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Inane 'Teachers' is a miserable failure

You haven't seen ''Teachers" yet. But in a sense you have, on every other fifth-rate workplace sitcom ever made. There is absolutely nothing imaginative about NBC's slavishly dopey comedy, which fires off race, breast, and gay jokes like a kid with a spitball straw and too much saliva. This show, which premieres tonight at 9:30 on Channel 7, is so stupid it makes NBC's ''Joey" and the late ''Four Kings" look like TV's A students.

How did this rotten apple make it to prime time? The selection process probably had nothing to do with the funniness factor of the ''Teachers" script and something to do with the young cast's obvious demographic attractiveness. Leads Justin Bartha, Sarah Shahi, and Sarah Alexander make a pretty little love triangle. Also, ''Teachers" is an adaptation of a British sitcom, and NBC, so desperate for ratings, must be hoping to duplicate the luck it has had with another import, ''The Office." Of course, in the network fast lane, NBC's disastrous 2003 adaptation of ''Coupling" is now but a distant memory.

''Teachers" is set at a New Jersey high school, where the kids can be dumb but the teachers can be dumber -- if you think teachers drinking beer in their lounge is dumb, that is. Bartha's Jeff is a hyper English teacher who is drawn to Alexander's prissy Alice, despite her snappy British-accented putdowns. (Alexander, by the way, starred in the original version of ''Coupling.") To spur the sort of romantic high jinks that laugh-track sitcoms thrive on, Shahi's Tina enters the picture and comes between them. She's a large-chested substitute who works nights at a restaurant called Headlights, and she's willing to date Jeff.

When he's not trying to put moves on the ladies, Jeff and drama teacher Calvin (Deon Richmond) talk about their sex lives and do kooky things to make their jobs entertaining. But this buddy team is pestered by the school's resident goody-goodies, the math teacher and the principal, who play Frank and Hot Lips to their Hawkeye and Trapper John. More high jinks ensue.

Bartha is appealing in a Paul Rudd kind of way, and Shahi (from ''The L Word") has a likably easy comic manner. But on ''Teachers," they are trapped in a sort of comedy detention and forced to deliver bad jokes without groaning. Let's hope the bell will ring quickly, so they can move on to projects with more class.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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