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On truTV's 'Those Who Can't,' More Funny, but Raunchy, Teachers

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Another week, another new situation comedy on cable about teachers, a show that once again emerged from a troupe of comedians.

Last month, the show "Teachers" debuted on the TV Land channel, featuring a group of female comics known as the Katydids in the roles of irreverent teachers at an elementary school.

This week, we will see the premiere of "Those Who Can't" on the truTV channel. This is a show about an irreverent group of male teachers, played by the members of Denver comedy group the Grawlix, at a high school (where they are joined by the school's female librarian as an equal member of their clique).

The name of the show derives from the famous George Bernard Shaw observation (In modern terms: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.") that isn't exactly embraced by educators. Woody Allen amended the proverb in "Annie Hall" with the idea that "those who can't teach, teach gym."

As it happens, "Those Who Can't" centers around a gym teacher, Andy Fairbell (Andrew Orvedahl); but also a Spanish teacher, Loren Payton (Adam Cayton-Holland); a history teacher, Billy Shoemaker (Ben Roy); and the school librarian, Abbey Logan (Maria Thayer). The three male actors are the members of the Grawlix troupe.

These teachers all appear to be in their late 20s or early 30s, with active social lives and inclinations to bend, if not break, the rules of their workplace.

That workplace is Reed Smoot High School, which is somewhere in Colorado but named for the early 20th Century U.S. senator from Utah who is perhaps best known for the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. (And that seems to be an homage to the 1986 movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and one of Ben Stein's "Anyone?" classroom moments.) And if I heard right in the two episodes made available by truTV, Smoot High's athletic teams are the Tariffs.

History teacher Shoemaker offers up anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti as working-class heroes who, if they were around today, would be leading the fight against anti-union initiatives in the states. (But Google says they were murderers, a student protests.) 

Shoemaker leads an impromptu teachers strike in the second episode, but critically fails to get the approval of the head of the local teacher's union, who is depicted as all-powerful.

Meanwhile, gym teacher Fairbell (who has had an unfortunate experience demonstrating the gym rope climb) and Spanish teacher Payton (who offers "virgin ... barely alcoholic ... margaritas" to his students) join Shoemaker in plotting against a student bully. They go to implausibly extreme, but comic, lengths.

Logan the librarian is busy erasing a particularly vulgar graffiti that finds its way into lots of school textbooks and library books.

Supervising the madness is bearded, granola-ish principal Geoffrey Quinn (Rory Scovel), who boasts that he is a Class 4 river guide and, "yes, I play mandolin in a bluegrass band." His main punishment for his wayward teachers is to make them supervise detention.

Shows such as "Those Who Can't" and "Teachers"—inspired by the successful movie "Bad Teacher"—don't shy from using vulgar language, or talking in some detail about the sex lives of the teachers, and other raunchy moments.

I can't help but think that many teachers will be horrified by these characters (and caricatures), but just as many will laugh and think that their profession is ripe for such humor.

"Those Who Can't" was originally developed as a pilot for Amazon, which has become a source of cutting-edge television programming. The Grawlix members were devastated, according to a published report, when Amazon chose not to pick up the full run of the show. 

But "Those Who Can't" was grabbed by truTV as its first full-length scripted show. The edgy basic-cable channel evolved from Court TV. The show debuts Thursday, Feb. 10, at 10:30 p.m. Eastern/9:30 p.m. Central.

In December, truTV ordered a second, 13-episode season of "Those Who Can't," almost two months before the show even aired. With TV Land's "Teachers" posting relatively strong ratings in its first month, it seems these "bad teachers" are going to be around for awhile.

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