Well, it's nice to know that not everyone at HBO is an idiot convinced that we want to watch obnoxious people complain to their psychiatrists and each other. To everyone's surprise, the network recently picked up Summer Heights High, a breakout Australian comedy featuring the chameleon like comedian Chris Lilley as three different high school students.
Ja'mie is a spoiled arrogant prep school girl visiting public school (which she is convinced is filled with “sluts”) for one charitable term, Mr. G is the egotistical drama teacher with plans to build a performing arts center and name it after himself, and Jonah – the most interesting of the three – is a foul mouthed illiterate Polynesian bad boy with very little hope of a bright future. Not since Jack Rebney has someone made putting two curse words together so funny.
That all three are so convincingly portrayed by a white thirty two year old man is impressive. The realism of the performances (as over the top as they can be) are grounded by strong the supporting cast of non actors.
There was concern that the comedy would be a tough sell in this country, with cultural differences proving too vast and all but, despite a few jokes or slang terms that went over my head, high school experiences are pretty much universal.
The show will undoubtedly draw comparisons to the British Office and the work of Christopher Guest. Like Gervais's ingenious modern classic, it's shot mockumentary style and has that unique funny-but-sad quality that most, if not all. American comedies are afraid to tackle. The similarity to Guest's work is perhaps the shows biggest weakness. Mr. G, does feel a bit too familiar with Corky St Clair so fresh in our minds, though Lilley's dramatic eccentric has considerable more bite and bitterness.
That bite of has landed the show it in the middle of uproar and controversy, mostly over plots and jokes that I haven't seen yet (only two episodes have aired so far) – but I definitely look forward to seeing Lilley cross the line.