The new, somewhat improved TV Land brings back a comedy that was one of 2015’s pleasant surprises, “Younger,” and introduces another that scores high marks for audacious humor, “Teachers,” featuring improv group the Katydids. Combined, they certainly represent a step up in class for a network once most frequently associated with “Andy Griffith Show” reruns. Yet in a sign of how quickly things can change, the new show exhibits the greater promise, while Darren Star’s series, although still fun and watchable, already feels as if repetition is causing it to not age particularly well.
Actually, even an admirer of “Younger’s” first season could see trouble ahead, inasmuch as the story felt very much like the kind of romantic comedy that’s neatly resolved after 90 minutes or so. Instead, season 2 finds Liza (Sutton Foster) seeking to perpetuate her masquerade as a twentysomething assistant at a New York publisher, when she’s in fact 40 and the mother of a college-age kid.
Liza finally came out, as it were, at the end of season one to her hunky tattoo artist boyfriend, Josh (Nico Tortorella), but continues to deceive everyone at work, as well as her just-back-home-from-India daughter (Tessa Albertson), who doesn’t know (at least in the three previewed episodes) about mom’s double life of worrying about age lines, mixed with Jell-O shots. The main source of friction thus becomes Josh’s bouts of discomfort — or sometimes just Liza’s insecurities regarding them — over dating a woman whom his roommate describes as a “sexual grifter.”
Because the romantic aspect has begun to grow tedious, there’s more pressure on the workplace setting, which, fortunately, mostly delivers, without deviating much from season one. That includes the outlines of a triangle involving Liza’s prickly boss, Diana (Miriam Shor), and the company’s big cheese (Peter Hermann), who would be a more age-appropriate option for Liza, at least in her eyes, if only she could tell everyone the truth. Meanwhile, she’s still a sort of middle woman in the generational combat that takes place, with not-really-peer Kelsey (Hilary Duff) advocating in the premiere to do an edgier book aimed at millennials that Diana dismisses as “pornographic Internet nonsense.”
“Younger” remains slick and modestly sexy, but Liza’s predicament — basically a “Working Girl” ruse, with an age-discrimination riff built into it — always seemed to come with an expiration date. TV Land clearly isn’t concerned, having already ordered a third season. But in terms of maintaining its initial kick, it’s hard to see how this pleasant-enough series has a whole bunch of new chapters left in it.
“Teachers,” by contrast, yields a pretty consistent assault of laughs, thanks to the Katydids, six women whose names all happen to sound like some variation of “Kate.” Joined as teachers at Fillmore Elementary School, the characters bring their ample baggage into the workplace, from using their students to help stalk an old boyfriend to taping an audition video for “The Bachelor” on the premises.
The writing is fast, dry and filled with solid gags. Working with actress Alison Brie and the producers behind “Key & Peele” to create a baker’s dozen-sized army of executive producers, the six stars — Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O’Brien, and Kathryn Renee Thomas — simply inhabit these unhappy souls, while tossing out lines to their shell-shocked students like “I’m not going to be reading you any fairy tales, because they’re lies,” and “So I went out with a drug dealer. Jarrod S.! Make a better choice!”
The comedy largely holds up through four previewed episodes, which include Brie guest starring as a former high-school mean girl and Rob Riggle as an especially creepy school photographer. The show also does a fine job casting the assorted kids, with Tim Bagley as the understandably stressed-out principal.
Perhaps foremost, “Teachers” takes an awfully familiar-sounding log-line and makes it feel fresh through sheer execution, thanks to the writing and wonderfully droll tone. So when a colleague says, “Good luck finding a woman who has low enough self-esteem to enable you,” the walking emotional doormat obsessed with the hot dad brightly responds, “I’ll do it!”
In addition, the show seems to have weathered an at-best spotty track record for Web series seeking to make the leap to TV. Of course, it’s still early in the school year to pass out any gold stars, but in terms of acing the midterm, the Katydids have, indeed, done it.