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Television Review

Barely a passing grade for ‘Bad Teacher’

In a new CBS comedy, Ari Graynor stars as a newly divorced trophy wife who tries to trick faculty and students into believing she’s a teacher.
In a new CBS comedy, Ari Graynor stars as a newly divorced trophy wife who tries to trick faculty and students into believing she’s a teacher.Sonja Flemming/CBS/CBS

There have been much better and much worse television series adapted from films than “Bad Teacher,” premiering Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on CBS, and adapted from the 2011 Cameron Diaz film of the same name. (Diaz receives a producer credit here.)

So perhaps “Mediocre Teacher” would be a better title for this so-so comedy about trophy wife Meredith Davis (Ari Graynor), who suddenly finds herself replaced by a shinier trophy.

Upon discovering what the words “pre-nuptial agreement” actually mean, the newly penniless Meredith crashes with her best friend. While walking her friend’s stepdaughter Lily (Sara Rodier) to school, Meredith has an epiphany: The best way for her to mine more gold is to fake her way into a teaching job at Lily’s middle school for the children of affluent parents.


Forget that she has no qualifications (unlike Diaz’s character in the film) and waltzes in without so much as a background check, this plan seems like an awful lot of work to land a rich man for an inherently lazy woman who could just as easily accomplish her task sitting on a barstool at a country club or yacht rock concert. But this is Meredith’s scheme.

Enter all of the people who hope to aid and abet, foil, or be stupefyingly oblivious to this plan.

Rigid faculty president Ginny (Kristin Davis doing an academic gloss on her “Sex and the City” character) sees through Meredith and will clearly make it her mission to bring her down. Mousy Irene (Sara Gilbert) is an awkward fellow teacher who will say “how high?” when Meredith instructs her to jump. Hot, snarky gym teacher Joel (Ryan Hansen) is also on to her, but willing to see where the ride goes. And weepy Principal Carl (David Alan Grier) is happy to have a newly divorced friend with whom he can commiserate. All of these actors are gifted and have been in shows more worthy of their skills. But they’re all also skillful enough that, were the writers to give them more to work with, they could bump this show past the mere passing grade the pilot deserves.


What the show really needs is a home on a cable network like FX or AMC, which would allow “Bad Teacher” to have a darker tone. As it is, we’re likely to see lots of examples of selfish Meredith uncovering slivers of empathy in her not-so-cold heart that were there all along beneath her impressive decolletage.

That compassion emerges, thanks to the plucky trio of nerds she adopts — including Lily — and defends. This results in the pilot’s best line, when Meredith tries to give them a pep talk after they’ve been humilated by the mean girls. “It gets better,” she says, adding, “just not right away. And honestly, not for everybody. It will probably only get better for one of you.”

Graynor, a Boston native and Broadway and film veteran,has just the right blowsy attitude and the timing to pivot from sassy to sentimental. Hopefully, she’ll help “Bad” get better.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.