Things are not going so well. I can say, without exaggerating, that my country looks like it is edging towards another civil war. My own mind is so shredded that I can barely focus enough to read simple things. Attempting to find some way to divert my mind, I decided to watch some Netflix and...chill. No, not like that!. I was poking around Netflix, attempting to find the most light-hearted, simplistic entertainment I could. And so I chanced upon Mr. Young, a show with an unlikely and wacky premise. A teen genius graduates from MIT at 14, and turns down a job at NASA to go back to his old town, and teach his former classmates science!
Now, from that description, you might be thinking "But wait! How could a 14 year old deal with the complex responsibilities of overseeing his own peers in an educational setting, even if he has a penchant for science?". And that was what I was thinking too, as I began watching. Before realizing that this was not a show that would be asking those questions. This show is happily and fully invested in slapstick comedy, wacky hijinks and general shenanigans. In fact, the starting premise of him being a teacher is only brought up when we need to set up for a wacky caper. With the first episode, I thought perhaps the show would attempt to stick to something like reality, but by the third episode, where Mr. Young builds a lifelike android to enforce order against the class bully...I realized we were firmly in fantasy territory.
The episodes follow a formulaic structure. Mr. Adam Young, along with teaching his class, hatches a scheme to impress his crush, Echo (who is also a student in his class, which I will discuss below). He enlists the help of his lecherous, weaselly friend Derby, and they hatch a scheme that usually falls afoul, as they have to avoid the class bully, Slab, the school principle, Mr. Tater, and his self-absorbed sister, Ivy. The only other teacher shown is Mrs. Byrne, an elderly teacher who is hinted to be hundreds, if not thousands of years old. There is also a wise janitor, a Vietnamese man named Dang who speaks with a thick "Asian" accent, and who knows martial arts (I will also discuss that below). Sometimes we see Adam and Ivy's mother in a few scenes. Other than that, the other students and teachers are just extras in the background. Most of the action involves slapstick comedy (that is done very well) and broadly-done jokes (that is done a little less well).
One other thing about this show: it is Canadian. It was made in Canada, with Canadian actors, and is apparently set in Canada, although we only see a few signs of that, such as Canadian money being used. The title song is also by Canadian band Hot Hot Heat. It being Canadian does change my opinion of it.
It is surprising to me how something made between 2011 and 2013 can seem so dated today. Our protagonist uses his position as a teacher in his pursuit of one of his students, which is a little bit weird, even if they are both 14. His best friend, the paragon of a sidekick from a teen comedy, is lecherous. The school bully sticks nerds in trash cans for laughs. His older sister, Ivy, is a vain blond girl whose sole interest seems to be impressing boys. The only minority character, Dang the Janitor, is a comedic figure based on the most general Asian stereotypes: speaks funny, has martial arts powers, and is inscrutable. Sexual harassment, casual violence, racist stereotypes... this feels dated now. In what may be a ridiculous excuse, some of this I view differently because it is Canadian. The school violence, a bully stuffing people in lockers, might seem a little different in a country without a history of weekly school shootings. A comedic Vietnamese character might be a little different in a country that didn't fight a terrible, decades long war in Vietnam. But still: I can't view this stuff innocently anymore. It does help that this is clearly out of the realm of reality. If the show was trying to make a "serious" portrait of a teenage teacher, his crush on his student would certainly be an obstacle to our enjoyment. But once we throw in the androids, truth gas and mastodon bones, the show becomes so obviously a set-up for slapstick that we don't have to worry about it. Too much. Also, as is often the case, some of the worst elements could be taken out and still leave the humor intact. The physical comedy of Dang's ability to appear and disappear at will would still be funny without the thick Asian accent announcing "this is an inscrutable Asian stereotype!".
And: back to that Civil War I mentioned above? One of the reasons it is brewing is this cultural split. It used to be, we could have funny Asian characters, have bullies beat people up, have 14 year old dorks proposition women left and right, and in general have insulting comedy without a second thought. And whatever the stated reasons for social and cultural division in the United States right now, there are a lot of people who base their identity on being able to make fun of those who are different. Is it worth tearing a society apart because people feel your middle school lunchroom humor is no longer funny? Well, apparently it is. The fact that jokes like these aren't really funny to me anymore does not fill me with simmering resentment of my lost cultural hegemony. I just think the stupid jokes are funny, and wait for the principal to be baked into a gigantic human Rice Crispie Treat.