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Thursday Review: Bad Teacher, Black Box, Hulu's Moone Boy

A week ago, I was raving about FX's inspired reinvention of Fargo from movie to TV series. But this week, we get a cautionary reminder that there are movies that just shouldn't be adapted for TV. Case in point: CBS's head-of-no-class version of 2011's Bad Teacher (Thursday, 9:30/8:30c) that flunks basic lessons of chemistry — starting with...

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

A week ago, I was raving about FX's inspired reinvention of Fargo from movie to TV series. But this week, we get a cautionary reminder that there are movies that just shouldn't be adapted for TV. Case in point: CBS's head-of-no-class version of 2011's Bad Teacher (Thursday, 9:30/8:30c) that flunks basic lessons of chemistry — starting with the casting of garishly brazen Ari Graynor as predatory poseur Meredith Davis, a suddenly penniless divorcée who lies her way into a teaching gig in hopes of landing a rich single dad.

Unlike the film's Cameron Diaz, whose charismatic veneer could mask the avarice, Graynor is so obviously vulgar a man-eater that there's no charm to her bawdy smarm. The stereotypes surrounding her (David Alan Grier as the gullible soft-touch principal, Sara Gilbert as a desperately nerdy teacher and Kristin Davis as her prim nemesis) are little help. But worst of all, the show lacks the conviction of its cynicism, as Meredith keeps sabotaging her own seductive schemes by continually coming to the rescue of the geeky grade-school girls she takes under her flamboyant wing.

I did enjoy Meredith's snarky riff on the "it gets better" trope ("Just not right away, and honestly, not for everybody"), but this Bad Teacher only gets worse the more you get to know her.

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PANDORA'S BOX: And yet Meredith is a walk in the park compared to the aggravating indulgences displayed by a certain Dr. Catherine Black — or BlackSwan, as I began thinking of this brilliant-but-bipolar brain specialist who dances like a dizzy Bunhead whenever she goes off her own meds in ABC's insufferable, mindlessly contrived and wretchedly acted medical melodrama Black Box (10/9c).

Introduced as "the Marco Polo of the brain [aka the 'black box']," the reckless but did-we-mention-brilliant Dr. BlackSwan is played by the birdlike redhead Kelly Reilly (a ringer for a younger Frances Conroy) with simpering kewpie-doll mannerisms better suited to an Ally McBeal-type workplace. "Should they have been medicated into mediocrity?" she lectures as she likens herself to mad geniuses like Van Gogh, Hemingway, Sylvia Plath — all of whom, as BlackSwan's disbelieving shrink Dr. Hartramph (a sleepwalking Vanessa Redgrave) reminds her, ended badly. "Do you want to be exceptional and dead?" Dr. Hartramph harrumphs. Well, Black Box is dead to me on arrival, the latest jaw-dropper from ABC's woeful drama cupboard, which has struggled lately even to achieve mediocrity. (Remember the network's last show with a bipolar lead, Mind Games? Thought not.)

"The brain is the ultimate mystery," Dr. BlackSwan says when she isn't rhapsodically busting a move or cheating on her initially clueless hunky-chef boyfriend/would-be fiancé (wooden David Ajala). The real mystery is how Black Box made it on air. Rare for ABC, the show even fumbles the soapy elements. While Dr. BlackSwan equivocates over her trophy beau's marriage proposal, fearing his reaction when he learns how often she'd rather dance-on-the-edge than diagnose, her head is somehow turned by a comically arrogant new neurosurgeon (Ditch Davey, a walking caricature), who might as well be called "McYucky." Some sample dialogue as they set off love/hate sparks: "God, you're a pathological creep!" "Dominating bitch!" No, you're not going crazy. This actually happens.

Theoretically, there could be a mind-blowing show in the mystifying cases-of-the-week presented to the neurological research/treatment center called "The Cube," but the storytelling on Black Box is so clumsy, obvious and pretentious that one's own brain can't help but shut down as a defense mechanism.

OVER THE MOONE: With the broadcast networks plotzing so spectacularly at midseason, here's a tip for one of the best shows you may not yet have discovered: Hulu's delightful Irish comedy Moone Boy, launching a second six-episode season of coming-of-age whimsy (the first season is already awaiting to be merrily binged). This charmer follows the wry misadventures of exuberant 12-year-old Martin Moone (David Rawle) and the ever-present wit beneath his wings: an imaginary grown-up friend named Sean Murphy (the terrific Chris O'Dowd, also the show's co-creator), who shares Martin's childlike wonder and adolescent anxieties. Sometimes mocking, often cheering the boy on, Sean is a treasure and a fresh angle on a familiar genre.

The plentiful pleasures of Moone Boy extend to the rest of Martin's fractious family and to the eccentric residents of rural Boyle, who this season uneasily welcome a tribe of nomadic Travellers which moves in next to the Moones. When a wild-child lass captures Martin's fancy, this bittersweet first crush plays out against a raucous finale at his pregnant sister's wedding. You're not imagining things if you find yourself mooning over Moone Boy.

THE THURSDAY GUIDE: In case you missed it and are going through Scandal withdrawal, ABC repeats Jimmy Kimmel Live: Behind the Scandalabra in prime time (8/7c), a post-finale recap in which Kimmel grills Shonda Rhimes about her outrageous choices in between segments of his telenovela parody Escandalo and an awesome blooper reel. ... NBC's Parks and Recreation wraps its sixth season with an eventful hour-long finale (8/7c) that includes the long-awaited Unity Concert, the opening of Tom's restaurant, the return of Tammy 2 (Megan Mullally) and a "huge decision" awaiting Leslie regarding her future. ... CBS's The Big Bang Theory (8/7c) reinstates "Anything Can Happen Thursday" with unexpected consequences when Sheldon tries to be spontaneous. The one thing you can depend on any given Thursday is that Big Bang will leave all competitors in its dust. ... Many of Saturday Night Live's best moments in recent years have been in the filmed pieces, which is why NBC's two-hour special Saturday Night Live Presents SNL Shorts (9/8c) qualifies as a DVR alert. ... While we wait to see how soon-to-depart Cristina processes her disappointment in not winning the Harper Avery Award, ABC's Grey's Anatomy(9/8c) welcomes back Derek's sister Amelia (Private Practice's Caterina Scorsone) as Bailey takes a risk with her research project. ... And Mycroft Holmes (Rhys Ifans) returns to CBS's Elementary(10/9c), stirring up more conflict between brother Sherlock and former lover Watson, which is always fun to watch.

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