Here’s the good-news, bad-news report card on truTV’s latest series: The transgressions contained in “The Principal’s Office” are so mundane as to be kind of refreshing, and each school administrator has his or her own unique style. That said, nothing here is dramatic enough to be genuinely or consistently interesting, as if they couldn’t get waivers to present any of the juicy stuff that might give the show sizzle. The result is a high school version of “The People’s Court,” seeking to elevate the humdrum to operatic levels. Give it a gentleman’s C.
For those convinced teenagers have gone to hell in a handbasket, the stakes here will come as a bit of a shock. The principals concern themselves with tardiness, mouthing off and such modern misdemeanors as text-messaging in class, which prompts an indignant parent to say, “I’m not coming in again for something like this.”
What, no drugs? Brawls? Public fornicating? SWAT team standoffs?
Not in the first two episodes, anyway, which will air back-to-back. They showcase assistant principal Jessie Ballenger of Connecticut, New Jersey principal Eric Sheninger and Arkansas’ Steve Halter, who offers one kid a choice between detention and a few swats with a paddle. Another pair of kids get in trouble for cutting class to attend a “Maury Povich” taping, which is theoretically better than being featured on Maury’s show — the horrible fate to which excessive truancy can lead.
The corporal punishment discretely occurs offscreen, suggesting that limitations pertaining to depicting teens in this context might have constrained the proceedings. If there’s a real star here initially, it’s Halter, whose Andy Griffith drawl and demeanor prove strangely absorbing. Even one of his students calls him a “redneck.”
As the network formerly known as Court TV, truTV continues to feel its way toward the proper mix of reality-based programming that doesn’t necessarily open or close with a chalk outline.
“The Principal’s Office” certainly fits that blueprint, but the curriculum seems ill-equipped to hold the attention of an increasingly unruly TV audience.