Empty8-8:30, 8:30-9 p.m. Thursday, March 20
Free-spirited in a familiar way, "Miss Guided" combines the fantasy of doing high school all over again with the reality of characters who, when given the opportunity, are not very different than they were when they were self-conscious teens.
The brainchild of first-time creator Caroline Williams, ABC's "Miss Guided" evokes memories of several school-based sitcoms, including the fractured idealism of "Welcome Back, Kotter" and the persistence of "Our Miss Brooks."
At the center of this single-camera show is Judy Greer as Becky Freeley, a high school geek who has blossomed into a cheerful guidance counselor. She shed her braces long ago but still clings to a vaguely naive optimism and a perpetually sunny disposition. Although Becky has returned to her alma mater, Glen Ellen High, she is, for the most part, surprisingly out of touch with the students she is supposed to counsel.
Becky has a crush on hunky auto-shop-turned-Spanish-teacher Tim O'Malley (Kristoffer Polaha) that rivals the longing Miss Brooks once had for oblivious biology teacher Mr. Boynton. In this show, though, Becky is less cynical and Tim is not as clueless and there is more than a sliver of hope that a full-blooded relationship will develop.
There's another twist in "Miss Guided," this one in the shapely form of Brooke Burns, who plays Lisa Germain, the new English teacher and a rival for Tim's affection. Becky and Lisa were classmates but had almost nothing in common. While Lisa was homecoming queen, Becky was practically invisible.
Rounding out the cast are Earl Billings as vaguely lecherous Principal Huffy and Chris Parnell, who channels Steve Carell's Michael Scott to create self-important, largely deluded Vice Principal Bruce Terry.
"Miss Guided," which had a special premiere Tuesday, had its moments, like when Huffy repeats robotically to each couple entering the homecoming dance, "No groping. No grinding." Greer tackles her Miss Sunshine role with conviction, and Burns has the femme fatale thing down perfectly.
Overall, though, it lacked focus and purpose. Often, it seemed like a series of quick sketches glued together by commentary as characters, and especially Becky, broke the fourth wall over and over. The technique was effective but perilously close to being overused.
ABC wisely launched the show with an initial outing after megahit "Dancing With the Stars." Starting tonight, when executive producer Ashton Kutcher makes a guest appearance, the schedule will be far less kind.
Katalyst Films in association with ABC Studios and 20th Century Fox Television
Executive producers: Todd Holland, Gabrielle Allan, Karey Burke, Jason Goldberg, Ashton Kutcher
Co-executive producer/creator/teleplay: Caroline Williams
Producer: Michael J. Maschio
Director: Todd Holland
Director of photography: Victor Hammer
Production designer: Scott Chambliss
Editor: Lisa Lassek
Music: Jeff Cardoni
Set designer: Karen Manthey
Casting: Lisa Miller Katz
Becky Freeley: Judy Greer
Lisa Germain: Brooke Burns
Tim O'Malley: Kristoffer Polaha
Principal Huffy: Earl Billings
Vice Principal Bruce Terry: Chris Parnell