Like the critically acclaimed “Freaks and Geeks” and “My So-Called Life” before it, “Boston Public” is high drama set in a high school.
Unlike most academically based TV shows, however, this one revolves around the lives – both professional and personal – of the faculty and staff.
And, boy, what lives they lead. This ain’t your parents’ “school drama”, kids. The problems are never simple at Winslow High, that’s for sure.
This David E. Kelley production is way over-the-top.
In the beginning, there was ‘Harry Senate’ (played by Nicky Katt), teacher extraordinaire. He shot off a gun in the classroom just to drive home his anti-violence lesson plan. Don’t worry, it was loaded with blanks. The only thing hurt was Senate’s career. But he wasn’t fired, because behind the gruff exterior of ‘Principal Steven Harper’ (Chi McBride) is a heart of gold. Harper himself later killed a parent. But it was self-defense. He was cleared of all charges.
In any case, this is “Boston Public”, so before too long it all became too much for poor Harry. He lost that “teaching fire” in his belly.
He lost his will to live.
He lost his mind. But not before bedding fellow teacher ‘Ronnie Cook’ (Jeri Ryan).
Hey, he might’ve been crazy – but he’s not stupid!
Then, poor Harry took an “extended leave of absence.” Doh!
Yes, teachers seem to come and go quickly on this show. There was the older male teacher who had an affair with a nubile young female student. His best friend, the Phys. Ed. coach, knew about the affair but said nothing. Sooner rather than later, the extracurricularly copulating couple got caught during a “private tutoring session” – by her dad, no less.
The amorous teacher got fired. His best friend got fired for not turning the guy in. The sexed up one moved on, the friend committed suicide. Cut to morgue scene of Principal Harper having a heart-to-heart talk with the corpse. Obviously, Harper did most of the talking. Not like that time he killed a parent. But, hey, that was clearly self-defense. The charges were dropped. In case you missed that the first time.
Then there was the somewhat naive woman teacher who had a student stalking her. But, since this is “Boston Public”, the stalker was female too. Yup, there’s nothing hotter than primetime “Lesbian Stalking”. The student was transferred to the School for Mentally-Disturbed Girls; the teacher was transferred to another school “for her own protection.”
Then, there was new teacher Zach Fischer (Jon Abrahams), who thought dissecting frogs in science class just didn’t cut it. So he borrowed a human corpse from a pal at the county morgue. Just for the record, it wasn’t the same corpse Harper talked to in one of the previously described episodes. Or the dead parent, killed in self-defense – a crime for which Harper was eventually cleared. Did I mention that already? Well, they sure mention it a lot on “Boston Public”.
Vice Principal Scott Guber (Anthony Heald) strongly objected to Fischer’s rather, uh, unorthodox teaching methods, and demanded the corpse be returned immediately. Instead, Fischer and Cook tried to hide the body until class time. During the “cadaver caper”, the body turned up missing. Yup, you guessed it; some smart-alecky student thought it would be funny to hide the corpse in Guber’s office closet. The viewer found it much more amusing than Guber did.
Teacher Fischer is still on-staff, however. Well, as of this writing he is. One never knows with “Boston Public”, where they go through teachers faster than students go through boring textbooks. For all I know, his days are numbered.
Like I said, things are never simple at Winslow High.
There was the time Guber’s student assistant got pregnant. Policy had it that once a student starts “showing”, she had to be carted off to the School for Pregnant Girls. There was much to do over that one. She then outed her boyfriend, who had dumped her, by putting up fliers calling him an “impregnator”. Hoo-boy!
The girl went to have her pregnancy terminated, and a tender moment was shared when Guber showed up at the abortion clinic to lend some moral support. She ended up keeping the baby, however, which made for a “very special” episode of “Boston Public” indeed.
Another Guber-themed episode involved the star member of the debate team. Guber was the faculty advisor for the team, and his best debater ran into a bit of trouble. First, he got moody. Then he withdrew from what few friends he did have. (Hey, he’s on “debate”, so how popular can this kid be?) Then, he started spending all his time at home locked in his room.
At first, they thought it was drugs. Or maybe the kid had gotten into pornography, and was obsessively masturbating when not in class. Who’s to say? An obsessive debater masturbator – it would’ve given a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Talk to the Hand.”
But no, as it turned out, he was a compulsive Internet gambler. One who was $40,000 in debt. After much heartfelt soul-searching, Guber went to bat for the kid. In a closed meeting, he stuck it to the Internet gambling site’s rep and lawyer, by threatening to go to the press with the fact they let a minor run up so much debt. All is forgiven. End of episode.
Lately, former “American Idol” finalist Tamyra Gray has appeared in a handful of episodes. She plays a shy, but talented, student who can really sing. By participating in the school musical, she really starts to come out of her shell. But, because this is “Boston Public”, there is trouble afoot. Her boyfriend with low self-esteem can’t handle her newfound success. In one episode, he almost hits her. This is called “foreshadowing”, boys and girls. By the next episode, he’s slapping her silly.
The “If you’re in an abusive relationship, and want help, please call this number” Public Service Announcement at episode’s end was a nice touch.
Usually, when it comes to abusive relationships, I’m in the “AGAINST” camp. And nobody, but nobody, should hit a girl on account she’s a former “American Idol” contestant. However, I wouldn’t object if somebody went ahead and beat the living crap out of the PRODUCERS of “American Idol” for foisting that thing on the public. But, hey, that’s just me. I’m funny that way. But I digress…
“Boston Public” has also recently given America what, I hope, will soon become a popular catch phrase.
In the episode in question, the levelheaded teacher said to the manic-depressive teacher, “Now, don’t go pulling a nutty!”
I hope “pulling a nutty” will soon overtake the still popular (but waning) “going postal” for describing somebody who does something completely crazy and over-the-top.
Saddam Hussein thinking he can actually win the war against the U.S.? He’s “pulling a nutty!”
Robert Downey Jr. once again found naked and on drugs in a motel room? He must have been “pulling a nutty!”
See how easy that works?
Really, though, it’s a testament to the standout acting abilities of McBride, Heald, and Loretta Devine (who plays the aforementioned “nutty-pulling” teacher) that the characters don’t slip over into caricature. Which, on this show, they easily could. They are the heart, head, and soul of Winslow’s “Student Body” respectively. I guess that would make Jeri Ryan the T&A of said body. Ryan is, of course, the actors’ ‘pinch hitter’, hired by series that slump in the ratings. First “Dark Skies”, then “Star Trek: Voyager” and, now, “Boston Public”. (She was added to the cast last season.)
Not that the rest of the actors don’t leave their mark. They all do, in their own way. I could go on and on. My only complain would be that veteran actor Fyvush Finkel’s ‘Harvey Lipshultz’ is underused and, then, mostly as comic relief.
No, I like “Boston Public” for the same reason I enjoy the WB’s “Seventh Heaven.” Both are completely over-the-top.
But, while “Seventh Heaven” is earnestly over-the-top, but takes its earnestness oh-so seriously, “Boston Public” is – I think – consciously over-the-top. It lets the viewer in on the little joke.
And that is why, in my humble opinion, “Boston Public” is the best damn show on television today. Bar none.
(‘Boston Public’ can be seen Mondays at 8pm/7pmC, on FOX.)