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“A Teacher” is a textbook on a predatory relationship: NPR

Kate Mara as Claire Wilson in A teacher

Pamela Littky / FX


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Pamela Littky / FX


Kate Mara as Claire Wilson in A teacher

Pamela Littky / FX

The FX on the Hulu miniseries, A teacher, sits somewhere between a twisted romantic drama and an uplifting tale of the enduring trauma of a student-teacher bond. The story is unsettling as it mixes warning and excitement, brilliant when it subtly depicts grooming, and bland when you look too closely at certain details of the character. Even though parts of the story are fragile, the story arc is strong enough to support the weight of a very heavy subject.

Claire Wilson (played by Kate Mara) is an English teacher in her 30s who is particularly interested in one of her students, a charming high school student named Eric Walker (played by Love, Simon idol Nick Robinson). When the two begin to spend time alone outside of the classroom, a manipulative and damaging affair ensues.

A partially recycled script

A teacher (2020) is director Hannah Fidell’s second try in this story although the miniseries is not a prequel, sequel, or remake of its independent film namesake Sundance, A teacher (2013). Fidell’s decision to repurpose the title, setting, and plot pieces is a bit like giving your new dog the name of your death. While the miniseries certainly have time to explore the personal factors that led to this noxious affair, the characters still feel generic.

In the miniseries, Claire faces a difficult relationship with her husband, the lingering trauma of her mother’s death and her father’s alcoholism, and regret for her wasted youth. It sounds like a universal recipe for an unhappy woman. Whenever Claire is confronted with her bad decisions, she makes her vague list of personal grievances.

The camera divides the time between following Claire and Eric. While telling so much of the story from Claire’s perspective risks making audiences identify too closely with an abuser, Claire’s character is difficult to identify as she is ultimately a nebulous caricature of a bitter woman with a toxic sequence. While we can’t see much beyond the excitement and intense confusion of Eric’s puppy, the show does a good job of showing the worry or absence of his family and friends.

Nick Robinson as Eric Walker in A teacher on Hulu on FX.

Pamela Littky / FX


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Pamela Littky / FX


Nick Robinson as Eric Walker in A teacher on Hulu on FX.

Pamela Littky / FX

Most of the scenes between Claire and Eric take place outside of school despite the hour per day they spend together on both sides of the class. But during their weekend and even during their fights, it’s easy enough to forget how worrisome the situation is.

A predator’s lesson plan

Although conversations about sexual abuse have multiplied since the #MeToo movement, many people still don’t know what grooming is or how to spot it. Predators can use their power to manipulate victims into believing the relationship is their idea. Consent is more complicated than a simple yes or no, as coercion can happen gradually.

In the time preceding their sexual relationship, A teacher gives us a lesson in predatory grooming behavior. Claire uses several strategies: 1. Gain Eric’s trust. 2. Create addiction as the only SAT tutor he can afford. 3. Isolate him in the name of mentoring. 4. Make her keep secrets, whether she jokes about other students or gets him out of a citation for underage drinking.

Times of crossing borders are blurred by Ms. Wilson’s sporadic retreats to professionalism. She starts letting Eric call her Claire outside of the classroom, then crosses the lines on her way to a fellowship party with him. But she plays the role of a responsible adult by opting for orange juice instead of mimosa. At first, she berates him for kissing her, but then continues to meet him in private places, before finally initiating sex. As their relationship deepens, Claire sets out new rules only to break them and tear the last strands of stability from under Eric’s feet. There are times that romanticize their relationship as something other than child abuse.

Even though the series as a whole criticizes the grooming, the sex scenes fall on a dangerous line between criticizing and embracing the hot teacher fantasy.

The awareness campaign tagged on the series

Each episode in the series is limited by trigger warnings and an FX Resource page where the main cast speak directly about the grooming and direct viewers to the hotlines. But, there is the inherent paradox of showing a dramatized situation as a method of criticizing it. 13 reasons why (2017) is an even more extreme example of this balancing act. In an attempt not to glamorize suicide, the series began with actors introducing themselves and their characters, explaining the purpose of the show and offering trigger warnings. 13 reasons why also had an extensive resource page, although some critics said it failed to balance the show’s impact on young viewers.

For viewers that the links to the resources hopefully don’t reach the warning signs and reflections within the story A teacher will be enough to compensate for the sensational moments.

Worthy of frenzy

After a three episode premiere last Tuesday, the next seven episodes will be released each week. The show is greedy but might not gain the loyalty needed to keep viewers coming back each week for a half-hour reward. Releasing the full series at once and letting people binge would have helped muddy up any pacing issues and made some awkward timeline jumps more forgivable. The slowness of the short weekly episodes does the series a disservice, as the sum of the series is much larger than the single episodes. So, maybe wait until the full season is over at the end of December to get a full and frightening view of grooming and its aftermath.


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