Question: how to you react when you hear everyone banging on about a new and much-hyped TV programme? The type of shows, say, that turn people into heinous YouTube bores at house parties? If you’re anything like me, you’ll run straight in the opposite direction of it all. Given that every cat, dog and divil is so breathlessly waxing rhapsodical about The Wire for example, I’ve elected to give it a wide berth. Ditto Mad Men, The Inbetweeners and How Not To Live Your Life. This is not a decision based on the potential merits or otherwise of the shows; it’s more to do with the fact that watching them now under a monstrous cloud of expectation could only end in disappointment. Ach, I will catch up with them eventually, but right now the idea of getting stuck into another TV show reads dangerously like pissing several hours of the only live I’ll ever have up a wall.
All of this means, if course, that I’m shamefully, embarrassingly late to the Summer Heights High party. A friend had been raving about the show – foaming mouth and all – for months, and I filed his rants under ‘telly addict horseshite’. Fast forward to a colder-than-a-prison-guard’s-tit evening in December; drunkenly flipping through the channels, I unearthed a bit of a gem through the snowdrift. Within minutes, I’d run the gamut from hearty belly laughs to actual tears slipping down my face.
The brainchild of 34-year-old Australian Chris Lilley, SHH is shot in that very reliable, well-worn mockumentary style and follows three main characters through a single school term. We have Mr G, a megalomaniac drama teacher who is peddling his own fame-seeking agenda; Ja’mie King, a 16-year-old, pain-in-the-hole of a girl transplanted from a private school on an exchange programme; and Jonah Takalua, a remedial Tongan student who is one verbal warning away from spending the rest of his life on the naughty step.
Hardly a reinvention of the wheel by any means, but Lilley’s execution of these three characters is nothing short of staggering. Playing all three characters, he flits seamlessly between the vile, self-obsessed Ja’mie and Mr. G, a classic study in self-aggrandisement. After researching his three characters for over a year, he affects the quirks, ticks and affectations of all three so that the viewer experiences a complete and utter suspension of belief. It’s ridiculously enjoyable to watch him get under the skin of each type.
Perhaps the most disarming thing about Summer Heights High is that it is entirely improvised, the scenes living in Lilley’s head until he arrives on set. Sometimes Lilley’s supporting cast flounder, unsure as to where he is taking the scenes. No doubt they figure that some of Lilley’s more outlandish ramblings will eventually end up on the cutting room floor. However, the teenage girls that make up Ja’mie’s coven keep their cool as (s)he affects valley girl chic:
Another classic that I will no doubt start calling up on YouTube at various parties to annoy everyone:
The bottom line is that – irony of ironies – I am now so hooked on this show, I can’t stop harping on about it in polite society. I have developed a mammoth, crippling crush on the one-man creative cauldron that is Chris Lilley, who looks like this in real life:
Speaking of TV crushes, my ovaries start to positively twitch whenever I see critic Charlie Brooker call someone a Bumbox or Celebritwunt on-screen. Like a sort of Holy Moly mailout made flesh, Brooker – via his BBC show Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe – harpoons various TV shows and trends with the ruthless glee of a right cantankerous bastard. Be still my trousers…
Here he is providing an inspired summation of the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross bunfight:
Again, I have arrived rather late to the Screenwipe party, but I am rather glad I did…try watching it without tears of laughter springing to your eyes, I dare you.
One party I wish I’d missed altogether, however, is RTE’s newest attempt at a comedy show, This Is Nightlive. In a parallel universe, this half-hour of drivel is called ‘This Is What Thirteen Stone of Smegma Looks Like’. For a start, John Ryan straddles too fine a line between art and life, playing a smarmy, heinous newscaster with frightful conviction. What is ostensibly meant to be a sideswipe at various broadcasters and media quarters has alas been whitewashed and pummelled to such an extent that it’s now a sort f Lidl version of The Day Today. The three jokes that were vaguely funny in the first episode (shown last week) had been disappointingly wheeled back out for last night’s follow-up. Adding insult to injury, the show’s fictional news team remain frightfully two-dimensional and predictable, from the Naas-boutique-plugging showbiz reporter to the ambitious, raven-haired Gaeilgeoir. No prizes, by the way, for guessing their real-life counterparts.
Granted, there are flashes of humour – ‘U2 album gets leaked to Adam’ rolls across on the screen at one point – but these moments are sadly few and far between. At one point Ryan over-eggs a ‘camel-toe’ joke to the point that you want to kick in your own face. No doubt he is aiming for that Gervaisian brand of ‘uncomfortable’ comedy…instead, he sounds like the worst kind of gonkleton.
Of course, it’s our default reaction as a nation to automatically regard any RTE comedy as a great steaming pile of dogwank. Sad to say that in this case, the shoe fits.
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