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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mediocre movie gets small-screen do-over, but still fails to make the grade

Posted: 04/24/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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From left, Kristin Davis, David Alan Grier, Ari Graynor, Sara Gilbert, Sara Rodier and Ryan Hansen.

ART STREIBER / CBS Enlarge Image

From left, Kristin Davis, David Alan Grier, Ari Graynor, Sara Gilbert, Sara Rodier and Ryan Hansen.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to the success or failure of a TV-series spinoff of a feature film.

Here's one rather important concept that television producers should keep in mind when considering a spinoff-series scenario: If the movie wasn't great, the odds against the TV project being a hit are stacked pretty high.

And so it is with Bad Teacher, the new single-camera sitcom effort based on the 2011 big-screen comedy starring Cameron Diaz. The movie received mostly tepid reviews (though it must also be said that it grossed more than $200 million worldwide and grabbed a handful of Teen Choice Awards), with Free Press film critic Randall King opining that the movie "never quite rises above C-grade aspirations... but there are sufficient smarts and rude laughs here to result in some good, dirty summer fun."

It makes sense, then, that an average big-screen comedy should spawn a very average sitcom spinoff. Bad Teacher, which premieres Thursday, April 24 on CBS and Citytv, is neither an honour-roll performer nor a flat-out dropout loser. It's a middling comedy with meagre long-term prospects.

The series casts Ari Graynor (Mystic River, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) as Meredith Davis, an average gold-digging trophy wife who suddenly finds herself at loose ends after her husband cheats on her, the marriage dissolves, and she walks away penniless because of an iron-clad prenup.

With few prospects and nothing resembling a skill she might honestly exploit to make a living, Meredith relies on her wealth-seeking instincts. When she picks up a friend's stepdaughter at the local high-end elementary school, she notices a lot of hot guys in fancy cars; when the youngster explains that it's Friday, the day the divorced dads collect their kids for court-approved weekend visitation, the urge to dig gold is rekindled.

Meredith has a plan -- not a very inspired one, but hey, it's a plan. She "borrows" a teacher's resumé she finds on the Internet and turns up at the school in search of a job. She shmoozes the principal -- the hapless Carl Gaines (David Alan Grier) -- by offering words of comfort about his recent divorce, and before she knows it, she's hired as Richard M. Nixon Elementary School's newest social studies teacher.

Now all she needs to do is use her students as a way to get to that teeming pool of rich divorced dads, and her quest will be complete.

Uptight faculty president Ginny (Kristin Davis) is wise to her game and eager to get her fired, but Meredith has Principal Gaines wrapped so tightly around her pinky finger that that simply isn't going to happen. Meredith bonds (in the most superficial way possible) with nerdy science teacher Irene (Sara Gilbert) and hunky phys-ed. guy (and former high school classmate) Joel (Ryan Hansen), but her real game involves getting tight with the students who can provide the crucial last link in the wealthy-hubby-hunt chain of connections.

How it all plays out, sadly, is in predictably old-school sitcom fashion: bad behaviour followed by worse behaviour, followed by a "teachable" moment that results in the right thing being done, followed by hugs and smiles all around.

The blueprint is as threadbare as could be, but what redeems this Bad Teacher somewhat is a collection of pretty likable performances from good actors working with substandard material. Graynor plays the goldigger very effectively, staying immersed in her character even when the lame happy-ending twists make her antics impossible to believe, and supporting players Gilbert, Davis, Hansen and, most notably, Grier deliver strong efforts that bring background characters leaping to the fore.

They're all fun to watch -- as are a handful of very appealing kid actors who play the grade-school students -- but there needs to be more of a convincing and captivating story for Bad Teacher to receive anything other than a bare-minimum passing grade.

It's average. It's OK. It's what you'd expect from a series spun off from the big screen's Bad Teacher.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2014 C7

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