The Teacher: Even Sheridan Smith can’t save TVNZ’s latest British thriller

REVIEW: Even the charismatic Sheridan Smith struggles to save TVNZ’s latest “troubled woman” thriller.

A four-parter from Britain’s Channel 5, The Teacher (which begins streaming on TVNZ OnDemand on Friday, December 2), like Liar, Doctor Foster and Angela Black before it, focuses on a flawed female protagonist whose life is thrown into chaos by events that may – or may not – have been outside of her control.

Here, the always sparky and watchable Smith (Cilla, Gavin & Stacey) plays Jenna Garvey. A popular English teacher at Earlbridge School, her confident facade hides a personal life of chaos.

When we first encounter her, she’s waking up in an unfamiliar house beside someone she’s only just met. Hurriedly getting dressed, she flies out the door, applying her make-up and adjusting her attire in the taxi, before just beating the school bell. Using a supply cupboard to “replace” her stained blouse, she’s more interested in locating a cellphone charger than the head’s request for applications for the prestigious, vacant Head of English position.

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“If alcohol doesn’t agree with you, maybe you should give it up,” advises kindly concerned colleague Pauline (Cecilia Noble), while the straight-laced Nina (Sharon Rooney) silently fumes at her unprofessionalism. For her, it’s just the latest example of Jenna’s unsuitability as a role model for impressionable teens, especially when one of them happens to be her daughter.

What makes Nina even madder is that the boss seems to favour Jenna for promotion over her. Which, despite his condescending attitude that makes it seem that Jenna owes her career to her illustrious father, is exactly what comes to pass.

Sheridan Smith plays The Teacher’s Jenna Garvey.

Supplied

Sheridan Smith plays The Teacher’s Jenna Garvey.

A Friday night celebration ensues, with Jenna dragging Pauline off to the city’s infamous nightclub hotspot the Lazarus Club, a place the latter quickly feels at least a generation too old for.

Not so Jenna, who quickly downs a few mood-setting shots and isn’t afraid to approach the group of students somewhat stunned by seeing their teacher out on the tiles.

Fast-forward to Monday morning and any residual euphoria quickly evaporates when she’s met at the schoolgate by the headmaster insisting that she needs to stay away. There’s been a report of inappropriate behaviour, which he’s sure is “just a misunderstanding”.

The subsequent arrival of the police though, placing Jenna under arrest, suggests not everyone thinks the same way.

As she protests her innocence, the black hole that is her recollections of the evening, starts to haunt – and hurt – her, especially when she angrily retorts that, “don’t you think I’d remember if I’d copped off with some kid in the bogs?!”, despite the investigating officer having made no mention of the nature of the alleged offence.

Even the always sparky and watchable Sheridan Smith can’t stop The Teacher from feeling weirdly both slightly overly melodramatic and not quite serious enough.

Supplied

Even the always sparky and watchable Sheridan Smith can’t stop The Teacher from feeling weirdly both slightly overly melodramatic and not quite serious enough.

With its soft-focus, blurry, morning-after-a-big-night-out shooting style and telegraphed hints that Jenna might be a little too friendly towards her charges, The Teacher clunkily sets the viewer up early for what to expect.

Contrivances and character conflicts quickly pile up, preparing us for the inevitable twist and turns, and the central “who should we really believe?” trope that has been plaguing many a recent UK thriller.

While the pivotal encounter is refreshingly downplayed, without too much of a portentous build-up, there’s not the frisson or intrigue that made last year’s similarly themed US show A Teacher much more compelling viewing.

Perhaps it’s the combination of former Emmerdale and Coronation Street director Dominic Leclerc and Motherland writer Barunk O’Shaughnessy, but this four-parter feels weirdly both slightly overly melodramatic and not quite serious enough.

The Teacher begins streaming on TVNZ OnDemand on December 2.

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