Sit Down Shut Up: Cool Enough For School?

As a card-carrying Mitch Hurwitz devotee, I anxiously awaited the premiere of Fox's Sit Down Shut Up (which first aired on Sunday, but which I watched yesterday on Hulu). After all, SDSU was created by Hurwitz, supposedly inspired by Summer Heights High, and features voice acting by Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Henry Winkler, and Cheri Oteri (among other hilarious actors). What's not to be psyched about?

Now, to be fair, my hopes were about as high as they could be for this show, so while I'll say I was a bit disappointed, that doesn't mean I didn't think it was funny or worth watching. Plus, in traditional Hurwitz fashion, SDSU manages to pack quite a lot of content into a 22-minute episode. They cover all sorts of taboo topics in the pilot, including, naturally, gender politics.

Oh, and here's a clip:

The pilot episode has a plot that would be a little difficult to explain (though you can watch the full episode here). Suffice it to say, it deals with school budget cuts, dissatisfied teachers, a football team called "The Baiters", a time capsule from 1993, and steroids that turn out to actually be synthetic female hormones.

Like I said, the show left a little bit to be desired for me, mainly because I thought some of the jokes were a bit too slapstick-y and forced. Though I chalked this up originally to the fact that the show is animated, and I think cartoons tend to be a bit sillier than live action, it was suggested to me that the jokes might be so accessible because Arrested Development failed due in part to its esoteric (and brilliant) humor.

Another complaint I had with SDSU, as some reviews have already stated, is that it fell a bit short in the subversion department. This is a show about high school teachers, and seeing as how the bar was set pretty high by Strangers With Candy, SDSU could have done a bit more to poke fun at the system (though they did squeeze in a No Child Left Behind joke). Again, this is probably a concession to the network to keep the show on the air, and fair enough. Maybe once the show has established itself a bit more it will cover more ground in that regard.

But this is Bitch, so let's talk about the gender politics! SDSU does pretty well for a Fox prime time show when it comes to pushing the gender envelope (genvelope?). As I previously mentioned, the pilot episode dealt with female hormone replacement pills that were taken by the masculine-seeming female librarian (trans, perhaps?) and are then taken by the feminine-seeming male assistant principal (who grows breasts as a result). The drama teacher is openly bisexual, and the English teacher is openly, well, sexual. As is the German teacher, who gets caught buying some cleverly named pornographic magazines (Giant Prawns, anyone?).

Sure, the show isn't perfect, and even the somewhat subversive gender bending is a tad predictable. Even so, these are topics that are still pretty taboo for a lot of network shows, and it wasn't all that long ago that a cartoon featuring openly homosexual/bisexual high school teachers would have been banned from the airwaves. Progress, perhaps?

Despite some of its faults, I think SDSU is worth watching, and not just because I am still suffering from Arrested Development withdrawal symptoms. What do you think? Did you get a chance to watch the pilot? Will you watch the next episode? Do you think the show is able to get away with a little more because it's animated, or do you think the opposite is true? Comment away!

by Kelsey Wallace
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2 Comments Have Been Posted

Can't agree.

I really didn't see any of the progressive elements listed above.

Look at the only prominent person of color on the show: Sue Sezno. A large, "sassy" black woman best known for being stubborn and obstinate. Yes, she's an authority figure (interim principal) - but only because a white man got sick. Not because she's, you know, competent, or hardworking. Nope.

I don't think that her stubbornness was a critique of how black women are portrayed on television - this show is pretty damn obvious about its critiques, and I saw none of that. Her only purpose on the show is to stymie the actions of the rest of the white and mostly male cast. Sezno did nothing more than trade in stereotypes, and she struck me as pretty damn close to straight up racist.

On to the example you mentioned - the possibly transgendered teacher. That whole plotline was transphobic and almost openly hostile - not progressive. The possibly trans teacher is pathetic and eager to prey on students sexually. As a woman, she's overly dependent on her gay (bi) best friend - who has no real personality beyond being gay.

Let's not forget that the one who grows breasts is the stupidest and least competent character on the show.

Subversive? I can't agree. But maybe there's something I'm not seeing, or something that the show will develop. But based on the pilot, I'm hoping they cancel this and resurrect the formerly excellent <i>King of the Hill</i> (yes, it's traditional, but it definitely has its feminist moments).

Outside of my feminist problems with it, I didn't find this to be at all funny - I didn't laugh once. I was really uncomfortable watching it, actually, because it was trying so hard. Its attempts to show up the constraints of the traditional sitcom/animated sitcom (particularly the "catchphrase" emphasis) were particularly strained. And I don't buy "it's the network!" as an excuse for its lack of any kind of progressive focus - <i>The Simpsons</i> and <i>Family Guy</i>, while problematic, have never hesitated to espouse liberal views, and <i>American Dad</i> openly skewers conservatives.

I agree

I think that, on the whole, I agree with the problems you had watching SDSU. There was something about it, while I was watching, that just felt very unsettling. I realize that nearly every character fit some sort of stereotype: the old single guy who likes porn, the supposed know-it-all jock. However, there was just something that really did not feel okay about any of the characters who weren't white or straight, and the story line of the steroids-turned-female-hormones was just downright terrible. You said it all very well, so I won't go on, but one last thought I had in reference to the number of male teachers: aren't most teachers (high school and lower) female?

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