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TV Review: How 'Bad Teacher' Shows the Generation Gap Between CBS and Stephen Colbert Fans

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire April 18, 2014 at 2:38PM

Despite an appealing cast and crew, "Bad Teacher" lacks the bite of its filmic predecessor.
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Sara Gilbert (left) and and Ari Graynor star in the CBS sitcom "Bad Teacher."
Sonja Flemming/CBS Sara Gilbert (left) and and Ari Graynor star in the CBS sitcom "Bad Teacher."

With the slew of recent film to TV adaptations, there was bound to be a dud (or more) in the bunch. "Fargo" proved itself worthy of its high profile predecessor on FX. "About a Boy" gets stronger and stronger each week on NBC, and El Rey Network's "From Dusk Till Dawn" is, well, exactly what fans were hoping to see. It should come as no surprise, though, that if any network was going to bungle the adaptation of a fine film to an equally enjoyable episodic sitcom it would be CBS. The Eye's vision of "Bad Teacher" is both nothing and exactly like its title: It's very bad, but completely unlike the ferocious film that birthed it. 

CBS is targeting a different audience -- no one expects "Captain America" to win Best Picture, but we won't mock it on Oscar day.

While this may be the least shocking news of the day for any television enthusiast, the question then becomes why that's the case. Why did most if not all of us expect "Bad Teacher" to fail as soon as it was picked up? In one abbreviation: CBS. We've seen this before. Again and again, the network known for attracting a more mature audience (to put it politely) has taken an intriguing premise and ground it down to the most basic, easily-digested product amiable for mass consumption. Going back to when the network aired episodes of "Dexter" and edited them down to politically correct network standards, CBS has literally been gutting shows for years. 

The ratings-driven network earns plenty of high numbers and proudly sports the fact it has the number one show on TV ("NCIS" or "The Big Bang Theory," depending on the week). Yet its most lucrative program, "The Big Bang Theory," is one of the few properties on CBS to generate any buzz among a younger generation of viewers, and despite Jim Parsons' (infuriating) Emmy wins as well as Jon Cryer's "Thanks for putting up with Charlie all those years" victory in 2012, CBS is perhaps the least favorite network among television critics. The network's programming is out of touch with any trends -- including those in television formatting, marketing, and topical content, not just the ones found on Twitter, where it's also sorely lacking.

The Shorty Award for social media's best TV show, an honor bestowed on entertainment entities with the best social media presence, featured nominees from ABC, FOX, NBC, the CW, MTV, AMC, the BBC, and more in 2013, but notably absent from the race were any shows airing on CBS. The network was also blanked in the Best Use of Social Media for Television category, except for its coverage of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. Granted, it's hard to win awards for areas you're not interested in -- no one expects "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" to win Best Picture this year, but we won't mock it on nominations' day. CBS is targeting a different audience, and has been successful with the strategy thus far. Its not interested in kids, trends, or shows that require a strong backing from the internet.

Colbert

That is, it wasn't interested in getting any younger until the network announced David Letterman's replacement. Yes, Stephen Colbert is a middle-aged white man. Yes, he's going to be playing it straight rather than as the persona he created on Comedy Central. But you better believe CBS saw the ratings, dollar signs, and, yes, even the social media numbers blow up when Jimmy Fallon took over The Tonight Show and decided to its best to meet in the middle with Colbert. The aforementioned qualities should make him a safe choice for their current audience while the reputation he's built on "The Colbert Report" will endure him to a younger audience. 

So does "Bad Teacher" fit into the new(ish) mold for CBS? Not at all. Ordered to series back in May 2013, the most "groundbreaking" aspects of the slow and obvious sitcom are the implementation of single camera shooting and the absence of a laugh track. Starring Ari Graynor as the titular bad teacher originated by Cameron Diaz (who serves as a producer on the show), the half-hour sitcom starts off on the wrong foot by showing its star isn't a teacher at all. In the film version, Diaz was an actual teacher forced to take it up again when her fiance dumped her. In the CBS version, Meredith Davis is also newly single, but she's no teacher. She never was, but she's determined to pretend to be one long enough to land a rich, divorced father at her friend's daughter's school. So she fakes a resume, ratchets up the charm with David Alan Grier's Principal Carl, and bam: She's teaching middle school.

The change seems to be brought about to make Meredith more maleficent, a welcome idea that's poorly executed. The success of the film version rested on its high quota of raunch — its vulgarities and the character's utter apathy towards her students. She wasn't incompetent as much as she was wholly unsuited for the profession. You got the sense she could teach whatever she wanted, but didn't. And if she did, it would have been as wildly inappropriate as it was unrelated to any standard curriculum. But the television version makes her out to be a gold digger with no teaching skills whatsoever. She's not going about her business without caring -- she's hiding the fact she doesn't know how to do her job. 

Bad Teacher Cameron Diaz

This doesn't make Meredith bad as much as it makes her ignorant and misguided. Poor character traits aside, it's simply not believable that a housewife seeking riches post-divorce would resort to becoming a fake teacher in order to land a rich hubby. There are better, easier, lower-risk ways of accomplishing that particular goal (for instance, go to an high end bar any ol' night of the week). What's even more implausible is the last act reveal that Meredith actually loved her cheating husband, who subsequently dumped her. If that's the case, why is she abandoning her morals for this ill-conceived plan?

My best guess is because the executives at CBS demanded it. Rather than let her become a classic gold digger, she has to have a heart of gold as well (another eye roll-inducing aspect of the pilot's final minutes). The declawing of this not-so-bad teacher is hard to watch, especially for fans of the film, a flawed but highly entertaining and unapologetically nasty comedy with perhaps Diaz's best performance to date. This is simply a new program instead of new programming from a network showing signs of life in the latter area. CBS may start trending up in 2015 when Colbert hits the airwaves, but until then it's still a creative dead zone.

Criticwire GradeD

This article is related to: Bad Teacher, CBS, CBS, Ari Graynor, David Alan Grier, Ryan Hansen, Kristin Davis, Television Review, Television