. Detweiler, hot-headed tomboy Ashley Spinelli, popular jock Vince LaSalle, awkward genius Gretchen Grundler, gentle giant Mikey Blumberg, and upbeat yet unlucky military brat Gus Griswald—as they go about their daily lives in a highly clichéd school environment at Third Street Elementary School, where students have set up a microcosm of traditional human society complete with its own government, class system, and set of unwritten laws. They are ruled by a monarch, a sixth grader named King Bob, who has various enforcers to make sure his decrees are carried out. The society has a long list of rigid values and social norms that imposes a high expectation of conformity upon all the students.
Recess is illustrated to be a symbol of freedom—a time when children can express themselves and develop meaningful relationships. Most episodes involve one or more of the main six characters seeking a rational balance between individuality and social order. They are often defending their freedom against perceived threats by adults and school administration or social norms. T.J. Detweiler, tends to have the most complete vision of this struggle, though even he has times when he inadvertently leads the group too far toward an extreme of conformity or non-conformity, and needs to be drawn back to even ground by his loyal friends.
The show’s introductory music, art design and style often evoked the feel of prison escape movies such as The Great Escape, and the playground hierarchy and school administration were often depicted in ways that paid homage to common themes in such films. Additionally, many episodes parody classic films such as Good Will Hunting, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Few Good Men.