“Teachers,” the new comedy series coming to TV Land, bears easy comparison to the acclaimed series “Broad City.” Both shows are adapted from web series of the same names, and both star the original creators of those web series. Both feature female main characters with a penchant for unapologetic raunchiness and sex positivity. Unfortunately, while “Broad City” is both sincere and hilarious, “Teachers” is flat and only intermittently funny.
The improv group The Katydids star as six elementary school teachers, and that fact alone makes the primary problem with the pilot immediately apparent: it’s seriously overstuffed. The episode clocks in at just barely over 20 minutes without ads, and that’s nowhere near enough time to adequately serve its six protagonists. One could easily imagine a series like “Broad City” focused on the relationship between two of these teachers, or an ensemble cast like “The Office” that nonetheless only really focuses on two or three, but in the effort to give equal time to each teacher, the show fails to really develop any of them. Unfortunately, this problem doesn’t have an obvious solution, since The Katydids created the show together. They’re a package deal.
Still, some characters fare better than others. Deb Adler (Kathryn Renée Thomas, “Little Joy”) is an early standout, getting the arc of the episode as her old bully (executive producer Alison Brie, “Community”) returns to haunt her. Thomas has a deadpan stare reminiscent of Aubrey Plaza, and with the focus on her past as a victim of bullying, Ms. Adler actually has emotional potential worth exploring. Chelsea Snap (Katy Colloton, “The Scarapist”), the conceited and faux-friendly teacher, also has some clever moments, particularly when a student approaches her with pictures she drew of her and Ms. Snap harshly criticizes the quality of her drawing.
On the other hand, many of the characters suffer from little to no characterization outside of their stock roles. While Ms. Watson (Kate Lambert, “Master of Inventions”) quickly gets tiresome for her one-note character — she has been struggling to get over her breakup from 14 months ago — Ms. Feldman (Cate Freedman, “Single Long”) and Ms. Cannon (Caitlin Barlow, “The Real Housewives of Shakespeare”) fare even worse, having no discernible personality traits. Meanwhile, Ms. Bennigan (Katie O’Brien, the upcoming “Dog Moms”) is a squeaky, sunny optimist like Emma Pillsbury from “Glee,” and of course most of her jokes revolve around hearing the sweet, quiet girl saying something profane. In general, “Teachers” ’s jokes fall flat because rather than using raunchiness to construct smart jokes, they use it as the entire punchline. Ms. Bennigan’s biggest (and lamest) jokes involve her admitting that she uses anal bleach and accidentally making sexual allusions in front of the man she has a crush on, including “pussy’s pajamas” and “thanks for letting me come.”
The series also misjudges its own sense of humor with regard to the teachers’ interactions with their students. A show about raunchy teachers being blunt and cruel to their students is an appealingly dark idea, and it has paid off in small doses in the British series “Catastrophe,” but “Teachers” wavers back and forth in its treatment of the students. Occasionally, teachers will show an amusing passive-aggression towards their students, trying to disguise their annoyance with them, but other times, the teachers will freely talk about alcohol, sex and sexuality. It creates a bizarre imbalance; the show would probably be funnier if the teachers tried (and failed) to disguise their mild annoyance with their students, instead of throwing away any pretense of mother surrogacy. The idea of raunchy teachers is so funny because the audience can imagine their own teachers acting the same way behind the closed doors of the teacher’s lounge; these teachers, though, are broad caricatures that don’t bear any resemblance to reality.
“Teachers” is far from terrible, and every few minutes there’s a joke that provokes a smile, if not outright laughter. The Katydids clearly have some talent when it comes to acting; the expression of mortification and self-pity on O’Brien’s face, in particular, is hilarious, even though her double entendres aren’t. And the idea of a raunchy comedy about teachers holds a lot of promise. Unless “Teachers” really finds its comedic voice and develops its characters, though, it’ll be nothing more than a missed opportunity.