Until recently, it would be odd to hear two anal-bleaching jokes in consecutive episodes of a TV Land sitcom. This was the domain of Betty White and the Hot In Cleveland crew, and before that Roseanne and Dan, who had their foibles but generally stayed away from anal-bleaching yuks. And before that, Lucy and Ricky, who did not know what anal bleaching was.
Ah, but it’s a new day.
First there was Impastor, the naughty sitcom featuring a pot-smoking faux-clergyman as its center. It was a little nastier than anything else that had been on TV Land (even The Jim Gaffigan Show, the sweet sitcom it was paired with). Now comes Teachers, a show that builds on the blue that Impastor tries so very hard to bring to TV Land, and multiplies it.
Teachers is based on the webseries created by Matt Miller and the Katydids, a group of Chicago-based comedians whose names are all a variation on Katherine (Katie Thomas, Katie O’Brien, Caitlin Barlow, Cate Freedman, Katy Colloton, Kate Lambert), and ushered to basic cable by Community’s Alison Brie. (Brie serves as a producer and has a cameo in the first episode.) The series covers the lives of six educators who talk about how cool it is to date a drug dealer, then have to chastise kids on the playground in the same breath. It’s a tantalizing subject. For children, it’s nearly impossible to see outside the self and believe that teachers have inner lives that don’t involve their wholly consuming jobs. For adults, teachers are peers, meaning that the person you got hammered with on Friday night could have been up at 7 a.m. molding the minds of America’s youth.
Teachers shares some of its DNA with Bad Teacher (both the cinematic and televised versions), building an entire faculty out of the type of narcissists previously played by Cameron Diaz and Ari Graynor. And the new series is good for the same kinds of gags, in which leaders of children prefer to get high in their cars rather than open homeroom early. But like its predecessors, Teachers tends to feel all shtick and no story. As a web series, Teachers dealt in short episodes, with seasons organized around a single theme. The half-hour version is similar, with each episode focusing on a schoolyard issue—i.e., picture day or bullying—with each teacher breaking off to carry out their own storyline based around that motif.
It’s not a seamless transition, and what works in short bursts has trouble sustaining itself over a half hour—and that goes for concept as well as characters. Unlike Broad City—another show that made the jump from the internet—Teachers still feels like a webseries, just in a longer format. There’s a lack of fleshed out narrative in the four episodes screened for critics; the structure has been taken from a medium that’s at its best when it’s short, but it’s been stretched thin to fill a half-hour and that stretching shows. The principals work better in small doses, and some work better than others. Cate Freedman’s spaced-out Ms. Feldman and Katie O’Brien’s goody-goody Ms. Bennigan are standouts, while Kate Lambert’s heartbroken Ms. Watson and Katy Colloton’s self-centered Ms. Snap feel more like one-joke ponies.
That’s not to say that Teachers can’t get better as it sheds the constraints of its original medium, especially because the Katydids are a talented and fearless group of women. Their comedy lacks vanity, and their onscreen chemistry together is quite good, with each member of the troupe filling a different stereotype for Teachers. (The heartbroken romantic, the goody goody with a secret dirty side, the crusading activist, or the slacker who took the job for summers off.) They’ve been doing this together for a long time, and it shows. With a little more experience, Teachers could adapt to its new format—but it’s not there yet.