Tiffani Thiessen may be best known for playing perky cheerleader Kelly Kapowski on Saved by the Bell and Peach Pit After Dark co-owner Valerie Malone on Beverly Hills, 90210, but now she’s taken on the role of mom both on- and off-screen.
In the Netflix comedy Alexa & Katie, Thiessen plays the mother of Alexa (Paris Berelc), a high schooler fighting cancer.
“This isn’t something you would normally put together,” the real-life mom to daughter Harper, 7, and son Holt, 2, tells PEOPLE of the sitcom tackling terminal illness. “But it’s definitely not a conventional show.”
As the title suggests, the series centers on Alexa’s friendship with her best friend Katie (Isabel May) as the cancer-stricken freshman struggles with chemotherapy and the ups and downs of high school.
“Their relationship is very supportive,” the actress says. “It’s this day and age right now in the whole women empowerment and making sure that you’re supporting each other; it’s very much that relationship, just in a younger place.”
Thiessen, however, didn’t have a “normal” high school experience since she started acting as a teenager. “I was tutored all through high school,” the California native recalls. “I never went to a high school prom. I went to a junior high prom, but I never had the high school prom. It was all fake and on TV.”
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A school dance scene at the end of Alexa & Katie gave Thiessen a shot to reclaim the experience. Working with Berelc, 19, and May, 20, also brought her back to that time at the beginning of her career.
“It’s felt a little flashback-y to me because of seeing these girls do what I did 30 years ago,” the Dinner at Tiffani’s host, 44, reveals. “It’s been a lot of that.”
Thiessen given her newcomer costars some tips, as well. “I give advice to anybody who asks,” she says. “I don’t preach it, I just give it when they ask, and they’ve asked. But it’s also a different time, too, so if they come and ask me about social media, I’m not going to have any help for them!”
While her own children with her husband, actor Brady Smith, are still a few years off from texting and tweeting, her kids, especially Harper, related to Thiessen’s latest project.
“She came to almost every single taping,” Thiessen says of her firstborn. “She came after school every Friday and would literally get mad when I told her she had to go home and she couldn’t finish watching the rest of the taping until 10 at night. I’m like, ‘No, time for bed!’ She loved it.”
All 13 episodes of Alexa & Katie launch Friday on Netflix.