There are teacher-student relationships, and then there are teacher-student relationships. In A Teacher (FX on Hulu), we get schooled on the latter. Educator/predator Mary Kay Letourneau and her junior high lover are the most well known couple of these affairs, but every few months we read about another teacher preying on their (usually underaged) students.
A Teacher takes us down this road too often traveled. But the way the lesson is presented may muddle the message.
Let’s make something clear from the start: there is no will-they, won’t-they suspense. We all know where this is headed, and nothing good is going to come of it. Hannah Fidell’s 2013 movie A Teacher provides the source material for the show. She uses TV to expand the timeline and let us take a closer look at the actions that lead to destruction.
Claire (Kate Mara) is a new teacher at an upper-middle class high school. In one of the first scenes we see her steal a lipstick, and then justify it by saying she’s spent so much money at that store over the years, she deserves it, defining her character as an entitled sociopath. In her early 30s, she’s got a hot, successful husband who wants a kid while also going through an early mid-life crisis (he’s getting the band back together!).
Eric (Nick Robinson) is a 17-year-old senior in her English class. Growing up in Austin, he wants to go to University of Texas but his SAT scores aren’t scholarship worthy. He’s one of the good-looking kids who’s riddled with internal teen angst because, you know, he’s a teenager. He needs a tutor, and you can figure out who steps into that role.
The show, especially the first episode, is chatty. They fill in a lot of background by scripting in obvious asides. While it does help move things along, if feels like they’re doing hit-and-run with important background that informs their deep (and not-so-deep) psychological issues.
Too Little Too Often
A Teacher isn’t binge worthy, it’s binge necessary. The first three episodes dropped at once, but the final seven will come one at a time each Tuesday. Watching the first three, you’re able to see the choices they make and put the immediate and future ramifications together in context. His are stupid teenage decisions. Hers are predatory and criminal. But broken up into 22ish minute episodes, it’s easy to lose sight of this.
In episode five, the teacher and student go on a clandestine getaway to celebrate his 18th birthday. There are just sooo many things wrong with that. But served to the audience like a shot instead of a tall drink, it’s easy to lose sight of the problems and view this as star-crossed lovers getting a moment for themselves. This isn’t romance. It is an adult grooming, manipulating, and scarring a student.
If the writing borders on being overly expository, the execution of the script by the actors is solid. Nick (Love, Simon) is getting well removed from being able to play a kid in high school, but he fits into this role well. Kate, who is generally outstanding in everything she does, grows into her character. The higher stakes of the drama, the more her skills shine through.
The soundtrack is great.
The pace and feel is awkward. In addition to the way it divides the story, it’s odd to have a 22 minute drama. That’s usually the structure for a comedy. In this format, A Teacher has the feel of Homecoming and its unnecessary second season.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Wait two weeks, binge the first five episodes. Wait another five weeks and finish it off. This show isn’t going to grab the cultural zeitgeist by the throat, so you don’t have to worry a lot about spoilers popping up.
As for a cocktail recommendation: I’m having a mimosa, just like they were serving at the morning frat party. Because fraternities being up early to serve a big breakfast and having plenty of champagne on hand is oh so realistic!