By MIKE CHAIKEN
“Teachers,” the sitcom on TVLand that made its second season debut on Nov. 7, is a creation of the comedy ensemble known as The Katydids.
The program follows a half dozen teachers at an elementary school who traversing the precarious nexus of career, personal lives, students, and parents.
The Katydids, who got their name because all of the members’ first names are a variation on Katy, are Kathryn Renée Thomas (Mrs. Adler), Katy Colloton (Ms. Snap), Kate Lambert (Ms. Watson), Katie O’Brien (Ms. Bennigan), Cate Freedman (Ms. Feldman), and Caitlin Barlow (Ms. Cannon).
Asked to describe the creative process behind the scripts, Barlow, calling from a traffic jam in Los Angeles, explained, “We’ve been living with these characters for six years,” said Barlow. Even before the TVLand series, she explained, they appeared in a web series the Katydids recorded in Chicago. So they know the characters and what they are likely to do, inside and out, she explained.
Additionally, Barlow explained, all the members of The Katydids have a strong comedy improv background. So they are all familiar with character games that help them craft dialogue and plot.
Barlow said the genesis of the scripts for “Teachers” usually begins with all of the Katydids in a room, accompanied by the show runners, and script writers. They then will brainstorm on funny pairings, funny scenarios, etc. Then the Katydids usually team up in pairs for the heavy lifting of preparing the initial script. That script then will be brought back to the troupe as a whole, and the other members will chime in to help refine the script. Some of the Katydids will make joke pitches for the script. And some will have a hand in rewrites to help hone the scripts.
“It’s a very collaborative room.”
The Katydids are very much a comedy collective, explained Barlow. “We all have different comedic strengths,” she explained. It’s almost like being a rock band, she explained, where each member plays a different instrument.
For instance, said Barlow, she is not a good joke writer. However, she said, she is strong at character development. Other members know how to write a good joke.
“All six of us were pretty successful (as solo comedians),” said Barlow. “But together, we created a seventh voice.”
Of the cast members of “Teachers,” Barlow is the only one who was actually a teacher. That reality of her past can sometimes provide challenges for her in creating the scripts. “I get too caught up in the reality of teaching,” she said. She often finds herself wanting to say, “It wouldn’t go down like that (in the real world of teaching).” However, she said she has learned to “let it roll” when her knowledge of the real world runs up against the creativity of the troupe.
However, Barlow said the benefits of her career background outweigh the challenges. “We wanted the show to be rooted in the reality of teaching,” said Barlow. They wanted to keep the comedy grounded so it doesn’t get too wacky, she explained.
The show also finds a way of keeping the comedy grounded by adding a little pathos to the characters’ personalities. There is one teacher, for example, who has an unrequited crush on a parent of a student. Another teacher, who feels her reproductive clock is ticking, takes an unnatural attachment to one student. Another teacher gets excited over a secret admirer. And another experiences the knocks and dents of pursuing a dream career as a singer.
“The teachers are human,” said Barlow. “That is the core of the show.”
Teachers often are portrayed in the classic female dichotomy, said Barlow. They are seen either virgins or whores, she said. They are either saints or an example of everything that is wrong with the country, she said. The truth is there are plenty shades of gray, she explained.
As for what happens in the new season that is now underway, Barlow said, there are some cliffhangers from the first season resolved. Audiences will see what happens with Ms. Bennigan and the “hot dad.” Mrs. Adler has a large life change. And there are more changes in the works, she said.
“The teachers are starting to grow up,” said Barlow.
“Teachers” is on TVLand Tuesdays at 10 p.m.