‘A Instructor’ Evaluation: One of many Daring Reveals of 2020 is not a love story
The most important and effective creative decision of A teacher happens in the first few seconds as each episode begins with the following warning:
This series includes sexual situations as well as depictions of caring that can be disturbing. The following program contains scenes that may offend your moral sense.
It’s a blunt statement about the content you are about to watch, and it is in sharp contrast to the somewhat dreamy tone set in the first few episodes of the FX Limited series about a teacher and student struggling to be legal and morally too close to level.
It’s a relatively simple premise: English teacher Claire (Kate Mara) seems relatively happy when she arrives at her new Texas high school – while her marriage to Matt (Ashley Zukerman) is not perfect, she quickly makes a new friend at the faculty and teaches her students with idealistic passion. One of those students, Eric (Nick Robinson), may not be as happy as some of his classmates as he juggles school, athletics, a part-time job, and helps his single mother take care of his younger brothers. But he’s smart and popular and has a good chance of a great future, which Claire offers to help him make this happen. Unfortunately, the time they spend together is entering dangerous territory – for both of them.
A teacher is technically based on the Creator Hannah FidellThe 2012 independent film that made a splash on Sundance but as a thriller is radically different from this show. Instead, Fidell uses the far-reaching possibilities of episodic television to really explore the characters as human beings and to unfold their past and present traumas across the seemingly endless skyline of Texas – even if the empathic cinematography and romantic music seduce us to join us ask how far this will go.
Without two incredibly brave and vulnerable actors at the center, A Teacher would fall apart so damn quickly, but luckily, Mara and Robinson are giving Fidell and other directors Andrew Neel and Gillian Robespierre Everything they need and more to make this relationship work on screen, despite all of its soft moments and jagged edges. The dull power of the more intimate scenes pushes the boundaries of previous FX programming, not necessarily because of what the characters are doing, but because it’s so raw and real that it feels like it’s happening in your own bedroom.
A teacher has already become a lightning rod for criticism from those who do not necessarily understand why a relationship between a nearly 18 year old boy and a 30 year old woman is also treated as a criminal offense than those who lean in the opposite direction and based on the trailer think the show treats this relationship like a love story. Overall, the show makes it 100 percent clear that this is an abusive relationship with a serious negative impact on everyone involved. But getting there is difficult and not that easy to navigate.
Perhaps the series’ biggest flaw is one of the most attractive features on the surface – the subtle way this story is told makes these title cards very necessary at the beginning and end of the episode. Because after decades of love stories with serious power imbalances, it is sometimes easy to be seduced by what is happening as much as Eric is. Sometimes it’s creepy to see how many of Claire’s actions over the course of the series are definitely signs of textbook maintenance, but they don’t really catch on as a textbook until you consult the textbook. Otherwise, it’s easy to want to buy your way into this love story the way Eric and Claire tell each other first, before things fall apart.
That’s because the inevitable is difficult to see when you’re caught up in the Claire and Eric drama. A teacher is published weekly, but is remarkably addicting (and not long either, as the 10 episodes are every 30 minutes or less), and the goal is sometimes almost to get the audience out of the way – despite the fact that it is clearly wrong.
A teacher is not a love story. It really has nothing to do with love. But those who find themselves in these situations in real life don’t know what a teacher is trying to capture, and ultimately make it one of the most daring and complex series of 2020. Because real life tragically doesn’t come with a content warning.
A teacher premieres on FX on Hulu on Tuesday, November 10th.