Wednesday, April 11, 2001 by

Too much booze is bad for you. Well of course it is – too much of anything is bad for you, that’s what “too much” means. But Simon is worried. “I haven’t had sex… for three days!” he slurps during another evening of bevied-up brainstorming. “My girlfriend’s done it… everywhere!” There’s a pile of marking to be done, he’s living on a sofa with two mates obsessed with a colleague’s arse, and he’ll be late for work in the morning. “I just think it’s bollocks,” he sniffs, and goes to get the beers in.

Most school-based TV drama boasts an obvious hero or gang of people’s champions. Whether pupil or teacher, there’s usually at least one who appears to be different, who stands alone, who breaks the mould; or who represents the voice of reason, the put-upon, the rock in a storm. It’s conventional, and contrived, but when it works – and given the right mix of writer and performer (Hearts and Minds) – it’s magnificent. If the hero is accorded some massive melodramatic flaws, or ends up an anti-hero, the villain of the piece, so much the better.Teachers dares to be different, however, by presenting us without a hero from either staff room or playground: instead we’ve a curdled mass of miserablism, the teachers no better than the pupils (ho ho) and no martyr or defender of the faith to be seen. The result: confusion.

We’re four weeks in now, and the series continues to entertain a fair few plus points. There are still just enough visual gags, sharp humour and pace to snare the viewer. The obvious and familiar timeframe of the school day supplies a neat, renewable dramatic structure. The fantasy sequences are Ally McBeal rip-offs but they’re used sparingly. The soundtrack’s OK too – Britpop’s finest, with just as much class (The Bluetones) as dross (Shed Seven).

Teachers is a fictional drama, however, and by definition a dramatic rendering of real life. Ordinarily this involves enhancing the actual and the ordinary with licence and flair and an accepted exaggeration of the commonplace. So far the series hasn’t delivered that, and consequently it’s becoming more and more obvious that there’s simply no-one to like, no-one to warm to, no-one to care about – nobody at all on our side, never mind the side of the teacher or pupil. But life’s a bummer, y’see, and Simon (Andrew Lincoln) hasn’t got any answers same as the rest of us because he’s too busy thinking about his baby. “I just think it’s bollocks,” he rasps, and cycles off.

When Teachers started there was a tombola of gimmicks and sexual horseplay which spun the storylines along pleasantly. That momentum seemed to slow and judder in this week’s episode as events became secondary to characterisation. Which was unfortunate, given how flimsy and bordering on the non-existent the characterisations are. With no stand-alone hero, and Simon a token embodiment of the series’ widespread cynicism and resignation, nothing is ever proved. The plot, characters, us – we never get anywhere. There’s no tension and release, no conflict and reconciliation, and little point to anything. These are flaws which bode ill for a show that’s little over a third of the way through its run.

Simon is supposed to be everyman, but everyman’s not as plain stupid and immature as he, because everyman acts on impulse and Simon is incapable even of that. Nothing he does seems natural; everything is for show. He needs advice from anyone and everyone, then ignores it all. This could have made for a crafty dramatic conceit were his pupils demonstrably cleverer, more mature and likeable than he. They’re not. They’re all stupid as well, uniformly bewildered and vexed, with only the class swot standing out – and that’s just because more scorn is poured on him than anyone else. Since there’s no variety here whatsoever, there’s also no potential for amusing staff-student interaction. When Simon asks his class for advice on his own sex life, it’s not funny or clever, it’s just annoying – and Simon doesn’t take their advice anyway because, well, “I just think it’s bollocks.”

Andrew Lincoln is playing himself here, and therefore he is also playing Egg, his character inThis Life, which was also a version of himself. There’s no difference between Egg and Simon, not in manner, voice or personality. So in effect here’s Egg, a few years on from presumably quitting the café business following his calamitous break-up with Milly. And once again Andrew Lincoln clowns about, falls over, runs everywhere, smokes incessantly, does that annoying thing with his hands (a sort of frustrated flapping) and boozes – constantly. As Egg in This Life, he got away with all this behaviour because he could always make you feel something towards him – concern, bemusement, irritation, something. As Egg in Teachers, he’s not capable of provoking any reaction from the viewer. Lincoln still hasn’t perfected the art of playing the drunk either. His portrayal of the bladdered is one of the least convincing witnessed on TV for a while: a highly unlikely mixture of pronounced gurning, short intakes of breath as if inhaling helium, and loads more flapping.

These scenes of unfettered drinking, smoking and general hedonism have quickly become a blur – somewhat appropriately – because once again there’s no variety amongst our cast of pissed public servants. Simon has his two cronies, obsessed with sex they’re not getting and unlikely to thanks to being such irredeemable unattractive losers. A trio of principal females, two rival members of staff and Simon’s policewoman girlfriend, form an obvious counterpoint to these three male wasters. The women are more clearly defined and get the better lines, but ultimately they too end up appearing flawed and deeply objectionable, alternately mean-spirited, narrow-minded, or dippy.

I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with the series; some kind of long-term proper storyline would help and would certainly anchor the show to give it a surer future. A deviation from the repeated scenes of Simon getting hammered and stumbling in late for work the morning after would be also ring the changes.

This is easy money for Andrew Lincoln, but though it’s an advance on doing voiceovers for BBC trailers the prospect of him playing himself in different roles throughout his 20s and 30s would be a truly bad thing. It’s unsurprising to find the same person who produced This Life, Jane Fallon, appearing as executive producer here.

Teachers is fumbling with itself, and dangling and twisting in the wind. There’s still life in it, but there’s less twitching as each week passes and Egg/Simon/Andrew Lincoln mutters, “I just think it’s bollocks,” before exiting to play football with the kids.


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