TV Review: 'Miss Guided'

TV comedy is not especially healthy right now; not many people would argue with that idea. Given the way ABC is handling its new series "Miss Guided" -- a sweet and charming show starring the wonderful Judy Greer -- I almost wonder if the network even recognizes what a potentially valuable asset it has on its hands.

Given the way ABC has scheduled "Miss Guided," it's hard to tell. While the series will get a fine showcase for its premiere following "Dancing with the Stars" on Tuesday night (March 18), after that it heads to 8 p.m. Thursdays, where it will run back-to-back episodes for three weeks, then disappear. If that doesn't scream "late-season burnoff," I don't know what does.

I also don't know why ABC would treat the show this way, because given a little nurturing, "Miss Guided" could develop into a pretty fine series. It certainly has the right elements: A great lead performance from Greer, a strong supporting cast that features Chris Parnell and Brooke Burns, and a premise that's both easy to grasp and open enough to allow for lots of room to grow.

Greer ("27 Dresses," "Arrested Development") plays Becky Freeley, a guidance counselor at Glen Ellen High School, her alma mater. A headgear-wearing, Milli Vanilli-listening wallflower then, Becky has grown up to become an attractive, confident (usually) and optimistic (pretty much always) adult who's dedicated to giving her students the help she didn't get.

She's also nursing a crush on the new Spanish teacher, Tim (Kristoffer Polaha, "North Shore"), who's just moved over from auto shop and is about one lesson plan ahead of his students. She's not about to ask him out (she doesn't want to look desperate, after all), she's just about sure that he's on the verge of asking her out in that sunny/tragic, I'm-sure-he'll-notice-me way.

Until, that is, new English teacher Lisa Germain (Burns, "Pepper Dennis") shows up. Lisa was the homecoming queen in Becky's days in high school, and despite them having numerous classes together, Lisa can't really recall much about Becky ("Is she the same Becky who vomited during the safe-sex assembly?").

Naturally, Lisa catches Tim's eye, and naturally, Becky won't take that lying down -- though confrontation is not exactly her style either. If that were all there is to "Miss Guided," I wouldn't be griping about the scheduling. Thankfully, though, there's a good deal more happening, and even the love triangle aspect has some sharp edges.

For starters, Greer throws herself completely into the part. She's a talented physical actress, and she's unafraid to look goofy in the service of comedy. There's also something a little forlorn in her performance, a suggestion that behind her ever-smiling face, she's a little disappointed with how her life has turned out.

"Saturday Night Live" alum Parnell gets his fair share of the comedic load as the school's vice principal, a walking Napoleon complex who's constantly asserting his authority -- mostly to remind himself that he has some. Polaha plays straight man as the affable and slightly dense Tim, and somewhat refreshingly, Burns gets to be a little bitchy. It's not that Lisa is a bad person, exactly, but she's never really gotten past the homecoming-queen stage.

The cast's secret weapon, though, is Earl Billings ("Thank You for Smoking") as the weary Principal Huffy. He doesn't have many scenes in the two episodes ABC sent out for review, but his bone-dry delivery (as when he's standing outside a school dance, repeating "no groping, no grinding" to whoever walks past) makes every one of them count.

Caroline Williams, who previously worked on "The Office," created the show, and Emmy winner Todd Holland ("Malcolm in the Middle") directed the pilot with a few "Malcolm"-esque touches (including having characters talk to the camera, a device that's a little overused but is effective for doling out exposition). Holland is also an executive producer, along with Ashton Kutcher (who does a self-mocking guest turn in the second episode, airing Thursday) and "That '70s Show" vet Mark Hudis (among several others).

With a fine cast in front of the camera and a pretty strong crew behind it, "Miss Guided" seems to have what it takes to enjoy a fairly good run. It's not hard to imagine it paired with "Samantha Who?," which has performed well for ABC this season. But to get there, viewers will have to find it, and ABC is not making it all that easy.

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