'Those Who Can't': TV Review

Those Who Can't - H 2016
Courtesy of TruTV
Will improve your mind — the part that laughs.

The teachers are as juvenile as their students in truTV's amusing scripted comedy series.

Let's get pedagogical for a second: The actual quote that the title of truTV's first scripted comedy series, Those Who Can't, is riffing on is "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches," from George Bernard Shaw's four-act 1903 play Man and Superman. Somewhere along the way — as Shaw's quote became go-to shorthand for anyone wishing to denigrate the educator's vocation — "those" replaced "he." And I'm willing to bet that several readers are now so irritated by this hectoring display of knowledge that they'd like to give me an atomic wedgie. Such are the perils of the profession.

Three teachers at the fictional Colorado school Smoot High have inured themselves against any such similar reprisals (physical and verbal) by being every bit as puerile as the young men and women they're meant to be nurturing. They're a screwy trio, each of them played by a member of the Denver-based comedy troupe The Grawlix. Loren Payton (Adam Cayton-Holland) is the sarcastic language professor who teaches the "queen's Spanish" to a derisive student body, and is madly in love with sassy librarian Abbey Logan (Maria Thayer). Billy Shoemaker (Ben Roy) is the history instructor with colorfully tattooed arms and a rabble-rousing punk past; he once played in a band called Capitalist Emulsification. And Andy Fairbell (Andrew Orvedahl) is the gym teacher whose survival mechanism is his sheer cluelessness — likely the result of getting one too many dodge balls to the head.

Over the course of the first two episodes (of 10 total in the first season), the group exacts an elaborate revenge on an All-American jock bully, and joins forces to turn a nerdy kid into a cutthroat politician for the upcoming school election. These situations are, of course, the bare-bones means to a lot of mischievous and seemingly improvised ends, much of it very funny. Cayton-Holland, Roy and Orvedahl have the kind of expert timing and rhythm that can only come from lots of practice and polishing. In a running gag in the second episode, Loren and Billy tease the oblivious Andy about his allergy to "nuts" — a tried-and-true prank that still plays like gangbusters because of how Orvedahl responds, unflappably, to Cayton-Holland and Roy's every stakes-raising jab.

The trio is well-supported by Thayer, with her relentlessly acid tongue (it's lots of fun watching her be the brassy Katharine Hepburn to Cayton-Holland's Spencer Tracy), and Sonya Eddy is an absolute delight as Tammy Sherman, a combative administrative secretary who doesn't take guff from anyone. But best in show is Rory Scovel as the bearded, desperately-trying-to-be-hip Principal Quinn, whose frustrations (with teachers, students, and his own uncool self) always seem on the verge of exploding into full-on psychoses. Scovel's one of those performers who can turn a truly asinine pun ("tying flies when you're having fun," he says while literally tying fly-fishing lures in his office) into giggle-inducing poetry. Cayton-Holland, Roy and Orvedahl have given him a good school of hard knockabouts in which to exhibit his talents.

Cast: Adam Cayton-Holland, Ben Roy, Andrew Orvedahl, Maria Thayer
Creators: Adam Cayton-Holland, Ben Roy, Andrew Orvedahl
Showrunner: Dean Lorey

Airs Thursday at 10:30 p.m. on TruTV