It's been almost two months since A&E's Teach: Tony Danza went off the airwaves, but we're still puzzled as to exactly what happened. About what happened to the show, what happened to the kids, what happened to Tony Danza, and what happened to us.
Yes, we know that A&E pushed up the Season Finale by two weeks, effectively ending the series nearly as soon as it began, but we can't shake the feeling that it ended not just abruptly, but miserably.
The seven episode series was slated to take Tony "The (other) Boss" Danza through a year of teaching 10th Grade English at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. Danza, perhaps still reeling from the failure of his talk show...
and still rehabbing from his Go Kart wreck...
... was poised to undertake perhaps his greatest challenge. He'd seemingly done it all – boxed professionally, played several characters named Tony on TV and film, tapped danced in front of thousands and hosted an ill-fated, mercilessly mocked daytime chatfest – but for Danza there still remained one goal he'd yet to conquer: teaching (or maybe it was starring in a reality show). So he whipped himself into fighting teaching shape, completing teaching orientation, trimming his signature coif and readying his reading glasses.
But some cynical person forgot to tell Danza that reality shows are for self-promoters and sycophants, the vapid and the vacuous. So instead of using the show for his personal gain, Dana actually cared. Although A&E has lately traded on celebrity docu-soaps, with its dreary verite style and cloudy outlook Teach: Tony Danza tilted more towards Intervention thanGene Simmons: Family Jewels (or the recently axed The Hasselhoff's). Danza did what he's always done, what explained much of his affable appeal on Taxi...
and Who's the Boss?
... offer up honesty and earnestness, even if it meant we were laughing at him and not with him. Except this wasn't Who's the Boss?, it wasn't the 80s, it was a room full of 15-year-olds most of whom had never heard of Tony Danza. Which made moments like Danza performing a rhythmless creation myth rap in front of the class particularly uncomfortable, out of touch and excruciating. Likewise for the birthday rap he penned for the take no guff, middle-aged black Principal. Or his obsession with hand sanitizer.
However, despite his gaffes (and there were many, like neglecting to sign in on his first day, drawing the ire of the truly terrifying Assistant Principal), Danza was refreshingly honest and committed, often being moved to tears from the emotion, frustration and self-doubt that comes with being a first-year teacher. In fact, if Danza was guilty of anything, it was of taking the challenge too personally, agonizing over every class, every book report (especially for someone who only teaches one period). But if Steven Seagal was as committed to law enforcement as Danza was to teaching then the streets of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana would be crime free, and if Snooki was as focused on drinking and partying as Danza was to the well-being of his students then she'd be dead. Point is that the guy gave it his all. We still took delight in deriding him whenever possible, but he did make a genuine effort to teach and reach these kids, likely more than most jaded, burnt-out teachers with tenure would.
In fact, in the last episode (spoiler alert!) Danza went as far as volunteering to help a troubled delinquent who misses more class than he attends, a student who is not even in Danza's class. The episode was actually a collection of hardships: Danza struggling to get Algernon, a bright but reluctant student, to hand in his paper even after multiple extensions; the possible defection of another student, the bright but high maintenance Chloe, who felt she was being treated unfairly; and the attempt to mentor the aforementioned bad seed, all the while preparing for a benefit show to raise money for a new air conditioner.
While the benefit goes off without a hitch, and the students can look forward to a much cooler library, the episode ends on a real somber, pessimistic tone. Algernon finally hands in his paper, but Tony knows he was too easy on the kid, and still wonders how to connect with him. Chloe stays in the class, but requires more attention and a softer touch. And, to top it off, the delinquent is arrested and faces potential jail time. What will Tony do? How will he overcome these obstacles? Or will he be knocked out?
We'd find out next week, right?
But next season then, right? They're just taking a hiatus, and will be back after winter break, right?
That's it. That's how Teach: Tony Danza ends. No resolution, no hugs, just a murky, depressing fade out. Like a season finale of The Wire. But instead of a gritty HBO drama about cops and drug dealers in Baltimore,this is an A&E reality show starring Tony Danza, star of She's Out of Control.
It was supposed to be real, authentic, and difficult, but it was also supposed to be positive, uplifting, and inspiring. Instead, in the end felt it like a dirge.
So what do you say, A&E? Tell us that Tony Danza, Algernon, Chloe, Monte, Eric, Ileana and all the rest turned out okay. We're never going to stop ridiculing Danza, but we prefer to do it for Hudson Street and not for ruing the lives of twenty-six high school sophomores.
Oh, well, guess we'll have to wait for the book.
And don't forget to follow Tony Danza on Twitter. Even if he's forgotten about it.
Seth Keim: Weaned on Growing Pains, the Muppets and Mister Salty Pretzels, Seth developed his affinity for pop culture at a young age, lulling himself to sleep with Welcome Back Kotter reruns. At 13, he cut his chops playing Six Degrees of Bacon at Kutshers Sports Academy. He then majored in English and minored in Film Studies at Tufts University, where he was the campus' foremost TGIF scholar. He hoped to pursue his goal of being the go-to resource for film and TV trivia, but had his dreams dashed when he discovered the existence of IMDB. After spending several years producing corporate videos in NYC he moved to LA, played an extra on one episode of Two and a Half Men, and promptly returned to NY, where he now focuses on his blog Jumped The Snark. Seth resides in Brooklyn and plans to purchase a Betta fish in the very near future. Follow him at Jumped The Shark.