If you were asked to picture a stereotypical series from TV Land, you would probably think of a family or group of friends sitting at a kitchen table while the studio audience laughs at some silly thing that Betty White just said. But the network is going in a very different direction with its new comedy Teachers, a sometimes crude and unabashedly off-color look into the day-to-day lives of the titular female educators. Thankfully, the staunchly raunchy material is often hilarious, silly and weird enough to make Teachers a breakout hit for its cable home.
Teachers began life as a web series created and performed by the comedy troupe The Katydids, whose members make up the main cast of quirk-ridden elementary teachers, with TV comedy vet Tim Bagley popping by for awkward moments as Principal Pearson. Ms. Snap (Katy Colloton) is the narcissism-fueled diva, Ms. Watson (Kate Lambert) is the romantically befuddled emoter, Mrs. Adler (Kathryn Renée Thomas) is the darkly comedic extrovert, Ms. Cannon (Caitlin Barlow) is the left-leaning fanatic, Ms. Bennigan (Katie O’Brien) is the guileless mouse, and Ms. Feldman (Cate Freedman) is the unconventional oddball. Those descriptions are limiting, of course, but these characters were designed to be completely distinct from one another in such ways, and it works.
The six teachers are mostly forced into friendship by their shared work environment, and their personalities also guide how they perform while leading a classroom. Ms. Watson’s class has been trained to be her pampering chat partner. Ms. Feldman tries to conquer a problem by ironically making it worse. Mrs. Adler allows her pessimistic attitude to guide her easily swayed class. Ms. Bennigan has an unconquerably awkward crush on a student’s father. And so on. The episodes I watched set up the character seeds for everyone smoothly, and Teachers seems built to take on an endless variety of increasingly ridiculous plots in the vein of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
An unexpected major plus of Teachers is the schoolchildren themselves. Child actors can be pillars of misery to watch in some shows, but the entirety of this student population is enjoyable, precious, precocious, funny and all the other kind adjectives. One of Ms. Watson’s students is a kid named Rodney, played by Keith L. Williams, that is instant gold as soon as he’s on the screen. He’s just begging to have his own episode that turns into a backdoor pilot for the spinoff Rodney.
Community’s Alison Brie is an executive producer here, while Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Ian Roberts and Key & Peele writer Jay Martel are the showrunners. The former two make cameos in the early episodes, and Season 1 also boasts guest spots from Lacey Chabert, Rob Riggle and Rob Corddry. That’s a good assortment of funny people to usher this freshman comedy to a larger audience.
Teachers’ promotion to the boob tube is definitely a successful one, with the previous sketch-length bits getting expanded into wraparound narratives. (Though there are still a slew of wonderful little throwaway moments.) The humor goes all over the place, from cynical to physical to verbal, and even when the jokes leap gratuitously over the top, there is always a subtle beat to balance it. Teachers is another shot at getting TV Land out to a younger demographic, along with Younger, and the crossover appeal for the network’s traditional audience is questionable. But it’s a great walk into the wild side for them, and I can only hope Teachers builds its viewership quickly, so that it can stick around for a while and inspire TV Land to continue going outside the box in building its original lineup.
Teachers will debut the first of ten Season 1 episodes on Wednesday, January 13, at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can also catch the pilot episode, which features a superb take on bullying, on TV Land’s website.