“There’s only one thing I hate more than a sore loser.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect is how it’s struggled on after the three lead characters departed. Well, given the show’s ensemble nature, “lead” characters might be over-egging things, but Simon, Jenny and Susan certainly formed the central structure of series one. The show’s coped remarkably well, but sometimes it’s felt like we’re only watching the sub-plots, while the real action happens elsewhere. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as PE and IT teachers. Simon’s temporary return as a supply teacher was a welcome relief, providing a long-lost focus to the cast’s squabbles. Without the ever-shifting triangle of his affections and fears at its centre, the show has been struggling to maintain its few long-term story arcs, a feature one takes for granted in American dramas.
As the staff stumble from one crisis to another they’re oblivious to the peculiar events happening around them — kids being strung up from fences, stray zoo animals wandering the playground — which aren’t quite Dennis Potter, but are certainly reminiscent of A Very Peculiar Practice’s mischevious nuns. The show skips along, propelled by the relentless soundtrack of unit-shifting indie rock which should be annoying but somehow seems to fit.
However, the up-to-the-minute tunes do highlight one problem with the otherwise grumpily realistic characters: they exist in a cultural vacuum. While their days are played out to the latest jangly tunes, no bands, movies, books or TV shows are ever mentioned, preventing the teachers from seeming real enough to fully identify with. As Spaced demonstrated, it’s possible to couple a fast-paced, surreal world with references to the real one to create characters with which one can identify. Making characters real takes a bit more than having them ready to shout “FUCK” at the drop of, well, any item of clothing.
But if you don’t think too much and just go along for the ride, it can still deliver. This week’s show was a cracker, with Kurt milking sympathy by pretending to be wheelchair-bound after an accident, following a similar path to the Seinfeld episode in which George realises the benefits of being temporarily handicapped. So, must try harder, but it can still get top marks when it puts its mind to it.
[Hmm, that all sounds far too critical… I thoroughly enjoy the show every week, but it’s just not quite all it could be. Obviously, it’s easier to criticise things rather than describe how good they are.]