REVIEW: BAD TEACHER: THE TV SERIES

MAIN CAST

Ari Graynor (For a Good Time, Call…)
Sara Gilbert (The Big Bang Theory)
Ryan Hansen (2 Broke Girls)
Sara Rodler (The Future)
Kristin Davis (Atomic Train)
David Alan Grier (Jumanji)
Madison De La Garza (Desperate Housewives)

NOTABLE / RECURRING GUEST CAST

Brett Gelman (30 Minutes or Less)
Colin Hanks (King Kong)
Yara Shahidi (Alex Cross)
Stuart Allan (Son of Batman)
Alison Miller (17 Again)
Virginia Williams (Fairly Legal)
Andrew Leeds (Bones)

CBS’ adaptation of Bad Teacher throws so many talented people at the question of how to turn the Cameron Diaz movie into a TV show that it will inevitably come to a point where it’s at least relatively good, if not excellent. The show’s cast is headed up by the reliably entertaining Ari Graynor, who shows a surprising talent for being an amusing reprobate here, but she’s ably backed up by the likes of Ryan Hansen, Kristin Davis, David Alan Grier, and secret weapon Sara Gilbert—who’s basically playing her character from The Big Bang Theory, but with better lines. And the series has been brought to television by the writer Hilary Winston, best known for her work on Community and Happy Endings.bad-teacher-premiere-ratingsOne of the secrets of TV comedy is that nine times out of 10, if you just get enough funny people together and let them work at it long enough, they’ll come up with a reliably entertaining and funny show In its first three episodes, however, Bad Teacher isn’t quite there. It comes close on enough occasions that it’s an enjoyable watch, but it’s struggling with the question all sitcoms built around awful people struggle with: How do you find a way to make a terrible person not just funny but somehow identifiable to the audience? For Bad Teacher to work, the audience has to, on some level, want Graynor’s Meredith Davis to succeed in her quest of tricking the school she teaches at into thinking she’s qualified for her job. But because Meredith is such a superficial, shallow, and self-obsessed person, the show’s core ends up feeling rotten, even as its many surfaces are often hugely entertaining.The key change from the film version of Bad Teacher is that the sitcom turns Meredith into a fraudster who fakes her credentials, taking a middle-school job so she can hit on the rich fathers of her students. Winston leans heavily on her Community experience here, and she’s letting Meredith play a page right out of the Jeff Winger-playbook, in that she thinks this is only a temporary thing and doesn’t want to get too attached to her fellow teachers or students. The difference, however, is that if Jeff doesn’t get with the program, he only hurts himself. If Meredith continues down her path, she’s ostensibly depriving her young charges of a valuable education. It’s a problem Bad Teacher has yet to solve in its first three episodes, despite Graynor’s considerable talents at delivering flippant dialogue with a hint of acid wit.The answer to this is so predictable that it ends up shooting the show in the foot. Meredith, inevitably, will learn in every episode that she really does care about her students or fellow employees, and she’ll use her considerable life experience and street smarts to help them navigate the tricky labyrinths of social situations, even if she’s not giving them the best education in social studies. It’s a formula that’s worked for so long that it’s become threadbare, and Bad Teacher seems so perfunctory in its approach to this particular story point that the episodes inevitably run out of gas in their third acts. They’re much more amusing in the early going, when Meredith is misbehaving and the other characters are being kooky. Inevitably, Bad Teacher will reach a point—just as Community did—where its protagonist isn’t looking for an escape route from her situation in every sports car that pulls up to the school, and it will almost certainly be a stronger show at that point.Despite the structural problems, there are considerable delights in each one of these episodes. All of them contain a handful of belly laughs, and the dialogue is sharp and pointed even when it’s not riotously funny. Graynor is a treat, and the supporting cast surrounding her—both teachers and students—finds new notes to play in familiar types. Gilbert and Hansen, in particular, offer up new spins on the socially maladjusted nerd the hot girl takes under her wing and the stand-up guy hiding in plain sight whom the heroine will inevitably end up with. The show benefits whenever they’re on screen, particularly when they’re sharing the screen together as a couple of unlikely oddball friends. Surrounding adult actors with kids is always a gamble, but Bad Teacher has a bunch of unexpectedly funny 11- and 12-year-old students to offer quips and occasional sight gags. Even better, Winston and her writers seem to be quickly figuring out exactly what sorts of gags all of their talented actors are best at delivering, which is a good sign for the show’s long-term health. Plus, any time it seems like the show is introducing something that will be drawn out for seasons to come, it’s just as quickly dispatched. That’s encouraging as well.bad-teacher-premiere-ratingsSadly Bad Teacher lasted 13 episodes and was pulled very quickly, had the series been given time to shine, I believe it would of been a huge hit.

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12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: BAD TEACHER

CAST

Cameron Diaz (Sex Tape)
Lucy Punch (into The Woods)
Jason Segal (How I Met Your Mother)
Justin Timberlake (Freinds With Benefits)
Phyllis Smith (The 40 YEar Old Virgin)
John Michael Higgins (Yes Man)
Eric Stonehnart (Modern Family)
Thomas Lennon (17 Again)
Nat Faxon (Tammy)
Alanna Ubach (Still Waiting…)
Paul Feig (Sabrina: The Teenage Witch)
Molly Shannon (Scary Movie 4)

Positioning itself as the academic answer to Bad Santa, Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher threatens a schoolyard tussle but refuses to hit below the belt. Screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg dish up shameless misbehavior but never approach the depravity of the earlier film — probably a smart choice for the movie’s box office prospects, which are solid, but one that places a certain tier of shock-hilarity out of reach.

Cameron Diaz comes to the picture ready to offend. Her eyes have never been harder, and on the rare occasion that the script offers her a line like “I’m gonna suck your dick like I’m mad at it,” she spits it out convincingly.

But for all her desk-stashed booze and inappropriately tight skirts, the movie offers Diaz a pretty bland badness. She plays Elizabeth Halsey, a teacher desperate to land a rich husband and quit her job; having decided that a fresh pair of breasts would help with that, she embarks on a series of petty moneymaking schemes to buy implants. She cajoles parents into paying her for “private tutoring,” pawns the contents of the lost & found and embezzles from a fundraising car wash made vastly more successful when she uses her cutoff-clad body as a chamois.

Justin Timberlake is amusingly ingenuous as the wealthy but dimwitted newcomer Elizabeth hopes to seduce, though (with the exception of one bizarre dry-humping gag) the movie doesn’t exploit his capacity for self-mockery as well as Saturday Night Live sometimes has. The purposeful tortoise to Timberlake’s peppy hare, Jason Segel steals scenes as the gym teacher who keeps flirting despite Elizabeth’s many rejections. The picture’s most entertainingly unhinged element, though, is Lucy Punch, whose overachieving social studies teacher seethes with a goody-goody neurosis that threatens to erupt as she watches her colleague get ahead despite treating students like animals. Happily showing more restraint than she did as the lustful stalker in Dinner for Schmucks, Punch makes a highlight out of what could have been a tiresome role.

Concocting the inevitable redemption for a character as intentionally unsympathetic as Elizabeth is a challenge, and the script doesn’t quite rise to it. It points in the right direction during a field-trip scene, where her contempt for a student’s romantic cluelessness convincingly motivates an act of kindness.

But there are a couple of steps missing between that moment and the relative maturity with which Elizabeth eventually weighs the contest between the milquetoast millionaire and Segel’s earthy schlub. Barely an hour and a half long, the film could have spared a few minutes to sell her turnaround.