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.

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