Andrew Lincoln was the star of not just one, but two series that became ’00s classics in Teachers (as Simon Casey) and This Life (as Egg). Both series were gritty, confronting and true to life.
With plotlines that unashamedly addressed casual sex, racial tensions, sexual harassment in the workplace, drug addiction, working in jobs that pay little and demand a lot, both Teachers and This Life struck a chord at a time when Tony Blair led 10 Downing Street and more than half the teachers in publicly funded schools were desperately fleeing their under-funded, flailing schools. Poorly paid service jobs, racism, sexism and misogyny are still the realities faced in Britain and beyond.
So, do we need Teachers 2.0 with a bunch of school kids glued to their iPhones and teachers scrolling their recommended Spotify playlists under the desk? We don’t. Like trawling an Op Shop and discovering a Gucci bag for $5, the original Teachers remains in top nick decades after it first screened. It’s even better, perhaps, because those of us who were teenagers when we first watched it can appreciate it from the perspective of adulthood where we are trying to fulfil our work and life obligations without screwing up too often in the process.
Lincoln is a blast as the regularly frazzled, absurdly juvenile Simon Casey. His job requires the thankless task of entertaining his high school students at Summerdown Comprehensive, since genuinely educating them seems nigh on impossible. He never tires of finding new ways to push the boundaries of acceptable schoolyard behaviour, both in the classroom and the staffroom. He is convinced that fellow teacher, Jenny, is both sexually obsessed with him and also out to get him fired.
She has her work cut out for her, arguably, since he often sleeps through his alarm, improvises class schedules, makes fun of fellow teachers, and swears like a salty sailor at the drop of a cap. His juvenile pranks are encouraged and abetted by his fellow teachers. Not least when he breaks into the school on his birthday along with Kurt, Brian and Susan in the first episode. Who hasn’t dreamed of running rampant in their workplace, eating cake and swigging champagne from the bottle, in the days before surveillance cameras reigned supreme?
Though Lincoln has achieved international fame since through his role as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead, it is his endearingly laddish Simon Casey (along withThis Life’s Egg) that established his screen-magnet qualities. He smokes, he drinks too much, he spends more time in the pub than planning lessons, he tries to sweet-talk his way out of all the conundrums he causes, and yet, the students seem genuinely delighted to see what he’s going to do next. And Jenny, for all her snide rebukes and eye rolls, seems enamoured of him too.
Teachers is a time capsule of more than just the socioeconomic malaise of Britain circa early 2000s. Watching the series again reveals a soundtrack of all the best Britpop, rock and indie glory of that era. From the Belle and Sebastian theme track (“The Boy with the Arab Strap”) to the soundtrack studded with The Darkness, The Libertines, Ash Supergrass and The Dandy Warhols, it’s a veritable feast of all the bands we were raving, clubbing and getting up to no good with two decades ago.
You’ll recognise some now familiar faces early in their careers. Nina Sosanya, who plays Jenny, has gone on to roles in Love Actually and Red Joan and acclaimed TV series including Silk, Killing Eve, Staged and Screw. One of Simon’s students is the now wildly famous James Corden, who has gone from sitcom Gavin and Stacey and roles in musicals including Into the Woods, Cats and Cinderella, to hosting The Late Late Show where he instigated Carpool Karaoke. Raquel Cassidy, who plays chain-smoking Susan, went on to win a SAG award for her performance in Downton Abbey. And as well as The Walking Dead Lincoln had memorable roles in Love Actually and Made in Dagenham as well as in TV series Strike Back, alongside Sosanya.
In Teachers, there’s a very real appeal in the show not striving to break the internet with stories of excessive drug use, bondage, porn, trafficking or exploitation of any nature. The characters are lovable, flawed and relatable, and for all their foibles, they really do care about their jobs and their students.
If you crave uncomplicated, chuckle-inducing stories that won’t leave you lying awake at 3am wondering why the world is so awful, and if you’re already looking up “Britpop” on Spotify, it’s time to re-watch the early Lincoln vehicle, Teachers.
Enjoy the four-season box set of ‘Teachers’ now streaming at SBS On Demand.