Reviews

Teachers

Roger Holland

Fortunately for all concerned, Kali Rocha plays school principal Emma Wiggins as Megan Mullally-lite, with barely a hint of a circulatory system.


Teachers

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: Justin Bartha, Sarah Alexander, Sarah Shahi, Deon Richmond, Phil Hendrie, Kali Rocha
Network: NBC
Amazon
Dougan (James Henriksen): I am President of the Concerned Parents Association. I can make your life hell!
Emma Wiggins (Kali Rocha): I am the principal of a public school. I'm already there.
-- "Field Trip"

NBC's latest entry into the Russian roulette of ratings warfare is a sitcom set in a New Jersey public school. Scheduled to follow Scrubs, Teachers offers none of that show's surrealism and invention, but it's still funnier than a poke in the eye with the sharpest script ever written for Martin, and its first episode, "Substitute", boasts more laughs than the WB's entire comedic lineup ever. And yes, that includes Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher.

Teachers straddles the intersection of two of television's great ley lines. First, it's set in a school, which makes it part of a long tradition that includes Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Welcome Back, Kotter, The Facts of Life, Square Pegs and... um... Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher. Its closest relative, however, is probably the highly successful vintage British sitcom Please, Sir!.

Itself inspired in part by the British movie To Sir With Love, Please, Sir! followed a young teacher struggling to maintain control over a class of rough, tough, but funny kids in a South London high school. If that sounds a little like a certain American sitcom set in Brooklyn, that's because Welcome Back, Kotter stole almost all its ideas from Please, Sir! without so much as a by-your-leave.

But while Kotter largely overlooked Please, Sir!'s interest in its educators' attitudes, enmities and alliances, Teachers is all over this rich, fertile soil like a fast-gro weed. With pleasing symmetry, Teachers U.S. -- as it shall now be known in a belated retaliation for the Charlatans U.K. and the English Beat -- is also a remake of a British TV show. This is the second major cultural ley line that defines its place in what passes for televisual history. The American TV networks have a tradition of borrowing comedic ideas from Britain, and although there have been some notable successes (All in the Family, Sanford and Son, and Three's Company), the general rule is that sitcoms, like Bulgarian nose flute symphonies, do not travel well.

However, NBC seems to have learned a lesson from the abject failure of Coupling U.S. and the success of The Office U.S. For Teachers U.S., the network has purchased the premise, logo, and fonts from the British show, but has completely reworked the format and the ethos of the original to produce a straight-down-the-middle 22-minute American sitcom, where the British show was an hour-long comic drama with considerably fewer jokes.

A moderately controversial depiction of the teaching profession, the British show portrayed its teachers as every bit as childish as their pupils, and revealed that they had absolutely no interest in teaching anyone anything. Teachers U.S. is quick to show us characters who play scratch golf games through the corridors and classrooms of the school, and who grade papers in bars (last one to finish buys the beer), but it still leaves no doubt that America's teachers all have hearts of gold. And while it pokes gentle, uncontroversial fun at the politics that can dominate the American school system, it prefers to focus on traditional comic elements, like relationships, tart one-liners, and boobs.

A further contrast between these two different instantiations of the same idea is the casting. With faith in their network and a commitment for an entire series, several of the stars of the very popular British show This Life were happy to sign up for Teachers, which ran for four full seasons. The biggest star in Teachers U.S. is Sarah Alexander, another British import, probably best known for her role in the BBC's original Coupling.

Given American TV's persistent lack of commitment, it's slightly surprising to see Alexander make her American debut in yet another remake of yet another British show for the network that failed so badly with Coupling U.S.. But her character, Alice, is paper thin. She's hot, she speaks like the Queen, and she's prim to the point of OCD. She's also the illogical crush of choice for the clinically irreverent but 24-carat-hearted Jeff (Justin Bartha, Nicolas Cage's nerd sidekick in National Treasure), and an object of disdain for Tina (Sarah Shahi, the ex-Dallas Cowboys cheerleader best known for her role in The L Word). Tina, of course, is the hot new substitute teacher who combines both boobs and cynicism with her own inevitable heart of gold.

Fortunately for all concerned, Kali Rocha plays school principal Emma Wiggins as Megan Mullally-lite, with barely a hint of a circulatory system. Wiggins has to deal with the political conundrums that plague much of American society. However, given the sitcom's need to dissect life in smart-arse one-liners that leave plenty of time for boobs, these issues are addressed superficially, to say the least. Nonetheless, whether she's avoiding any possibility of charges of racial bias ("Substitute") or contending with the Concerned Parents Association ("Field Trip"), the principal's heart-in-principle is firmly in the right place. Handing down her judgment on an influential parent's complaint about a school trip to see Romeo and Juliet, she announces, "If I give way on this, then all you kook parents are going to come out of the woodwork".

If we're to learn that Emma Wiggins does have a heart, and that it is indeed entirely golden, NBC may have to give this funny but inconsequential show the same levels of love and support it gave The Office U.S. To date, however, the network has yet to schedule even a second episode of Teachers U.S. So catch it while you can.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image