One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
How does a teacher in the world of TV Land’s Teachers reassure a child bullied about her Long Island Medium-esque haircut? “If that’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you,” the educator says, “You’re dead whenever you get into the real world.” That’s just one gaffe of nearly a dozen spouted by the so-called teaching professionals on the show, adapted from a web series of the same name. It can tiptoe into the bawdy, trying-too-hard wheelhouse that reeks of the kind of humor a pre-teen might think is in one of those Judd Apatow movies their older siblings are always quoting, but for the most part it’s surprisingly effective when put to work here, in the world of a squeaky clean elementary school.
It’s also easy to get behind given the series’ origins as a web series created, produced, and starring “The Katydids,” an improv group of six women with all similar first names. The sextet of ladies are more than game for the depravity of Teachers‘ humor (makes sense, the pilot was written by all of them), but the show doesn’t have enough of a distinctive vision yet beyond cursing in front of children is hilarious. Thankfully, there’s more than enough groundwork laid here for the show to eventually become something really unique and interesting.
For such a large ensemble, the 22-minute pilot’s biggest achievement is introducing the distinctive personalities of all six teachers. Chelsea (Katy Colloton) is a self-pitying wreck, who responds to a compliment by sweetheart Mary Louise (Katie O’Brien) with a brick wall of cynicism: “I look like a piece of shit.” Then there’s unlucky-in-love Caroline (Kate Lambert), ringleader Cecilia (Caitlin Barlow), slacker AJ (Cate Freedman) and doormat rebel Deb (Kathryn Renée Thomas).
You know which roles each character is playing from the second they pop up on screen, yelling kids’ first names and last initials only (small details that should get real teachers giggling), all the while discussing a romantic tryst with a drug dealer over the weekend. Maybe the pilot’s funniest running gag is Chelsea’s feud with student Debbie, who insists on drawing her educator completely, wildly out of proportion. “I’m not gonna let you bring me down, Debbie,” she says, mid-selfie, to the ten-year-old, all straight-faced sincerity.
But unfortunately, the show’s cruel streak doesn’t always result in the kind of dark humor that makes programming like Teachers click. Nearly everything to do with with Caroline feels ripped from a mid-aughts rom-com, with punchlines that have the edge of a Fisher-Price knife. “What’s a mimosa?” asks one of her fifth-graders after the teacher rants about her most recent break-up. “It’s something women in their twenties order so they can feel better about drinking in the morning.” It’s like joke deja-vu, something you’ve heard a dozen times before but won’t be able to place.
Teachers’ other major issue lies in its overall narrative structure. While The Katydids’ improv influence underlines the show’s best one-liners and gags, it also hinders the ebb and flow of its sequencing. Scenes are microscopically short more often than not, popping in on one of the teachers in their classroom for a gag about bullying and then sprinting to the next sequence, running over itself in the process. For only 22 minutes of television, it’s relatively exhausting, despite the long stretches of genuine hilarity (keep an eye out both for producer Alison Brie’s cameo late in the game, and the great pay-off for a particular gender-fluid bathroom joke).
But really, as an excuse to see six women gather into a room filled with children’s drawings and motivational posters, then discuss everything from their collective disgust for the knee biters to the resident “Hot Dad,” Teachers is far more than passable. It feels a bit like early-era Community in a way: a rock-solid groundwork of a premise that doesn’t do anything too zany or bizarre or risky, but does it with enough of a wink and strut that you can see the potential for something special in the near future.
As scatterbrained and tireless as the fifth graders the show revolves around, Teachers still wrings some effectively clever humor out of its worn premise.