- Created by Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Orvedahl, and Ben Roy
- February 2016 to April 2019
- Billy Shoemaker-Ben Roy
- Loren Payton-Adam Cayton-Holland
- Andy Fairbell-Andrew Orvedahl
- Abbey Logan-Maria Thayer
- Principal Geoffrey Quinn-Rory Scovel
- Tammy Sherman-Sonya Eddy
- Rod Knorr-Kyle Kinane
- Drs. Rick and Astor Green (twins)-The Sklar Brothers
- Leslie Bronn-Susie Essman
- Summer the drama teacher-Mary Lynn Rajskub
- Steven Sweeney-Jerry Minor
The series focuses on three teachers and a librarian at a Colorado high school who are more inept than the students they teach.
Those Who Can’t was a weird ass show. I do not think there is any other way that I can put it. The show was an experience. It felt at times equal parts parody and surreal comedy. They went for the laugh. This was truTV’s first full length scripted comedy, and it was amazing.
In my opinion the show embodied the spirit of the very early episodes of such shows as Married…with Children and the short-lived Police Squad! which were at times bizarre and also went for the laugh. But this show was also intelligent. I know that sounds a little stupid in and of itself, but often there were smart jokes in Those Who Can’t done with dumb humor and they were hilarious. It is a rare thing where intelligence can be married with genuinely funny.
Many comedies have silly plots. It is the nature of the genre, but things often became ludicrous on this show. Reality be damned! They would take something relatively sensible or normal and push it to the ridiculous. And the season finales went ten times harder in that direction. They sought to entertain and create something good, and they accomplished both.
As I said the show was way smarter than you might initially give it credit for. For example, the school mascot of the fictional Smoot High School where the show was set was the Tariff. Why? The school itself draws its name from the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. Who would even conceive of that under any circumstances? For the casual viewer it is a weird mascot and a funny name. For others they recognize what they reference but you are left asking why?
In a screwball way in episodes they touched on things like sexism and racism, parodied politics on several occasions, pop culture phenomena like Downton Abbey, bullying and the efforts to deal with it, pop religion, and so much more in a genuinely funny way. Sometimes it looked like they were communicating a message. Others looked like they were just saying “This is silly and here is why.” But they never shoved your face in it.
Ben Roy stars as Billy Shoemaker who is a former punk rocker stuck in what he feels were his antiestablishment glory days as a member of Capitalist Emulsification and is continually struggling to come to terms with the life he has now.
Adam Cayton-Holland is Spanish teacher Loren Payton who views himself as the coolest teacher in the school and is stuck on a trip to Spain he took his senior year. At one point he becomes engaged to a hooker mostly because of how woke he thinks it would be to marry one.
Andrew Orvedahl is Andy Fairbell who is the school’s gym teacher, JV volleyball coach, and health teacher. He is naïve in the extreme and cluelessly walks into the jokes of Payton and in particular Shoemaker. In general they take advantage of him. Fairbell was a human doormat. He had no concept of the abuse he was regularly put through by his friends.
Maria Thayer is librarian Abbey Logan who is the most reasonable of the group but easily becomes as petty and terrible as the rest. Abbey is desperate for meaning in her life as well as a relationship to the point of joining a site called This Will Do that connects the liberal Abbey with the right wing Mayor Gil Nash.
Rory Scovel is Principal Geoffrey Quinn and considers Payton his best friend though that relationship is seriously one sided. He is the one that hires Payton’s prostitute initially to break Payton’s slump. Often he is as clueless and incompetent as the rest of the gang.
They had a strong supporting group of characters. Tammy (Sonya Eddy) is Quinn’s secretary and the most grounded character yet is ridiculed and ignored. She and Payton hate each other. Kyle Kinane is Rod Knorr who is an alcoholic teacher of dubious discipline whose mother dated Shoemaker after Shoemaker separated from his wife Tampa. Susie Essman is Home Economics teacher Leslie Bronn who is more like a gangster than a teacher. Mary Lynn Rajskub is drama teacher Summer who has several screws loose. Jerry Minor is guidance counselor Steven Sweeney. The Sklar Brothers show up as twin Drs. Rick and Astor Green whose competency is questionable. These are all good comediennes and it is my understanding they all worked with The Grawlix (the comedy trio the three male leads are a part of) and worked with much of the talent involved in the show before. From those in front of the camera to those behind it, they gathered a solid crew that understood comedy and were also willing to take chances.
Not only was the main cast brilliant but even the guest cast cast was amazing. Sometimes they were actors you would not think would do something like this. Sarah Michelle Gellar, T.J. Miller (before his troubles), Peter Stormare, Cheri Oteri, Patton Oswalt, Michael Madsen, Will Sasso, and Kurt Angle all showed up in guest roles of varying lengths. And they were all great.
Those Who Can’t was a group of totally incompetent and often completely unlikable characters that you still perversely rooted for. That is not a very easy thing to accomplish in a series. You wanted them to succeed even though they were truly terrible people, and their success was not actually a good thing.
The Season One finale was what completely sold me on the show. I had enjoyed the show but it was not a favorite. The finale was a prom episode where everything went wrong as often happened in the show. Quinn, the well-meaning principal, decided to hold prom at the high school rather than repeat the incident from the previous year. Quinn thought he was buying from Edible Arrangements when he was actually buying pot laced edibles. So chaos reigned supreme in hilarious fashion as Capitalist Emulsification (which is the perfect name for a failed punk band) plays for a bunch of stoned teenagers.
The characters never learned anything and the only growth experienced was in their biography and not in and of themselves. Fairbell remained naive. Shoemaker forever remained an angry former punk rocker trapped in life he did not want. Payton forever was reliving his perceived coolness of his high school days. Abby was a woman forever searching for meaning in her life in all the wrong places.
Those Who Can’t did not overstay his welcome. Some shows go on for far too long and by the end are a pale imitation of what they once were. Unfortunately the show did not go on long enough but at least it ended before it jumped the shark.
This is one series that was gone too soon. truTV had something weird and wonderful and special here. It was definitely a show that deserved to grow and be nurtured. It is unfortunate that it lasted only three seasons, but they are three fantastic seasons. It is an amazing piece of television that if you have the chance to watch you really should.
Those Who Can’t is currently available on HBO Max. It is a genuinely funny show they can be enjoyed for what it was on the surface but also has some brains behind it as well. I cannot recommend this enough to watch.