Saturday, January 30, 2016

Teachers: A Review

TV Land has been running several original series over the past few years. Hot In Cleveland, The Exes, and The Soul Man are examples of successful shows they have produced. The most recent attempt is entitled Teachers, which follows six ladies' exploits at Fillmore Elementary School.

When I first saw this new series being put on, I didn't pay much attention to it, because I watch TV Land primarily for Everybody Loves Raymond reruns.  On a whim during these endless off days due to Global Warming snow, I decided to give it a shot through the on-demand feature on my FiOS. Now that I have seen all three episodes, I have a  slightly mixed opinion of what I have observed.

A six-member ensemble is a difficult thing to pull off in a single-camera, twenty-two minute episode (The only male regular thus far is the principal of the school). My guess is that the various episodes throughout the season (there is ten ordered for this season, thus far) will take turns emphasizing an individual or two at the expense of the others. The six leads got their start as a comedy troupe called The Katydids (you'll understand when you see all their names) doing webisodes, which then led to this series being put on television. It's a bit ambitious, and I wonder if it will last simply due to the limitations of the medium itself; limitations that are not present when doing stage shows or internet videos.

Try to guess which one is which!
The leads work well together because each one has a "role" or a personality to play. There is the go-hung rah-rah feminist (Ms. Cannon), the man-hungry narcissist (Ms. Snap), the Don Quixote-style romantic (Ms. Watson), the free-spirit (Ms. Feldman), the never-got-over-teenagerhood angsty one (Mrs. Adler), and the naive follower (Ms. Bennigan). I was a bit hesitant to watch because what I was afraid of was essentially one long twenty-two minute cat fight and complaint festival. To be sure, there are those elements; were you expecting none of that with all female leads?

Not only does the show work because of the "roles" played, it also works because they aren't afraid to mock the personality types. There are the glares, the sarcastic comments, and occasionally outright bitchiness. The ladies may be characters and "types," but they are also human beings: certain things in life bring on visceral reactions, and that's just how it goes.

I felt the first episode moved a little slowly. The premise was how to prevent bullying in a place that didn't really have that problem. Some of it was funny, to be sure, but one could sense the slight discomfort of the actresses, which I believe goes back in part to the aforementioned limitations of the medium of television. I don't like to dismiss something after just the one episode, and a pilot, no less, because one episode may well be a fluke. Three episodes is generally a good sense to tell if a) a show just isn't your cup of tea or b) it is complete and total trash.

The following episode was about picture day Fillmore Elementary, which had lots of death involved (in different and quirky ways) and the most recent one entailed the school making nice for the arrival of the superintendent. These episodes moved much more smoothly and strides are certainly being made. Time will tell if this will become a permanent fixture or whether one season will be enough.

I only have a couple of complaints (and you knew those were coming!): one is plot-based, and the other is production-based.

1) I do wonder how realistic the show is. I know at least one of the cast members taught in real life, and how much does that inform the script. I have been teaching long enough to know that the complaining and politics of a faculty room are real. However, I am coming from an almost exact opposite perspective of the show, which is a nearly all-female staff in a public elementary school. I, on the other hand (as you all know), teach in an all-male private high school where the faculty is also overwhelmingly male. Maybe this is just a blind spot on my part. Perhaps some of my friends and readers who teach in public elementary schools can confirm or deny some of the things that go on (if you are inclined to watch the show at all).

2) I get the sense that the show may do a little better in two eleven-minute vignettes rather than a unitary episode. This was especially true of the first two episodes; much of the plot felt a tad disjointed and could have stood to be reorganized into two separate parts, like slightly longer Saturday Night Live skits. The most recent episode did a much better job remaining seamless, and perhaps this complaint will be unfounded by the time they are five or more episodes into the show.

I do believe Teachers is a show I will continue to watch. It isn't going to be a show for everyone - there is a bit of raunchy humor involved (it is on at 10:30 PM after all), and it is certainly not for children to view. Thankfully, the children who are involved as characters are not particularly subjected to the raunchier side of the dialogue. The show has promise, and I am at least willing to see where it goes from here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Good and Evil In Children's Programming

Being a dad (my daughter is now 3 1/2 years old) means watching a bit of kiddie programming. Some of what passes for children's programming is total and absolute drivel (see Caillou as exhibit A), but sometimes there are shows that manage to demonstrate a fundamental lesson to children that they need to learn.

One such show is entitled PJ Masks. It is on Disney Junior and it is a fairly clichéd superhero show with three protagonists (Catboy, Owlette, and Gekko) dealing with problems and villains at night time while their daytime identities as schoolchildren provide the setup and conclusion.

