‘Bad Teacher’ not bad, not great

April 23, 2014

Courtesy of CBS

Based on the 2011 film starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel, the new CBS sitcom “Bad Teacher” joins a long list of movie-to-television adaptations debuting this season. An adaptation of “Bad Teacher” is rather an odd choice, however, compared to selections such as the Coen brothers’ “Fargo,” which now has a series on FX.

“Fargo” is a critically acclaimed stand-alone film, and the series has been earning rave reviews. On the other hand, “Bad Teacher” was universally panned, and a sequel is currently underway. While “Bad Teacher” certainly has its moments, the show is at best a mediocre sitcom that will have a hard time surviving its first season.

CBS’s adaptation retains most of the original premise — gold-digging trophy wife Meredith Davis (Ari Graynor) is left penniless after she divorces her rich husband.

To dive back into the pool of wealthy, single dads and continue her extravagant lifestyle, Davis lands a job as a teacher. Davis is completely unqualified but, after some serious manipulation, she convinces Principal Carl Gaines (David Alan Grier) to give her the job.

Davis soon finds all the television clichés hanging out in the teacher’s lounge. The no-nonsense history teacher becomes her enemy, the awkward biology teacher — played by “The Big Bang Theory’s” Sara Gilbert, not straying far from her comfort zone — becomes her unintentional lackey and the attractive gym teacher hints at a romantic history with Davis.

Davis’ abrasiveness and inadequate teaching credentials provide the majority of the show’s laughs, though not all of them hit home. “Bad Teacher’s” approach to humor relies almost entirely on outright offensive jokes that do not really contribute much to the plotline.

Davis’ only redeeming quality is also the series’ only redeeming quality — her hidden warmth and sympathy for the kids she teaches. Davis quickly bonds with Lily, a friend’s stepdaughter who is shunned and harassed by the popular girls. Genuine and sweet, Davis’ interactions with her students allow her true self to poke through, making her relatable and giving the show a chance to rise above mediocrity.

Most critics cited Diaz’s electric performance as one of the 2011 film’s high points. Unfortunately, Graynor does not approach the role with Diaz’s charm and hilarity. The child actors are the show’s surprising stars, as Davis’ students bring energy and sincerity to an otherwise sparse ensemble.

“Bad Teacher” premieres April 24 on CBS.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 23 print edition. Bob Teoh is entertainment editor. Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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