Wednesday, April 17, 2002 by

Before disappearing to America ex-Channel 4 boss Michael Jackson specifically commended this drama as having “the right tone and attitude” for his station, conveniently omitting a qualifying sentence explaining just what were said “tone” and “attitude” and what was so amazing about them. Sensing, perhaps, there was something C4-ish about the first series of Teachers, he commissioned another run and 12 months on – plenty of advance warning, admittedly – a second series is in full flow. We’re already halfway through, however, and it’s wearily clear there’s not any kind of tone or attitude present whatsoever. TV to do your homework to, really.

Advance publicity promised a repositioning of the focus away from the gritty mechanics of the school day and onto the nature of the staff’s relationships. Andrew Lincoln was also supposed to be given more of a supporting role, and wasn’t even scheduled to appear in all the episodes. The absurdity of this premise – Lincoln’s is the only name deemed worth billing at the start of each programme, and he’s still the only obvious “face” amongst the cast – feels somewhat confirmed by the fact that he has been the centre of attention in virtually every episode so far. And it’s unfortunate to point out that, given this supposed shift in emphasis, more scenes are set in the school than ever before. We’ve lost most of the supporting environments, something of an error of judgement as previously the action roved around the characters’ flats and various pubs, restaurants and clubs, at least making for some variety.

Yet at the same time efforts to try and maintain continuity with that first series have, so far, just added to the lethargy even more. Those quirky establishing shots which framed an announcement of the day of the week in a neat visual gag or reference are still here, but now feel, inevitably perhaps, less of a slightly superfluous inoffensive trademark and more of a desperate hook to hang whole dramatic sequences upon – providing an ending of sorts when resolution is possible.

Other changes include two brand new characters added to the ensemble: JP (known only by his initials: a bad sign), and Penny. The first is gay, the second, as viewers are constantly being reminded by all and sundry, has enormous breasts. “False tits, false personality” the hippy secretary shouted across the staff room, and that was really all this particular episode was about. No Carry On Teacher, however (shame); Penny was to be exposed as incompetent, even though all the male teachers fancied her, then got pissed of as she wasn’t interested.

This was paralleled with a subplot involving special “open surgery” sessions the staff were obliged to hold during their lunch hour to hear pupils’ personal problems and complaints. There was no joy in stumbling, within a matter of seconds, across what blundering obvious conclusion the episode was trying to impart: teachers are just as bad at communicating with each other as students, the fools. Everything – writing, direction, camerawork and acting – seemed obsessed with hammering this blunt logic home. The whole mentoring issue was set up right from the start as being a showcase for the sad and stupid. Because the kids had problems, they were depicted as pathetic. Then “Why do I always get the manic depressive suicidal little fuckers?” wailed Susan, with a line that couldn’t possibly be delivered without sounding badly written and poorly executed.

While the staff grappled with the mores of their own students, so Penny was subject to some protracted ogling from the male contingent (except JP, who was set up as a go-between, because, in case we couldn’t work it out, “You’re gay, she won’t mind you mentioning her tits.”) On a basic level the episode was confusing simply having two chief protagonists named Penny and Jenny, and then making them rivals. Out of all the possibilities facing a scriptwriter, why give two central characters names that are virtually identical, especially for one who’s only been on screen less than a dozen episodes?

So it became dangerously easy not only to fail to follow the plot but to also not feel that bothered anyway. This series arguably continues to ignore the viewers, not by accident, but by energetic design. Right from the off we were pitched into this incredibly insular, ultra-boozed up world of the central clique of characters. Here was yet another drunken argument, based around yet another “What if …?” scenario, which is obviously how all people kill time over a few light ales. And as ever the wranglings were orchestrated by Andrew Lincoln, who is again appearing here as “Egg from This Life“. “You either eat Jenny and live, or shag her and die,” he burped. Chief purveyor of the series’ high profane count, Lincoln has also considerately maintained, if not developed, his pointedly irritating manner of EMPHAsising all the WRONG syllables perHAPS with the inTENtion of tryING to sound LIKE a professional acTOR. Or maybe – whisper it – not Egg Out Of This Life. A selfless gesture on Andrew’s part, and one that sadly fails.

It’s difficult to work out what, if anything, this series is trying to aspire to – depicting or disabling a profession, for instance – or neither? The decision to tone down the interaction with the pupils doesn’t feel like it’s enhanced anything at all; unlike the first series none of the students feature as characters, and none have been given names – let alone personalities. Where that first series did stand out was through its attempts at exploring a parity between teacher and pupil; now the students traipse around from room to room, mere supporting cast, only there to tell us what day of the week it is (or indulge in some attempts at surrealism – a donkey being led meaninglessly around the corridors – which just smack of a poor man’s Gregory’s Girl, desperate rather than decorous). Meanwhile the use of blanket alternative rock makes the whole thing feel like an especially sappy episode of Dawson’s Creek.

It seems that rather than go for the course of development – for characters, storylines, ideas – which could be detected towards the end of the first series (when Simon in particular became so annoying it was almost possible to invest some energy into disliking him) the writers and producers of Teachers have settled for cultivating, yes, a certain “tone” and “attitude”, but of a risible kind, that don’t entertain or excite or amuse. The show also fails as an ensemble piece: why do these teachers hang around together out of work – don’t they get sick of spending so much time with each other? Furthermore as a consideration of relations between fellow staff members, both professional and personal, there isn’t any subtlety or imagination – it’s just people flippantly slagging off their colleagues. Very nastily.

The first series of Teachers was blighted by the fact there was simply no-one to like, to warm to or care about on screen: certainly nobody we could side with, teacher or pupil. Nonetheless you could sense it was struggling towards something more, something vaguely significant, even quite interesting. This series, however, is just struggling. We’re all waiting for hometime.


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