Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for January 17 through January 24, 2016 is "Picture Day," the second episode of TV Land's new sitcom, Teachers.
The trickiest part of figuring out a new comedy is figuring out how the cast members work with each other. How do they play off one another? Do some actors work better with others? How will they deliver the lines, and how will that affect the rhythm of the writing, and of the show?
But Teachers got to bypass all of those growing pains and skip straight to the good stuff.
The new TV Land series, about an eclectic group of elementary school teachers, stars Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O'Brien, and Kathryn Renée Thomas. Together, they are "the Katydids": an improv group that's been performing together onstage, and in the web series that inspired TV Land to pick up Teachers, for years.
These creators and actors know each other's rhythms inside and out. They know exactly where their strengths lie, especially in relation to each other. This cohesion makes Teachers feel effortless — which is even more impressive considering that it's only aired two episodes so far.
With just about the entire regular cast helming the ship, and with producers like Key & Peele's Ian Roberts and Community's Alison Brie, Teachers is already a self-assured comedy that knows exactly where to find its laughs.
"Picture Day" lets every character show off her best material
"Picture Day," the second episode of Teachers, has the confidence of a much more established show — and with good reason.
As all the teachers prepare their kids for Picture Day, almost every character — referred to as "Ms. [Last Name]," in true elementary school form — gets a hilarious showcase. Still, the episode never feels too cluttered.
One story belong to Lambert's Caroline Watson, the heartbroken teacher whose determination to be strong (a year) after a breakup sporadically bursts out in startling fits of passion. Take, for example, her entirely earnest, completely terrifying reaction to finding out that her classroom won the right to host Millard, the school's iguana, on Picture Day:
As the episode goes on, though, Ms. Watson's win crumbles when Millard goes ahead and dies, right in front of her class. Her day then rapidly devolves into a series of lessons on the permanence of death, as is typical of day-to-day elementary school life.
Meanwhile, Ms. Mary Louise Bennigan (O'Brien) is struggling to keep things professional when faced with one of her student's fathers (Ryan Caltagirone), whom the teachers have affectionately nicknamed "Hot Dad."
Caltagirone is definitely beautiful, but Ms. Bennigan failing to hide her drool is still the star of this story. Every time I thought I'd get sick of her stammering in the face of his hotness, O'Brien whipped out some new frantic laugh or facial tic that had me on the floor. (Also, whoever found her ridiculous sweater with a dog in a cameo and a collar so ruffled it's almost Elizabethan deserves a raise.)
Elsewhere, narcissist teacher Chelsea Sharp (Colloton) is frustrated that she can't self-tan to the point of becoming J. Lo, but still finds time to wax AJ Feldman (Freedman)'s eyebrows as an art class demonstration:
That Ms. Sharp accidentally waxes Ms. Feldman's eyebrows clear off her face is inevitable. Less of a given, though, is how well both actors sell it. Freedman's Ms. Feldman is as blasé about herself and her kids as Colloton's Ms. Sharp is hyper-concerned about everything and everyone. Together, they're an unexpected but very funny pair — especially when Ms. Sharp spends a good two minutes yelling and talking herself down at Ms. Feldman's silent face, now permanently surprised thanks to her newly penciled eyebrows.
An unexpected but welcome twist: a storyline that takes on sexual harassment and "well-meaning men"
Cecilia Cannon (Barlow)'s Picture Day takes a decidedly grosser turn when the new school photographer (Rob Riggle) keeps making disgusting sexual comments at her and pretending otherwise. Now, the other teachers tend to find her character annoying, seeing that she's cut from the same crunchy, knee-jerk liberal cloth Portlandia has rested a whole series upon. So at first, it seems like the photographer's offense might just be another of Ms. Cannon's crusade that no one else takes seriously.
That, thankfully, does not end up being true.
When Deb Adler (Thomas) finds out, she immediately runs to the photographer and delivers a furious, profane, eviscerating takedown. The photographer is immediately stunned into silence, which is an extraordinary feat considering that he's played by Riggle, a comedian who tends to crash into scenes with considerable physicality and eye-popping rage. In fact, Mrs. Adler's rant is exactly what a Rob Riggle character would normally do — but Teachers lets her have the moment.
What also makes this storyline so good is how pointed it is regarding Riggle's character. The first time Ms. Cannon calls him out, he responds that he never meant to offend her by calling her a "nasty little slut." Besides, he definitely respects women, because he has a sister.
He does not, of course, respect women. But the "I have a sister" line becomes a recurring theme throughout the episode, and every time he tries to use it, the absurdity of the excuse becomes clearer and clearer. It's a rare show that can make sexual harassment funny, but Teachers pulled it off in episode two.
If Teachers keeps this up, it'll be one of the sharpest comedies out there
Teachers still has plenty of room to grow. There are, for instance, some scenes that feel like improv games spun to their natural conclusion instead of scenes on a sitcom.
But if it keeps going in the direction of "Picture Day," the show is on seriously solid footing, especially for a freshman season. "Picture Day" shows how well-calibrated this team is, and how well they know each other. Where many casts have to take time to figure each other out, the Katydids just got to concentrate on producing a tight, hilarious script — and it paid off.
The question now will be whether or not the show can sustain itself — and how many more times Ms. Bennigan can get Hot Dad to take off his shirt.