Review: CBS’ ‘Bad Teacher’ a good showcase for Ari Graynor, at least

The best thing about CBS' “Bad Teacher” sitcom remake (which debuts tomorrow night at 9:30) is that it makes me really want to see its star, Ari Graynor, in something better.

That sounds like a backhanded compliment, and it probably is. On the whole, “Bad Teacher” is a pleasant, unremarkable adaptation of a middling Cameron Diaz vehicle that, in the translation from standalone film to series television (and, specifically, to CBS), loses whatever teeth the movie had. Each of the three episodes of the show that I've seen depict Graynor's Meredith Davis – a penniless former trophy wife who fakes her way into a middle school teaching job for which she is wildly unqualified – as vapid, narcissistic and money-hungry for the first 19 minutes before learning that she has to sacrifice her own desires in order to help out her students, or her less stylish co-workers. It has the structure of black comedy, but lacks the commitment – or maybe the permission from CBS – to actually be one, because we have to be reminded early and often that underneath those tight and skimpy dresses Meredith wears beats a heart of gold.

And yet the show's chief adapter, Hilary Winston has also created an excellent showcase for her leading lady. (And to a lesser extent for a solid supporting cast that includes Ryan Hansen, Sara Gilbert, David Alan Grier and Kristin Davis as fellow educators.) You may not know Graynor's name, but chances are you've seen her pop up for five minutes in a TV show (say, as Meadow Soprano's depressed freshman roommate at Columbia) or a movie (say, as the drunken best friend from “Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist”), been impressed by her weird comic energy and then wondered why you haven't seen her much, or at all, since. (If you're very lucky, you've seen a more prominent role for her in something like the indie comedy “For a Good Time, Call…”) She has an off-kilter delivery and doesn't look interchangeable from dozens of other actresses, and I imagine casting people often look at her as a square peg they really wish they could force into a round hole.

But she slides perfectly into the role of Meredith, and it's fun to watch her slink around this school looking like she got lost on her audition to play Kourtney Kardashian's new BFF. She vamps shamelessly, but in a way the show recognizes as such – the funniest scene, from the second episode, involves her stealing a girl's lollipop to use as a prop in hitting on a rich single dad – and she very clearly could shine in an FX or IFC take on the material that was unapologetic about living up to its title and premise.

Mostly, though, the most useful thing this version of “Bad Teacher” will likely do is create a few hours worth of footage for people in the business to look at and realize that this is how you properly use such an obvious, if slightly unconventional, talent. 

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at