An Unmissable Comedy: Summer Heights High

June 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

summerheightshigh.jpgI have never forgotten what high school was really like. The fantasies that underpin U.S shows like Greek and Gossip Girl and their saccharine counterparts, or even Channel 4’s The Inbetweeners, rely less on reality and more on melodrama to fuel their plots. And fair enough. I thoroughly enjoy each trashy minute of these shows, with their sexed up casts and comfortably familiar storylines.

But that sure wasn’t like my high school.

Sometimes you can’t capture the atmosphere of school from straight on. This is a complex environment that so shapes us. You have to come to it from a different angle, whistling nonchalantly. This is what Chris Lilley does in the new Australian mockumentary Summer Heights High (BBC, Tuesdays, 10:30pm). He just creates three characters that make you laugh. Yet somehow it sneaks up on you that this show really, really captures the nuances of high school. The cliques, the teachers who care and who don’t, the people who can cope and the people who can’t. And all of these dramas are very real. This is not about getting girls, sexy parties and parents having affairs. Summer Heights High gets its comedy from the most understated and yet real dramas of high school.

Comic Chris Lilley plays all three roles, Ja’mie- a hideous private school girl on exchange at the ‘povo’ public school. She marches around, ruthlessly crashing in on the popular hierarchy with a boob thrusting superiority complex. On the other end of the spectrum is Jonah Takalua, an Islander boy with attitude and a learning disability. Jonah’s deteriorating school life is a reflection on so many kids going through the education system. Maybe best of all, certainly most controversial, is drama teacher Mr G. Beneath delusions of grandeur “an industry profession for high school teacher rates?, and musical spectaculars such as Tsunarama, a musical ode to the Tsunami tragedy set to the music of Banarama, is a man whose dreams have not been achieved. Lilley lances that fundamental flaw of humanity in which self obsession overrides responsibility.

For all its humour, beneath its comic exterior this is a show that is at times fiercely critical of this politically correct, careful and yet ultimately careless environment, that can never really look after every kid. Desperation, pretention, and the hopelessly disruptive are fundamental cogs in high school and Lilley captures this beautifully.

A savagely funny comedy, that revels in the immense microcosm that is high school. It is
unrepentant, unsentimental and yet ultimately quite heart breaking. A show that proves that, for all that it is about high school, Australian comedy is growing up.

J balcazar says:

This was hysterical. Really funny and yet gritty at odd moments. Cringe humor at its best!!

Mindwalker says:

I loved every minute of summer heights high and i think your review hits it right on the head….

Can’t wait to see more of our grown up Ozzy Comedy, keep the recommendations coming.