'Teachers': TV Review

Teachers Still - H 2016
Courtesy of TV Land
A very funny look at the weirder side of schoolteachers.

TV Land's new comedy about elementary school teachers should immediately be added to your pile of must-see shows.

Credit TV Land with continuing an impressive upgrade of its programming as it launches a very promising and funny new sitcom in Teachers on Wednesday, right after the second-season premiere of Younger, one of 2015’s pleasant surprises.

Created by the ensemble comedy troupe The Katydids (Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O’Brien, Kathryn Renee Thomas — yes, all names deriving from Katherine), Teachers is a wonderfully loose and hysterical look at six less-than-textbook elementary school teachers whose wayward personal lives spill into their school work.

Executive produced by The Katydids, Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community) and Ian Roberts and Jay Martel (both from Key & Peele), it's an unexpected little gem you should add to your piled-high stack of series to watch.

The investment is worth it as four episodes of Teachers proved The Katydids (who created, wrote and of course perform every episode) completely understand where this series lives. There was no learning curve, no drastic tone changes in any of the episodes. From the get-go they nailed the slightly-off, hilarious messiness behind the veneer of the sweet middle-school teacher.

The series deftly juggles the narrative elements of the simple episode arcs (picture day, anti-bullying campaign, superintendent school inspection, etc.) with a plethora of searing one-liners exchanged among themselves, with the students or with Principal Pearson (Tim Bagley). It immediately has a loose, lived-in feel that some sitcoms take multiple episodes to achieve (if they ever get the balance right).

Because Teachers is a cable comedy (and airs after 10), it doesn’t have to tame itself down, yielding instances where the characters can defy school-teacher stereotypes (which certainly helps if your competition is coming primarily from Comedy Central’s more established, equally fearless offerings).

The pilot opens with Ms. Snap (Colloton) talking with Ms. Feldman (Freedman) at recess: “So I went out with a drug dealer”, before interrupting herself to yell “Jared S.! — make better choices!” The Katydids succeed in defining the characters pretty easily, and viewers will quickly get a sense of each, including the earnest but off-the-mark Ms. Feldman, who often skates through the day missing chances to actually teach. During one scene that finds her discussing art in class, one student starts talking about Pollock and Kandinsky before she cuts him off sweetly and says, “If anyone has an extra video game, it sounds like Lucas could really use one.”

Colloton’s Ms. Snap is the de-facto leader of the teachers (which is basically a clique with a hierarchy), whose narcissistic tendencies lead her to repeatedly scold a young girl who draws unflattering pictures of her. In one episode, she films a video in hopes of getting on The Bachelor.

Ms. Cannon (Barlow) is the politically correct, vegan teacher — though when she tries to prove that cliques are mean she really goes off the rails. Ms. Watson (Lambert) is the hopeless romantic still reeling from being dumped, who constantly and inappropriately discusses said rejection with her students and desperately “needs a win.” This is especially true after the school’s mascot iguana dies and the school district’s elderly grief counselor, sent to make the kids feel better, also dies in front of her class, leading to parent-teacher phone calls (“The children witnessed a couple of deaths today …”). Ms. Bennigan (O’Brien) has low self-esteem, is incredibly naive and gullible while also being “deeply yearning,” a wonderful Katydids euphemism for desperately wanting to get laid and find love. Mrs. Adler (Thomas) is a combination of dark (stealing from the lost-and-found) and needy (she was bullied in school so she heads up the “Stop Teasing and Bullying” campaign, aka STAB) and has a notable run-in with Brie (in a pilot cameo): Brie’s character says, “Based on your eyeliner, I can see you’re still angry.”

All six of the Katydids pop with strong comedic performances in Teachers, giving you faith that there will be no lag in this 10-episode first season. And the series also benefits greatly from casting kids who aren’t annoying and also knowing how often to employ them in the jokes. Yes, it’s a crazy cluttered TV landscape out there, but Teachers is a keeper with considerable comic potential.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine