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'Miss/Guided,' premiering Tuesday on ABC

Diane Werts
Newsday (MCT)

Any high school-based show that starts with a bunny mascot punch-out at the flagpole during homecoming week is just peachy in my book.

And "just peachy" is something the heroine of "Miss/Guided" just might say. Life with Judy Greer's character is one big perk-o-rama. Greer's Becky Freeley (yes, the name's ironic) is that relentlessly supportive guidance counselor who always knew where you were coming from because she'd been there. If, that is, you were the type of student to go to the guidance counselor in the first place, which probably means geeky, saddled with "pretty elaborate orthodontic issues" or just plain "weird."

Since that covers 95 percent of us, ABC's latest single-camera comedy is utterly relatable. Even better, it's filled with the same warm yet witty, always smart and eccentric vibe as previous misfit-student faves "Square Pegs," "Popular" and "Malcolm in the Middle." "Miss/Guided" absolutely nails those anxious moments of discomfort, irony, unintended consequence and sheer dread of being, well, the awkward person you actually are.

Greer made her TV mark as the former corporate secretary in Fox's late, lamented "Arrested Development," another offbeat comedy that knew precisely what it aspired to be and how to get there. But she won me over with her spot on turn in 2003's sweetly satiric "Jewsploitation" film "The Hebrew Hammer," playing ethnic crusader Esther Bloomenbergensteinenthal. Just as she pulled off that movie's trickily affectionate sendup, she wins us over here, exuberantly selling earnest lines, like her pastry warning to a fat girl, "It may fill the hole in your mouth, but it won't fill the hole in your soul."

And that's not easy. But everyone involved is on their A-game here. Director Todd Holland lives up to his "Wonderfalls"-"Larry Sanders Show" reputation, and it's clear series creator Caroline Williams has written for "The Office." That light touch is echoed in their cast, from Greer as the former (OK, still) wallflower to dishy Brooke Burns as her then-and-now popular student/teacher nemesis. Even the guy they both pine for, Kristoffer Polaha as the dense shop class dude turned illiterate Spanish instructor, pulls it off with aplomb. Who'd a thunk? Both Polaha and former "Baywatch" babe Burns were last seen on Fox's brain-dead beach-soap bust "North Shore."

Ashton Kutcher is one of "Miss/Guided's" producers, and he's just as sly in guest-starring on Thursday's 8 p.m. time period premiere, as an actual Spanish-speaking substitute teacher/threat to Polaha named Bo (actually "Beaux," he tells us, "with an X"). His restrained pretentiousness extends from seeing Becky's broach as "the Aztec symbol for spiritual metamorphosis" ("It's a bug," she replies) to attempting window-side "Say Anything" boom box action playing soft rocker Peter Cetera. Such cultural touchstones fit feather-light and organic here, too, where most shows cram them in ham-fisted.

"Miss/Guided" doesn't quite score 100 - we could do without the irritable bowel jokes - but it manages to achieve both timeless sweetness and frank relevance without messing itself. Just when Greer's narration or comment-to-the-camera punctuation threaten to feel forced, the show steps back and lets dead-on dialogue do the talking.

And the feeling. There's genuine emotion underlying "Miss/Guided," and a stirring sense that "positivity" might be not just unsquare but perhaps actually cool. Turns out there's life after high school. And life in high school, too.

___

MISS/GUIDED. "Arrested Development" alum Judy Greer is a guidance counselor returned to the scene of her own high school terrors, where she both rectifies and repeats that awkwardness. It's both screwy and touching, exuding a heartfelt sensibility from a wacky cast and crew. Single-camera comedy premieres Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. EDT, then airs Thursday at 8 and 8:30 p.m. on ABC.


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