Teachers caused a minor storm when it first appeared in 2001. To some, it was a disgraceful, foul-mouthed slur on a dedicated profession. To those not employed in the Department of Education’s Rapid Rebuttal Unit (and especially to teachers) it was an hilariously near the mark satire on life in a modern comprehensive school. Private schools must have loved it, since it probably generated a flood of desperate parents willing to pay their fees.
Two series on and the shock value has largely gone – yes, teachers say “f**k”, shag outside wedlock and drink themselves senseless, but most of us stopped believing they lived only for their vocation some time ago. That leaves the show standing on its merits as a 60-minute comedy-drama, and although it certainly gets a pass, it doesn’t necessarily get an A (or even B+) grade.
With many of the original characters gone, the main focus is now on the least subtle of the old-timers, sex-obsessed PE teacher Brian (Adrian Bower) and his sidekick Kurt (Navin Chowdhry). The plots tend to be doggedly single-themed in a way that’s reminiscent of monotonous sitcom 20 Things To Do Before You’re Thirty – an hour spent agonising over whether new biology teacher Lindsay (the excellent Vicky Hall) wanted to shag Brian was 45 minutes too many. The backdrop jokes (pupils impaled on fences, dead teachers sitting unnoticed in the staffroom for days) are still funny, but beginning to wear just a bit thin.
The real problem with Teachers is that it isn’t what it pretends to be. It isn’t really a comedy-drama, but a sitcom stretching self-contained, one-joke plots (“the one where Penny tries to be nice”) to drama episode length. It isn’t really about teachers either, but about a bunch of fairly stereotypical twenty/thirtysomethings who could just as easily be doing their swearing/shagging/drinking in an office or factory. Without a single south of Watford/East of Hammersmith accent in earshot, it isn’t even about Bristol, despite specifically claiming to be.
That puts Teachers in a different class to shows such as Cutting It and At Home With The Braithwaites, which delivered genuine insights into their contexts (Manchester/ beauty industry and Leeds/sudden wealth), like real dramas are supposed to. Take out the time spent saying “f**k” and “shag” though, and you’ve got a half-hour of perfectly good sitcom dialogue. On that basis, it rates an enjoyable C+.