UK TV review: The Teacher: Season 1 (2022)
James R | On 06, Feb 2022
Is there a TV show around today that doesn’t have Sheridan Smith in it? The prolific actress is particularly omnipresent at the start of 2022, appearing recently in BBC One’s Four Lives and soon to be seen in ITV’s No Return – and, in between the two, starring in Channel 5’s The Teacher. There’s a reason she’s so in demand: she’s capable of finding the humanity in any character, anchoring even the most far-fetched premises in something relatable and engaging. In the case of The Teacher, that skill is tested to the limit.
The series follows Jenna, an English teacher who is single and determined to make the most of it, going out regularly for drunken nights of excess and then turning up hungover at work the next morning. So far, so unbelievable, with her outfits and behaviour unlikely to be tolerated, even as her class gets good marks in their mock GCSE exams. Things get even harder to believe when Jenna goes out to celebrate a promotion and winds up so drunk that she can’t remember the rest of the night – which means she’s unable to completely deny allegations that she has slept with one of her students, 15-year-old Kyle (Samuel Bottomley).
Things are made complicated by the fact that we see her flirting with Kyle during the day at school, even remarking to her colleague, Pauline (Cecilia Noble), that the teenager reminds her of an ex-boyfriend. And so the stage is set for a mystery thriller that aims to remain enigmatic, with us unsure who to believe – or whether to trust Jenna’s belief that she’s innocent and wouldn’t ever cross such an ethical line.
Except, of course, the show does have to take a position and pretty quickly if it wants to wrap things up in four episodes – and, while the script crafts some wrong-footing elements, once we do get to the point where we’re confident about what happened, it’s both a frustrating U-turn in the narrative and a set-up for increasingly artificial revelations.
Fortunately, though, this isn’t just any old twisting drama – this is a twisting drama starring Sheridan Smith, and she’s able to ground each incident and encounter with a moving sense of a woman’s life falling apart, even as she’s seemingly trying to do the right thing. Her performance, plus a convincingly naive turn from Samuel Botttomley, makes this a compelling, if unsatisfying, tale, one that tries to be more ambiguous than the recent US drama A Teacher (in which an illegal relationship does happen) but winds up failing to interrogate themes of abuse and trauma in favour of contrived cliffhangers. A for effort, but a D for attainment.
The Teacher is available on My5 until 5th March