I Binge-Watched FX on Hulu's New Controversial Series ‘A Teacher’ & Now It’s All I Can Think About
*Warning: Minor spoilers ahead*
Ah, the carefree years of high school, when a young man's days are filled with thoughts of homecoming dances, SAT scores...and, in the new FX on Hulu series A Teacher, having a secret affair with his English teacher who is married and more than 10 years older.
In the past, the above story would be played as a sex comedy as in the ’80s flick My Tutor, or as a violent drama a la 2001's The Piano Teacher. But this is 2020 and #metoo is making us take a hard look at what used to be shrugged off as “boys being boys.” Ultimately A Teacher does a pretty neat, and extremely unsettling, trick: It grooms us viewers as sympathetic participants in a seeming love affair that’s as guiltily intoxicating, at least at first, as a pulp paperback with a torn cover found on a seat at a bus station. The series is a pretty low buy-in, time-wise: 10 half-hour episodes, premiering wth three episodes at once, then one per week through December. Here’s a little more about it—and a sincere note about who might want to stay away.
1. So What's the Story, Exactly?New high school English teacher Claire (Kate Mara) causes a sensation with her youthful attractiveness and reads Dylan Thomas to her class; cute senior Eric (Nick Robinson) hangs on every word. Late one night, Claire’s ho-hum husband is away on business, so she's solo at a diner when Eric and his two besties, all stoned, run into her, start chatting her up, then leave Eric to finish his meet-cute with her. Before long, Claire treats Eric to free backlit SAT study sessions (surely they need brighter lights or he's going to ruin his eyes!). At first, the two manage to keep it pretty profesh. (While having fantasies about each other, natch.) A stolen kiss leads to hand-wringing and an "I can't stop thinking about you" speech, then, back seat car stuff goes down.
And that’s just the first three episodes! As the story continues, we learn that Eric is a stand-up pal to his buddies, a caring older bro to his seven-year-old twin brothers and a loving son to his single mom. We see that Claire is estranged from her recovering alcoholic dad and not especially close to her police officer brother, even though both men live in her small town. And that she's listlessly seeing a fertility doctor with her kind-but-dull husband, her college sweetheart who spent their savings on musical equipment to start a band with other thirtysomethings.
Written out, it's pretty meh stuff, but frankly all that character development is just white noise—the sound that Charlie Brown's teacher makes—to viewers because we're waiting to see Claire's nostrils flair when Eric shows up, and watch Eric's eyes get alternately narrowed and misty with lust when Claire walks by. Then, once the two get together, we start to notice...why is Claire so cold to her husband? Why does Eric need to shout at his mirror image, “I'm the man!”? And, how is this ever going to work out? But as intriguingly as Claire's and Eric's stories develop, together and apart, what's more interesting is how the series provokes us to re-examine our expectation that young men be impervious to sexual predation by women. With just a bit of seduction, we're so ready to buy into the idea that this is forbidden love instead of what we ultimately know it to be—harmful and criminal behavior.
2. Should You Watch?
Every episode starts with a trigger warning about how its "depictions of grooming" may be disturbing, and while the la-di-dah high school atmosphere of the first few episodes might pull you in, be forewarned that as Claire becomes more reckless and Eric becomes more enmeshed, the show gets deeply unsettling. A Teacher deserves serious praise for its willingness to show tough stuff, including how toxic masculinity victimizes men as well as women, and how addictive behavior can bleed from sex to alcohol to self-harm. While the show's ending (which we won't reveal here) feels partly unearned, we're glad that it lifted what's otherwise a haunting and sadly all-too-relatable story.