Announced months ago and still underway, ABC Family’s “rebrand” as Freeform is as widely publicized as it is gently mocked — mostly because, as anyone who’s seen the trailer for Shadowhunters can see, the change is in name only. As Freeform, the channel will continue to churn out the same mix of teen dramas and teen comedies and teen supernatural dramas it has for the past decade or so, making the change less a reinvention than the final topcoat on a paint job otherwise finished years ago.
Meanwhile, what’s happening at TV Land has been less dramatic, but far more substantive. We’re about a year into a slow, steady shift for the channel that’s probably still best known as the place to catch one’s favorite sitcom reruns. (On offer today alone: Gilligan’s Island, The Andy Griffith Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, and The King of Queens.) At a time when every cable channel has to make a case for itself as opposed to tempting alternatives like Apple TV or just plain Netflix, though, it’s no longer an option for a channel to survive on its back catalog, or even new but relatively old-fashioned series like sitcom-star-led multi-cams Hot in Cleveland, with Valerie Bertinelli and Betty White, and Happily Divorced, with Fran Drescher.
Both those shows, along with contemporaries like Kirstie, have since gone off the air. Now they’re being replaced by a new wave of series whose target demographic doubles as the title of its first installment: Younger, a sitcom from Darren Star that stars Sutton Foster as a 40-year-old woman who pretends to be 26 in order to break back into book publishing after taking nearly two decades off to raise her daughter. Younger was followed by the slightly more dude-centric programming block of Impastor and The Jim Gaffigan Show, the latter of which was even a critical success. (Though it received mixed reviews initially, Younger has its niche fandom, of which I count myself a member because any sitcom that includes Hilary Duff sleeping with a Karl Ove Knausgaard analog is a sitcom I will watch.)
With the imminent premiere of Younger‘s second season, TV Land’s new slate is finally starting to feel less like an experiment and more like the lay of the land; Impastor and Gaffigan, too, will be back for round two later in the year. And now, the network is unveiling the first of its post-don’t-call-it-a-rebrand series with Teachers, the full-length television debut of six-member comedy troupe The Katydids.
So named because every one of their names just so happens to be some variant of “Katy” — Katy, Caitlin, Kate, Cate, Katie, and Kathryn, to be precise — the Katydids collectively boast the sort of resumé one is used to seeing in new SNL recruits or Comedy Central stars, littered with names like iO, UCB, and Second City. In fact, Teachers is a pretty straightforward crib from the Comedy Central handbook for performer-driven shows: like Broad City, Teachers began as a web series, and longtime Key & Peele showrunners Ian Roberts and Jay Martel executive produce alongside Alison Brie.
Given Comedy Central’s traditional demographic, Teachers fits right in with TV Land’s new M.O. As for the show itself, the concept is a pure and simple workplace comedy, tracking six elementary school teachers with varying levels of fitness for the job. There’s Ms. Snap (Katy Colloton), the raging narcissist who films Bachelor audition tapes during classtime; Ms. Watson (Kate Lambert), a pearls-and-pussybows type who takes her year-old breakup trauma out on her charges; and Ms. Cannon (Kaitlin Barlow), the idealist fighting the uphill battle of teaching eight-year-olds about the evils of the patriarchy.
From the name alone, one can see the easy “teachers… but dirty!” jokes from a mile away. And some of Teachers certainly lives down to those expectations: the opening scene sees two characters talk about their sex lives while supervising recess, and a few minutes later, Ms. Watson explains to her class that mimosas are “something women in their 20s order so they can feel better about drinking in the morning.” It’s not that these jokes aren’t funny, per se — it’s that they’re predictable, and rely on a cognitive dissonance (people who take care of our kids can’t take care of themselves!) that’s sure to wear off.
The good news, however, is that Teachers doesn’t skate on shock value alone. Like Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s police precinct, Fillmore Elementary School proves to be novel enough for a new set of jokes and subplots, but familiar enough to set up a well-functioning ensemble comedy in record time. Occasional guest stars like Rob Riggle and Brie herself jumpstart storylines about picture day mishaps and anti-bullying campaigns, and the well-established comic chemistry between the stars does the rest.
Teachers may not be radically transgressive in the vein of Broad City or Inside Amy Schumer, which is what it might have to be to get The Youth to actively seek it out on a channel they’re not exactly known for frequenting. But it is a lively, yet comfortable sitcom, one that seems to bypass the typical first-season learning curve thanks to its first life on the Internet — and, it’s worth mentioning, created by, written by, and starring women. For Teachers, and TV Land, that’s enough for a promising start.
Younger and Teachers air back-to-back at 10 and 11 pm on TV Land this Wednesday.