April 24, 2014

THE SKED Pilot Review: “Bad Teacher”


BAD TEACHER:  Thursday 9:30PM on CBS – Change the Channel

There’s rarely much point in transforming an R-rated movie comedy into a broadcast network TV series, especially if the appeal of the movie came largely from its shock value.  (And especially if the network is CBS.)  Bad Teacher was hardly a masterpiece of cinema, but it had its share of laughs, mostly based around the filthy mouth and generally reprehensible behavior of Cameron Diaz’s schoolteacher character (before she reformed at the end, as lead characters in mainstream Hollywood comedies must always, always do).  With the exception of a single shot of Meredith Davis (Ari Graynor), the show’s Diaz equivalent, turning an apple into a bong (not in front of the class), the TV version of BAD TEACHER is about as edgy as–well, as an CBS sitcom.

The premise of TV’s Bad Teacher is subtly but importantly different from that of the movie.  While the Diaz character, when we met her, had been a lousy, uninterested teacher for years while she hunted for a rich husband, the TV Meredith was a happily married trophy wife, and she goes to work as a teacher only after her husband’s dumped her and she’s broke.  Even though she’s now a golddigger, we’re told that she genuinely loved her rich husband, and she “accidentally” signed a prenup that left her penniless when he walked out.  This sentimentalizes and softens the character, which presumably was the idea of the network note, but it also makes her far more of an idiot than her movie parallel was, and sets us up all too clearly for the softie she’s going to turn out to be.

While Diaz’s character took the whole movie to gradually start caring about her students and become a better human being, by the end of the pilot (written by Hilary Winston, with movie screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky serving as producers), Meredith has already more or less adopted a group of misfit young crossing guards who are being bullied, and is happily imparting her life lessons to them–passing up a date with a heart surgeon from a wealthy family to do so, and meanwhile letting them know that inside, she used to be just like them.  So there’s no real arc to the series–Meredith is already basically decent, and presumably, every week she’ll start out with some kind of goofy, selfish plan, and by Act 3, she’ll be reluctantly doing the right thing in her own slightly irresponsible fashion. It’s Sitcom 101, if what you want is Sitcom 101.  (It’s also the same basic story arc as the TV version of About A Boy.)

Apart from anything else, of course, Bad Teacher was a star vehicle for Cameron Diaz–it was fun to see the glamour girl, the former Charlie’s Angel, pretend to be mean and potty-mouthed.  Ari Graynor is a likable, funny actress (she was Kat Dennings’s drunk friend in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and co-starred in the hilarious and unfortunately little-seen For A Good Time, Call…), but she doesn’t have Diaz’s kind of superstar aura, and the material here doesn’t let her be anything more than mildly amusing.

The supporting characters more or less resemble those in the movie.  Ryan Hansen takes on Jason Segel’s role of the nice-guy gym teacher who Meredith won’t consider–for now–as a romantic partner because he’s not rich; Kristin Davis (a long way from Sex and the City) is Meredith’s prissy nemesis, a la the movie’s Lucy Punch character; and Sara Gilbert is the weird colleague (Phyllis Smith in the movie) who idolizes Meredith and follows her around.  There’s also David Allen Grier as the silly principal, and Meredith’s student BFFs include Sara Rodier and Madison De La Garza.

Bad Teacher is getting a tryout in a strong CBS timeslot, following 2 1/2 Men on Thursdays now that The Crazy Ones is done for the season (at least), and that will certainly get it a sampling from the network’s viewers.  It’s a better piece of work than CBS’s horrible Friends With Better Lives, let alone last fall’s We Are Men.  In terms of its content, though, while it might have worked on a cable network that could give it some latitude in the morality department, in the stern middle school that is CBS, it’s headed for a failing grade.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."