Despite the clichéd nature (and really, is there any other way to do children's programming?), I like it because it provides good and stark contrasts between the good guys and the bad guys. This is something that has gone missing through much programming at the childhood level, even through the tweener years. Most shows now will either avoid the issue altogether (bad enough) or (worse) take a position of wishy-washy moral equivalence. Those two positions will leave a child ignorant or confused. 

Before anyone gets on my case about how it is the parents' job to teach that rather than television, I respond that it is true, but media at large can be a reinforcement or a competitor to what we teach her. Teaching the difference between good and evil, right and wrong is something of which society at large could stand do a lot more. Instead, we have a lot of relativism in our society and our popular culture reflects that. There are plenty of "aren't we all fabulous!" types of shows out there, even ones geared toward pre-school age kids. It is nice, though, to see the occasional program that gives an old-fashioned lesson in an age-appropriate manner. 

Now, bring on the hate mail!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Liturgical Warfare

I am a musical minimalist when it comes to the Mass. Most of that stems from the outright nonsense that we put up with for most of my youth in terms of the "music" that was put forth in worship at Mass in our parish. I suspect I am not close to being the only individual in my age group (out of those who still actually regularly attend Mass, that is) who was scarred in some fashion by horrendous liturgical music. 

Today in First Things, Richard Mouw reminds us that battles over the aesthetics and presentation of worship is hardly new, and each subsequent generation fights it all over again. It's sort of an incarnation of the quote often attributed to Twain about history rhyming rather than repeating itself. 

All of that said, the role of music within the boundaries of the Mass is to foster worship. Unfortunately, one of the lines that gets thrown around often to justify unlimited and often bad music is St. Augustine's "he who sings, prays twice." However, that is a misquote. The real quote is:

"He who sings well, prays twice"

Big difference. 

Let's face it, sometimes the songs are so bad that even a well-sung rendition is just putting lipstick on the pig, to borrow the phrase. "Gather Us In," "Anthem," "We Are Called," "City of God" and the rest are just awful songs that even brilliant four part harmonies won't remove the triteness and abject heresy dreck from our ears. 

Getting back to the original point of this entire post: being a musical minimalist means that the only singing that is technically required are the actual parts of the Mass: Gloria, Alleluia, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, the Great Amen, Agnus Dei, and the Communion antiphon. Opening and closing "hymns" (how "All Are Welcome" qualifies as a "hymn" is a mystery even God cannot comprehend) are pragmatic elements at best; they are meant to get the procession and recession on and off the altar. Offertory and Communion hymns are done likewise; however, they are within the boundaries of the Mass itself, and as such are not really an issue. Nothing is more annoying in Mass that an opening or closing that has all four verses sung, especially when the priest has arrived or departed after two of the verses.

Singing those extra verses is the very essence of the "vain repetition" Jesus warned against in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:7). Is it for the glory of God, or is it just to give the choir extra exposure? The fact the question even has to be asked sort of answers itself. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Back From The Dead...

Part of the reason I have never officially shut this blog down despite the multiple long hiatuses (or is that hiati?) is due to the necessity of having an outlet. We have been suffering through another long snow-day cluster (similar to what we saw back in 2010) and cabin fever has set in to some extent. Ergo, here are some random thoughts about this and that just to put out there. Pardon the rustiness of the commentary...

1) If I had been sleeping for a long time (i.e. like Woody Allen in Sleeper), I would have assumed that the Presidential race was coming down to reincarnations of Vladimir Lenin and Benito Mussolini. Bernie Sanders is an honest communist socialist, although he is really just a closeted corporatist. Donald Trump has all the hallmarks of Il Duce, save the promise to make the trains run on time. 

2) Mrs. Bill Clinton should be going to jail. The next few weeks will be verrrrry interesting, especially if the President and the Attorney General put the party ahead of the law. The FBI won't be taking this sitting down. Drip...Drip...Drip...

3) The Super Bowl will be a fascinating game in a couple of weeks. Peyton Manning will be playing what I think is his last game, one way or another. I will be rooting for Denver to win, as I have nearly every time I've seen them play in a Super Bowl. I don't have any animosity toward the Panthers, and I am actually amused by the Cam Newton dancing. The giving away of touchdown footballs to kids is cute and a good connection with the fans. I'm just hoping for a good game. 

4) Maybe, just maybe we'll be back in school on Wednesday. I am not too confident, as the anecdotal evidence piles up against Wednesday. Too many days ought already, and it's royally screwed up any plans I made for the 3rd quarter at school. God help us...

Maybe, this will kickstart regular blogging again. Who can tell? Only one way to know. Until next time. So long...

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