REASON TO WATCH Tony D heads back to school . . . this time, as a teacher.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Philadelphia's Northeast High has been in the business of teaching kids since 1890, but never has the school had a teacher quite like this. Star of "Taxi" and "Who's the Boss?" Former professional boxer. Max Bialystock (Broadway's "The Producers"). And, just to pop in the local angle: graduate of Malverne High, class of '69.
From August 2009 though June 2010, Danza taught high-school English to 26 students in back-to-back 45-minute periods. He did much else, too - helped the football team, mounted a musical revue, entitled "ExtravaDanza" (what else?), tried to get troubled kids on the straight and narrow. But mostly he grinded out the lessons. He's an emotional guy - the tears do flow - but a compassionate one, too. Think Pete Dixon-meets-Gabe Kotter-meets-Tony Danza.
MY SAY After a long and successful career in TV, movies and stage, Danza apparently had nothing left to prove - but this. He claims here that he had always wanted to be a high-school teacher, and this is his midlife chance. The kids, as kids are wont, are dismissive and skeptical, even blunt. "He talks a lot," says one critic. None are star-struck. The new teacher does tend to be inept and the kids smell an easy mark: It's as if Vinny Barbarino came back late in life as a teacher, and karma can be cruel. But then, something happens. He gets his legs. He figures out lesson plans. The kids respond. The rhythm of the year is set.
A&E and Danza initially tried to get a Yonkers school, but the board rejected the request. Philly agreed, saying in a statement at the outset, "This important project will help illuminate the joy, rewards and challenges of one of the most gratifying professions available." Mission accomplished? Absolutely.
BOTTOM LINE This teacher can be loquacious - oh yeah - but he's got a big heart, too. Danza, Northeast and A&E deserve credit for this series.