The idea that we never really outgrow high school is hardly new, but Judy Greer’s quirky vulnerability as the embodiment of this stunted emotional development helps elevate “Miss Guided” slightly above its familiar and predictable formula. Playing a former high-school nerd serving as a guidance counselor at her alma mater, Greer’s character borders on becoming too pathetic and needy, and the repeated use of direct-to-camera confessionals (to whom isn’t exactly clear) is a peculiar contrivance. Still, grading on a TV comedy curve, the series at least possesses an amiable quality for humor-seekers lacking in Ivy League ambitions.
Created by Caroline Williams, the show casts Greer as Becky, whose indignity-filled high school experience is revealed through rapid flashbacks (think “Family Guy,” but as live action) while she cheerfully discusses her wonderful current work on behalf of her students. Peel the exterior back just barely, though, and it’s clear Becky hasn’t advanced much beyond all that teenage angst — including her unspoken crush on Tim (Kristoffer Polaha), the shop teacher-turned-inept-Spanish teacher whose mere presence provokes stammering giddiness.
Her Tim-Becky fantasy, however, is dealt a potential blow by the hiring of one-time classmate/popular girl Lisa (Brooke Burns), newly divorced and a daunting rival for the none-too-bright Tim’s attention. A second episode, meanwhile, scheduled for March 20 guest stars series exec producer Ashton Kutcher as a dreamy, guitar-playing substitute who sends hearts atwitter and risks toppling the central triangle off its already-shaky axis.
Beyond Greer’s latter-day Mary Tyler Moore shtick, there’s not a note or character that doesn’t feel warmed over, from the vain and predatory Lisa to the detached principal (Earl Billings) to the authoritarian vice principal (“Saturday Night Live’s” Chris Parnell, on autopilot) spoiling to use bare-knuckled discipline to tame this blackboard jungle. And while the show does muster a few softer moments between Becky and her young charges, they’re used more as a device to highlight her insecurities than developed in any meaningful way. (That includes Jamie Lynn Spears, featured in a second-episode cameo.)
Perhaps the kids’ roles will improve should the show endure, and ABC is sending “Miss Guided” into the world with a helpful shove from “Dancing With the Stars” — a strategy that worked well enough in launching “Samantha Who?” which possesses a less-appealing but equally flummoxed blond heroine.
Such assistance is always welcome, but as any diligent guidance counselor would advise, young TV programs must prove sooner or later that they are capable of standing on their own, and initially, anyway, Greer’s slim form is the only reliable asset this one possesses to shoulder that burden.