If you can't beat 'em, just rip 'em off. "Miss Guided
," ABC's new sitcom about a high school guidance counselor, takes elements from several successful sitcoms currently on the air and attempts to string them all together with incredibly uneven results.
The series' premise holds great potential: a formerly geeky student, Becky Freeley (Judy Greer
) returns to her alma mater as a guidance counselor with newly great looks and confidence. Upon her return, she is subjected to the politics of high school faculty, which are not much different from those of students.
Episodes find Freeley acting rebellious in an attempt to fit in, trying to make herself sexier when a blog puts her at the bottom of the hot teacher list, and pining for the cool substitute teacher. Mainly, the series deals with Freely's competition with her high school nemesis (Brooke Burns
) for the affection of Spanish Teacher Tim O'Malley (Kristoffer Polaha).
Aside from social pressure, Freeley must deal with a meddlesome pair of principals (Chris Parnell
and Earl Billings) and the problems of a new student each week. The students' office visits serves as a framing device that sets in motion the story of each episode.
"Miss Guided" has a very solid structure in place with good actors and a clever way to involve them all in each episode's plot. Its problems lie within its lack of originality.
The series takes winning signatures from other shows and tries to apply them all to its own premise. The result is undeniably stale and never as funny as the series being aped.
The most obvious example of "Miss Guided"'s conceptual plagiarism is the characters' talking to the camera. While this is not filmed as a mockumentary, the show injects the characters' thoughts with short monologues to the camera as often as "The Office
." These are not fourth-wall breaking commentaries like Zack Morris' on "Saved By The Bell
", they are their own separate scenes intended to give us greater insight into the characters through their inner thoughts but only harkening images of that Scranton-based sitcom.
"Miss Guided" picks and chooses elements of other shows as well. It has a tendency to veer into the absurdly quirky territory of "Scrubs
" with impromptu dance numbers and a parking lot full of graffiti and features a frenetic single-camera style that is extremely reminiscent of "Arrested Development
Of course, mimicry is a tradition in television and "Miss Guided" shouldn't be condemned for holding true to comedy's long tradition of stealing. The problem is these elements simply do not fit within a sitcom as vanilla and predictable as this one.
The storylines in "Miss Guided" are embarrassingly old-fashioned. Each twist and turn an episode takes seems straight from "The Brady Bunch
" playbook. For example, when Becky takes over as director of the High School musical and her star quits on opening night - Becky steps into the role of Miss Saigon herself!
Combining hackneyed plots with elements of groundbreaking sitcoms only calls more attention to how uninspired each episode's story really is. Each new premise elicits groans rather than laughs and causes the individual monologues to seem all the more jarring.
It's not that "Miss Guided" is altogether horrible. Judy Greer is adorably charming as Becky Freeley, and the supporting cast is very strong, especially the work of Chris Parnell whose stuffed-shirt portrayal of the vice principal has him looking like the next Ted Knight
There are some laughs from the quirkier moments and the faculty's speeches to the camera, but these mostly fall under "The Rob Deer Comedy Theory." Deer was a baseball player in the late 80s and early 90s who rarely made contact with the ball, but when it did it often ended up in the seats. For a full season, he averaged 32 home runs but only a .220 average over his career.
Increasingly, many sitcoms are approaching comedy in the same way Deer approached hitting. The breezy subtlety of shows like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show
" and "Cheers
" is becoming a relic as writers attempt big laughs with big jokes.
Their results mimic those of Deer. There's nowhere for jokes to hide in this format as writers beat audiences over the head with their humor. Jokes either elicit a big laugh or create seconds of painful dead air as the audience waits uncomfortably for the next premise to be punchlined.
The best example of The Rob Deer Comedy Theory is "Scrubs." This show has absolutely no subtlety to its jokes whatsoever. Viewers might see a disembodied head, a small dance number, a quick game show parody, and hundreds of other quirky gags that leave the humor no place to hide. When these jokes make contact they are often very funny, but when they miss they corkscrew themselves into the ground with a tremendous whiff!
Other spots where The Rob Deer Comedy Theory is on full display are "Family Guy
" and when the characters talk to the camera on "The Office".
Simply put, a show uses The Rob Deer Comedy Theory when it goes for big laughs with brash jokes, setting itself up for embarrassing strikeouts.
"Miss Guided" has potential but its storylines need a complete makeover before the series will be able to shine.
Kind of like its main character.
Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer