Teachers (NBC)

Only NBC could bring us Teachers, a new sitcom about a group of wisecracking, sarcastic, fun loving educators who laugh and learn all the live long day, stopping every now and then to learn a few lessons themselves along the way.

That's probably how someone pitched the show, but here's what really happens: mediocre actors make bad jokes for 22 minutes until you start desperately trying to remember the combination to the trigger lock on your gun. To be fair, Teachers isn't quite as bad some other recent NBC offerings. Four Kings, for example, makes Teachers look like M*A*S*H. But to say Teachers isn't as bad as Four Kings is like saying getting kicked in the face is slightly less painful than getting kicked in the testicles. Both shows were terrible, with Teachers being just slightly less terrible. Four Kings died a quick death, and if the gods of TV have any mercy, the same will be the case for Teachers.

Where to begin explaining what's wrong with Teachers? That's a good question, because there are just so many possible places to begin. But let's start with the title, "Teachers." Word on the street is that the show was once called "Fillmore Middle" (the name of the school on the show) but I guess NBC decided that name might confuse people, maybe make people think it was about the middle of some guy named "Fillmore," etc. So they changed the name to "Teachers" and added yet another level of mediocrity to a show that had enough strikes against it before any title was ever chosen. Naming your show "Teachers" is like naming "Law & Order" something like "Police." It's generic and boring and bespeaks an offering with little or no originality. That would be even more of a shame if the show were actually decent, but in this case, it's no big loss, since when it comes to "Teachers," generic is the order of the day.

Next up is the premise of the show. A sitcom about teachers? Now there's an original idea. Of course, TV is hardly all about originality, but come on … there have to be a few careers left that haven't been explored on sitcoms yet. Why not try one of those instead of going back to teachers? The concept has been played out at this point and we can see everything coming a mile away. Let me guess: the teachers are as lazy as the students, one of the teachers is "cool," one teacher is a nerd, one's older and embittered, one's young and dedicated, insert several other lame sitcom stereotypes here, etc. And at the end of the day, we'll discover that these teachers really do care about their jobs and really do want to educate kids, awwwwwwwwww.

I'm sorry, but short of having the teachers having sex with or murdering their students … there's really no way to make this premise seem anything but tired and stale. I guess it could be argued that that would be the case with ANY sitcom, but at least a sitcom set around a different profession would bring something slightly newer to the table. Ever seen a sitcom about firemen? Garbage men? Fishermen? No, I havenÍt either. Why not focus on something new, rather than go back to the same old watering hole yet again? A sitcom about fishermen might be just bad as Teachers, but the fact that it's new on some level will at least give us some small glimmer of hope.

If aliens ever come to earth and ask us to explain what a sitcom is, we can just give them a copy of the first episode of "Teachers" and tell them it contains everything they'll ever need to know about the genre. Teachers contains some of the most tried and true sitcom stereotypes ever broadcast; the smarmy sarcastic charming guy, the goofy best friend, the hot girl, someone mistakenly thinking someone else is gay, someone eavesdropping, etc. The characters especially are particularly painful and none more so than the main character.

If I see one more sitcom where the main character seems to KNOW he's funny, I'm going to shoot my TV first and myself second. When sitcom characters are in on the joke, guess how much fun that makes it for the viewer. But even beyond that, the characters from Teachers have all been done before and done better. They're all straight out of "Sitcom 101," just totally unoriginal and uninteresting. I'm surprised they didn't throw in a "wacky" art teacher or a strict principal … maybe they're saving those for sweeps week?

I can't really fault the actors themselves, they're just trying to earn a living. But I can fault the casting and fault it I will. The good news is that someone over at NBC seems to have discovered that there are actually other races besides white, because Teachers actually has a black cast member. At NBC it's still 1966 in terms of race, but I guess they decided it's okay to let one black guy move into the neighborhood as long as he behaves himself and plays a good second banana to the white guy, etc.

