Series Takes School Parody to New ‘Heights’

February 27, 2009  

By Brooke Morin
bmorin@mail.smu.edu

Think back to your high school and middle school years. You had the popular group and the outcasts, the overbearing teacher and the flamboyant drama teacher, gossip-filled passing periods and drama-logged after school hours. While your own high school experience may not have had all of these characteristics, any television series based on this genre does.

This proves no different for the HBO series, “Summer Heights High.” Think high school with a twist. This short series has the appeal of a documentary, depicting every day life at an Australian public school. The school term is documented and highlighted. However, there’s a big difference that may not be obvious from the first episode. Look and you’ll notice comedian Chris Lilley plays all three main characters.

There’s the rich, snobby, private school transfer student, Ja’mie—pronounced Jamie. She comes to Summer Heights High after growing up in a ritzy private school environment. Ja’mie assumes this makes her popular among the lowly public school kids and tries to use this to her advantage from the get-go. She instantly associates herself with the stuck-up pretty girls and they scheme together in that mischievous way that popular kids do. Sixteen-year-old Ja’mie snags a 12-year-old boyfriend. Awkward? Yes, but adds a hilarious flair at the same time.

Lilley’s second persona is the self-absorbed drama teacher, Mr. G. Mr. G’s career peaked long before teaching at Summer Heights High. He comes to school everyday as if he were rehearsing for a Broadway show. He has his little dog that brings an uncomfortably ugly dynamic to the show. Mr. G’s number one dream is to have a center for performing arts in his name on campus. Forget about the money, he thinks his amazing shows are enough to land an expensive building. When a student dies of a drug overdose, he uses that opportunity to spin it into a school wide musical. Needless to say, the plot doesn’t go over well with the school board, but that doesn’t stop the persistent Mr. G.

The last character on Lilley’s eccentric role-call is the 13-year-old Samoan boy, Jonah Takaluah. With this personality, Lilley is able to encompass everything about a confused teenage boy. He has no filter and pays no attention to authority. He is placed in the troubled student program and beginner’s reading classes, but that doesn’t come close to stopping his shenanigans. He still fights with the younger kids and yells four letter words at teachers and students alike. All in all he seems like a great kid.

“Summer Heights High” is not for the easily offended. There is a reason the show is limited to HBO. While it looks like a show that could be enjoyed by all ages, it isn’t. It continuously crosses the line and oversteps boundaries. Profanities and awkward subject matters keep it from venturing to regular cable. The drug overdose musical and underage romance may make some squirm with discomfort while others may howl with laughter.

It’s all about your personality. If you love awkward and dry, yet witty humor, this is for you. “Summer Heights High” is unlike any other show on television. Chris Lilley delivers a unique and hilarious performance as three very different characters. This one of a kind mock documentary is available on DVD, so do yourself a favor and give it a shot.

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