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Television Review

'Miss Guided' leads to smiles

Judy Greer (with Ashton Kutcher) brings innocence and kookiness to the role of Becky. Judy Greer (with Ashton Kutcher) brings innocence and kookiness to the role of Becky. (RICHARD CARTWRIGHT/ABC)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / March 18, 2008

"Miss Guided" is a sweet nothing of a sitcom. More substantial comedies are like lit fuses, with some kind of direct or indirect trail leading to social relevance. They make points about politics ("All in the Family"), sexual orientation ("Will & Grace"), morality ("Arrested Development"), narcissism ("Seinfeld"), or leadership ("The Office") - all while making us laugh at ourselves. They're artifacts of and about and against our culture.

But "Miss Guided," which premieres tonight at 10:30 on Channel 5 before moving to Thursdays, does little more than inspire a few easy smiles. It's a light half-hour of adults acting like teens, and teens acting like teens, that won't trick you into thinking or rethinking much of anything important. In the "Miss Guided" halls of learning, only silliness ensues. But it's genial silliness, and that's worth something.

The easiest way to describe the show is to call it " 'Scrubs' goes to high school," with the caveat that it's not nearly as clever as the hospital comedy. Judy Greer stars as Becky Freeley, a guidance counselor who was a flaming geek in high school. Becky thinks she has overcome her adolescent awkwardness, but we can see that she's still a lovable dolt. "Miss Guided" is a single-camera comedy without a laugh track, and so we are periodically treated to glimpses of the young Becky with bad hair and braces, getting stood up for the homecoming dance or rocking out to Milli Vanilli.

Becky is smitten with the boyishly handsome Spanish teacher, Tim (Kristoffer Polaha), but who's that competing with her for his affections? Why it's perfect Lisa (Brooke Burns), Becky's nemesis, the very same Lisa who was the homecoming queen when Becky was a student. When "Miss Guided" moves to its regular spot on Thursday night at 8, Ashton Kutcher guest stars as a substitute Spanish teacher who further complicates the wacky love triangle.

What can I say? The ladies vie to charm Tim, who is not a particularly sharp tack, and they deal with the persnickety vice principal, played with wonderfully low-key obnoxiousness by Chris Parnell, formerly of "Saturday Night Live" and an occasional guest star (as Dr. Spaceman) on "30 Rock." The premise isn't much more sophisticated than an abominable NBC sitcom from 2006 called "Teachers," which miraculously lasted for seven episodes. And yet somehow the result is far more winning.

Greer, who had regular TV roles in "Arrested Development" and the short-lived "Love Monkey," is an important factor in the show's appeal. She recalls Joan Cusack, but with a tinge of Shelley Long in the mix. If New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast were to develop a sitcom character, Greer might play her well - innocent, kooky, a little schoolmarmish, distinctively oddball. Greer makes Becky into a nut whose self-delusions are harmless, who is certainly pathetic and yet somehow worth rooting for.

Created by Caroline Williams, the show has very little of the forced politically incorrect humor that has become a sitcom cliché these days. And it doesn't resort to the hyped-up farce that makes "Samantha Who?" feel so labored. "Miss Guided" is a solidly middle-of-the-road amusement about the adolescent within. It's not a show I'd put on my DVR, but if I happened upon it, I might sit back and smirk.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

Miss Guided

Starring: Judy Greer, Brooke Burns, Chris Parnell, Kristoffer Polaha

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Tonight, 10:30-11

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