By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The much-maligned profession of high school guidance counselor suffers another indignity tonight with the premiere of ABC's new sitcom "Miss Guided."
Judy Greer plays a former high school geek who, now all grown up, returns to her alma mater as a guidance counselor. She's perky and attractive. She's moved beyond some bad orthodontia that plagued her teen years. And despite some embarrassing efforts to be hip -- "Hey, peeps. What's the haps?" -- the kids seem to like her.
But, even as an adult, she's insecure, a bit desperate for a man and, unfortunately for viewers, thoroughly unfunny.
Too bad, since Greer is a gifted comedic actress who was memorable on Fox's canceled "Arrested Development" as well as in the recent box office hit "27 Dresses."
In "Miss Guided," her Becky Freeley is likable and goofily charming but comes across a bit too precious, a bit too caffeinated and cutesy. Plus, she's saddled with some one-liners that land with a thud.
Also hampering the production is the annoying practice of having her character, and others, break down the "fourth wall" and speak their innermost thoughts directly to the camera. Let us take this moment to also break the fourth wall and share our outermost thought: "Lazy writing!"
In tonight's pilot, a super-sexpot teacher (Brooke Burns), who just happens to have been the homecoming queen in Becky's high school class, joins the faculty. We watch our heroine's insecurities spring to neurotic life as her rival begins outshining her, just like in high school -- which is kinda funny, but the show never takes us beyond that one-joke aspect of the series. The nerdy teachers all sit with one another in the teachers' lounge, the popular ones all congregate at theirs. Just like in high school. The dweeb (in this case, the vice principal) shamelessly idolizes the cool dude (a substitute teacher) and tries to be his best friend. Just like in high school.
That last bit comes in the second episode, which airs Thursday night and is better than the first, thanks to an appearance by executive producer Ashton Kutcher. He may not be the most gifted of actors, but he nails the role as a hottie substitute who all the guys want to be and all the ladies want to be with. He breezes through the hallways with a guitar strapped to his back and grinds his own tea leaves in the teachers' lounge. He doesn't like the term "sub" and prefers to think of himself as a "wandering educator."
Thursday's episode is also worth a look given the guest-starring role by Britney Spears's little sister, Jamie Lynn -- no visible baby bump -- who made headlines recently with her pregnancy.
In her small role, she drifts far from her wholesome "Zoey 101" character to play a naughty, sexily dressed senior.
The high school experience has been successfully mined in other shows, and "Miss Guided" does reveal some shiny nuggets along the way. Many are due to former "Saturday Night Live" player Chris Parnell as the boorish vice principal. He, too, is a former geek who deadpans (in one of those annoying to-the-camera monologues) that he got his rear-end "kicked three, maybe, four times a day."
He goes on: "And you know what? It felt good, real good. Because I turned that pain into power, and you know who likes men in power? Ladies. Ladies do. Hot ladies and ugly ladies. But either way, booya!"
It's easy to root for the very watchable Greer, both as the underdog and as a charming actress who deserves a better script. Yet when appearances by Kutcher and Spears are your main motivation to watch a sitcom, you probably don't have much of a show in the first place.
Miss Guided (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 10:30 on Channel 7; it debuts in its regular time slot Thursday night at 8.