Beyond that one casting choice, Teachers fails as miserably as any sitcom in recent years. Hey NBC, can we please, please, please see some races BESIDES white on a sitcom? There are plenty of other races to choose from and I'm sure you can find more than one funny person from said race to cast on your show. It sucks to know that the funniest Asian person on the planet has less of a chance of being cast on an NBC sitcom than the unfunniest white person. Wake up, NBC. It's 2006 and while I don't expect an industry dominated by white men to change overnight (or in 60 years), the fact that sitcoms are still so incredibly racially unbalanced is both disturbing and depressing. It takes all kinds to make a world, but over at NBC it takes 99.9999 percent white people (and occasionally one black second banana).

Even more disturbing than the blatant lack of racial variety on Teachers is the blatant lack of any characters over the age of 25. Um, I don't know about the people who created Teachers, but when I went to junior high school, very few (if any) of my teachers were 25 years old. (Or in this case 33 years old playing 25.) Teachers contains only one older character, and though he's well cast, the fact that he's the only one over 40 is just insane. A show about teachers where the teachers don't look much older than the students? Oh my yes, that's very very believable. Makes total sense; it's a school where they only hire people under 30, because they want teachers with as little experience as possible.

I'm not saying the creators of Teachers should only cast octogenarians, but a little practicality would be nice. To cast a group of teachers with such young actors really hurts this already weak show. I know networks have a rule about never casting anyone over 35, but in the case of Teachers they should have suspended (get it?) that rule. Or at the very least throw in some older actors to round out the cast.

I guess NBC thinks that once an actor turns 50, they put him on an iceberg, light him on fire and push him out to sea, but it turns out that's not actually the case. There actually are some talented older actors around, and NBC should have sought them out in the case of Teachers.

But the true weakness of Teachers is simply the writing. It's weak, unfocused, and unfunny. As with many sitcoms today, jokes are replaced with sarcasm, and though the laugh track seems to find that amusing, the real audience does not. I'm not against sarcasm when it fits, but sarcasm should be used to supplement humor – not to replace it. I think this horrible trend started with Friends, when lines like "Could that television BE any bigger" started getting laughs. Only problem is, although that line may fit the character, it can't just be put into the mouth of EVERY character. It's cheap, easy comedy writing that's quickly becoming the norm on sitcoms.

To be sure, Teachers does contain some actual jokes, though those aren't terribly good either. Lines like "You laugh every time someone says 'penal colony'" are the reason you won't be seeing clips from Teachers in 2048 when TV Land runs the "100 Years of TV Sitcoms" special.

Now, there were a couple of laughs on the show, but to quote my old man, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The writing on Teachers is lame and unfunny, and though earlier I said at least the laugh track enjoyed it, to be honest there were moments there where it felt like even the clapping machine was having trouble seeming enthusiastic. This is one of the reasons I'm pretty sure machines will one day take over all humanity. If they're smart enough to know when a sitcom sucks, they're smart enough to know how to dominate and enslave humans.

So there you have it. Bad title, plus bad concept, plus bad casting, plus bad jokes = bad sitcom. Teachers is "Must Flee TV" (bad joke, but still better than anything from Teachers) and should be avoided at all costs. What's really sad is that Teachers arrives in the age of My Name is Earl and The Office, two NBC shows that actually ARE funny and original. To me, airing Teachers in this age is like using one of those old cell phones that you have to lug around in a suitcase, when you could have one that fits in your pocket. If a better idea comes along, why blindly cling to the old one, just because it feels familiar? No knock on the traditional sitcom format, because I still feel that works here and there, but on the changing TV landscape, a show like Teachers feels terribly antiquated, and not in a charming way.

The show fails on almost all levels, with its one success being that it brilliantly illustrates what NOT to do on a traditional sitcom. Basically, if you want a hit sitcom, just watch Teachers, and then do the exact opposite. If you follow that lesson plan, your show will run for 10 years, which is about 9 years and 11 months longer than Teachers will be on the air.

Review by Snaithbert Collins © 2006