By Tony Schwab, staff writer
The new TruTv series “Those Who Can’t” is a good example of the perils of trying to adapt sketch comedy for television. Created by the Denver based group The Grawlix, the show struggles to make a full-length story out of broad comic set pieces.
“Those Who Can’t” was originally developed for Amazon, but was picked up by TruTv after Amazon decided against airing the episodes they had ordered. The network has recently tried to air more scripted comedy, having already premiered the prank show “Impractical Jokers”. Those Who Can’t must have pleased the network, as it has already been given a second season.
The show follows four frustrated teachers as they devote their time to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” style adventures. In the first episode Billy Shoemaker, played by Ben Roy, forms a rivalry with a popular lacrosse player. Loren Payton, played by Adam Cayton-Holland, tries to avoid the school principal’s attempts to mentor him. Gym teacher Andy Fairbell, played by Andrew Orvedahl, struggles to motivate his apathetic students. Dedicated librarian Abbey Logan, played by Abby Thayer, tries her best to keep the group under control. By the end of the episode Shoemaker has attempted to get his rival expelled by planting drugs in his locker.
Although there is the obvious appeal of making a show about teachers, as opposed to students, it is interesting that the concept has been used so rarely. There is real potential to mock the educational system in an original way. Unfortunately, “Those Who Can’t” falls back on broad, tired stereotypes. The school is full of jock bullies, sociopathic popular girls and skinny, awkward nerds. This concept of high school has been horribly inaccurate ever since it was conceived of in John Hughes films, but for whatever reason it has had incredible staying power.
The show may fall back on these clichés because it is devoted to laughs above all else. This is not a fault in and of itself, but the show is rarely very funny. The acting is deadpan to a fault and there is not a great sense of timing. If this were a new cast just beginning to work together, there might be hope for improvement. Unfortunately, the actors have been doing sketch work together for years and yet seem out of place on TV.
The show, like most new shows, traffics in very dark humor. The idea of teachers having completely abandoned the responsibilities of their profession is meant to be shocking, as is their constant hatred of the principal. Jokes about students smoking, getting pregnant, and using heroin are also meant to be unsettling. At this point, the humor seems too plain. In a TV landscape where everyone aims to shock, no one does. For TV comedies to succeed, a return to the fundamentals is needed. Good plotting, well-drawn characters, interesting themes and strong acting are much more interesting, and age much better, than shock.