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TV REVIEW : HARSH LESSONS FROM ‘THE FACULTY’

Times Staff Writer

“Kid, you want to be a hero, and there just ain’t no heroes. No villains, either. It’s a strange war.”

And an even stranger show. For this isn’t a grizzled combat veteran instructing a young soldier to stay cool, it’s an experienced high school teacher counseling an ardent newcomer about the realities of the profession.

Welcome to “The Faculty,” an enormously intriguing, disntinctly unsettling half-hour pilot that Jay Tarses wrote and directed for ABC more than a year ago. It didn’t sell and is being played off as summer fodder tonight at 9:30 (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42).

The war analogy is not accidental. Tarses reportedly developed this show after seeing an ABC documentary in the fall of 1984 about the discouraging state of the nation’s public schools--particularly in the inner cities, where teachers were struggling against mammoth economic, social and disciplinary problems to provide an education to their students.

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“The Faculty” is set on such a campus. Unlike the free-spirited suburban high school depicted on CBS’ “Fast Times” this spring, the one here is a combat zone--psychologically if not physically--and the teachers’ lounge is littered with casualties: bitter burnouts, bruised idealists and, worst of all, tired cynics who just don’t care anymore. “Fail ‘em and forget ‘em,” advises one instructor.

It’s not all depressing. The teachers (including Blair Brown, Allyn Ann McLerie and Richard Lawson) banter with each other and joke about the principal (Max Wright), and some of them still believe theirs is an important, honorable calling.

With its unusual style--the story stops periodically for the characters to address the audience--and its unsentimental view of the problem-plagued schools, it’s easy to see why this dark comedy didn’t become a series (although it’s no darker than the police series “Joe Bash,” which ABC did pick up for six episodes).

Still, how unfortunate. It would have been interesting to see what this “Faculty” might have taught us about that “strange war” going on within our schools.

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