Andrew Orvedahl on Those Who Can't, the Grawlix pilot for Amazon
The Grawlix have been one of the brightest lights on the Denver comedy scene for a couple of years now, most successful comedy team not to come out of Denver -- but to live in Denver. Their crowning achievement thus far, though, has got to be this past weekend's premiere of the Those Who Can't sitcom pilot, a hope-to-be series bankrolled by Amazon's new Instant Video. The show revolves around three hopeless Denver high school teachers who entangle themselves in juvenile hijinks that often make their students look like the grown-ups. The Grawlix pilot debuted with several other comedy pilots, including The Onion Presents: The News and a John Goodman/Bill Murray vehicle, Alpha House.
In honor of the release, we recently sat down with a third of the Grawlix pie, wide-eyed innocent Andrew Orvedahl, to chat about the Three Stooges, how high school has changed, and why Adam Cayton-Holland is a manipulative dick.
Westword: Did any of you have any background in teaching when you first came up with Those Who Can't?
Adam was a substitute teacher for a while, but not me or Ben. We have a lot of friends who are teachers, and they're always saying, "Ah, it's Hell!" So what I hoped for with this show was that it would be a fantasy for all of my teacher friends who ever complained to me about their job and their school. You could never behave as these teachers do -- but you might want to.
The things our teachers do in this pilot are not only illegal, but would get you fired immediately in any school. But in this world, it's just sort of par for the course. I screened it for some teachers, and they laughed and thought it was great.
What did you do to prepare yourself for writing about the world of teachers?
None of us had been in a high school classroom in years, well over a decade. So we toured some high school classrooms, and they look pretty different. Now kids can take tests without paper, they have little electronic devices. There are so many little changes.
In the pilot, it's basically how we remember high school, but going forward we'd have to keep in mind what's still done today. Schools don't have overhead projectors anymore; they have these high-tech systems for displaying information. And all the kids have smartphones -- texting in class wasn't a thing for us, because that didn't exist. Kids are so savvy today.
That seems to fit within the dynamic of the show: These kids are always one step ahead of the teachers.
That was sort of the dynamic that I liked, that these teachers are always playing catch-up. They're also sort of juvenile delinquents, and at the same time they're the butt of the kids' jokes.
It seems like the three teachers are sort of extensions of the characters you've created in the Grawlix web series -- only a little more extreme and cartoonish.
Yeah, I could see that. With the Grawlix characters, we just sort of exaggerated the negative personality traits of ourselves. Ben is overly emotional, Adam is this manipulative dick, and I'm this innocent doof. And that carried over with these teacher characters: Ben is hot-headed and overly emotional, and I'm the same idiot that I am in the Grawlix.
Adam is a little less dickish in this show than he is in the web series. In Grawlix, we don't have to worry about a larger world, so it's light on story and big on hijinks. Whereas with this sitcom project we need the story to be solid. So Adam still has those dickish qualities, but he's a little bit more appealing. You kind of like him, even though he's a smartass. We were writing it like a Bill Murray character in an '80s comedy -- a smart alec, surrounded by even more broad, cartoony characters. Like Meatballs, Stripes and Police Academy.
He's a smart, cool-guy who's picking up girls, whereas I'm just dumb and Ben is just upset. Like in The Office, you wouldn't relate to Steve Carell's character, but you would to Jim, you want to see yourself in him.
While watching it, I felt like there was a kind of Three Stooges dynamic, with Adam as Moe, the leader, and you as Curly, the loveable idiot. Though Ben isn't much of a Shemp or Larry -- he'd be more like the hot-headed boss that the Stooges piss off.
Yeah, and that's similar with the Grawlix series. I'm easily manipulated by Adam, and Ben is less easily manipulated, but they have a tense, competitive relationship. I don't know, I'm not that up on my Three Stooges.