Adopting attributes found within the likes of Mockumentary sitcoms Parks & Rec and The Office in their workplace comedy stylings, Teacher of the Year centres on the teachers at Truman High School in a semi-serious manner. Specifically, this has Mitch Carter (Matt Letscher) in the limelight, having just scooped the award for California Teacher of the year, a humble fan-favourite teacher placed along many, less than capable teachers.
Mitch is in a bit of a difficult situation, because with this new found fame comes new opportunities, and a decision needs to made whether to turn his back on the kids who support him to create a better life for him and his family. While it sounds a tad serious, this is for the most part a clever comedy. With Keegan-Michael Key as Principal Ronald Douche, an array of stand-up comedians as the remaining faculty, this mockumentary is littered with improv moments, the impromptu glance and excellent dialogue that lends itself to this style so well.
Over-acting and being too self-aware are traits that can make these types of films cringeworthy for the wrong reasons. But as seen here in Teacher of the Year, with the right cast simply willing to have fun with the basic script and being allowed to build on their characters, it results in an oddly realistic yet funny experience. Much like the TV comedies that use this style, there is an undercurrent of seriousness too. In the US Office we cared if Jim got with Pam or if Michael Scott was happy, in Parks & Rec we rooted for Leslie to do well against the idiots in government, and similarly in Teacher of the Year we end up backing our characters to do well and make the right decisions for them.
There’s a line to be drawn where you start belittling your characters at the expense of laughter, and while it’s fun to see them stitched up from time to time, ultimately you want to see people and scenarios you can relate to in a slightly disjointed take on reality. Teacher of the Year may not hit all the right notes, and it’s not the most consistently funny film out there, but it’s not a sitcom. Filling that length of time warrants a bit of serious down-time to allow for gags to take their rightful place, and when the gags come, they certainly land.