Ja’mie: Private School Girl premiered on the ABC last night. Crikey TV reviewers Laurence Barber and Byron Bache give their take on Summer Heights High‘s breakout star.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the return of Ja’mie King in Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie: Private School Girl. While tentatively excited at the prospect, I talked about how Lilley “has the opportunity to take Ja’mie to a new level; where Summer Heights High thrust Ja’mie into the ‘povvo’ world of public schooling, it never truly took anything away from her,” or in the worst case, “Lilley could go the safest route … and rehash the same ideas and same variations on a theme, thereby feeding his toughest critics”. Unfortunately, based on the first of six episodes, the latter seems to be the case.
Ja’mie is a pure sociopath. She’s racist, sexist, homophobic, classist and various other –ists as well. To an extent this has worked as part of her presence in We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High, but Private School Girl removes the one component that made Ja’mie watchable, funny, and tolerable: contrast.
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Where Heroes (broadcast in some territories as The Nominees) placed Ja’mie’s delusional egotism against reluctant selflessness (Daniel Sims’ eardrum donation to his deaf twin brother, Nathan) and aunt-like underachievement (Pat Mullins’ tragic rolling expedition), Private School Girl focuses solely on Ja’mie and exists entirely within her universe. Where Summer Heights High juxtaposed her intense privilege with the banality of public schooling and gave her various foils, this series elects instead to surround her with fawning sycophants.
It’s one thing to show this in five-minute segments, but when it’s 26 minutes straight of teenage girl babble it’s merely exhausting. Lilley has elected to infuse his script with as much of the modern teen lexicon as possible — “legit”, “YOLO”, “groupie” — but almost never in a way that feels naturalistic even for parody. He then goes as far to invent a word for Ja’mie herself to “invent” — “quiche”, meaning hotter than hot — and uses it so repetitively it fulfils, rather than comments on, what I call the Law of Fetch. Inspired by Mean Girls, the Law of Fetch states that any fake slang term must be either routinely undercut (“Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!”) or at least scarcely used.
The Ja’mie of Summer Heights High was capable of complimenting another human being. Like any teenage girl, she knew how to turn it on when she needed to. The Ja’mie of Ja’mie: Private School Girl is an out-and-out monster. She’s a bubbling cesspit of id, completely unconstrained by a super-ego.
There are other sociopaths in the Lilley canon. Summer Heights High‘s Mr G — a character who got his first outing on failed sketch comedy series Big Bite — was an entirely unsympathetic egotist, but he had insecurites. In everything he did, you saw the self-doubt, the utter lack of self-esteem, and you loved him because he was broken. But Ja’mie’s not broken, she’s borderline evil.
And it isn’t social commentary. We never see the flipside. Ja’mie dumped her best friend Brianna because she got fat. Brianna’s probably pretty happy with herself and thrilled to be without Ja’mie, but we never see it. Comedy’s about juxtaposition, something even fat-suit and single entendre-obsessed Matt Lucas and David Walliams understand. Lilley’s convinced that if he commits to something enough, someone will laugh eventually.
The challenge was to make Ja’mie human. Based on this first episode, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
On the heels of ABC1′s actually pretty good Upper Middle Bogan and the inconsistently brilliant It’s A Date, Ja’mie: Private School Girl is a major disappointment.