A Very Wide Turning Circle

Oh Mr Pobjie, two weeks of us reacting to your TV review column with words like “ire” and “irk” and then you go and do this:

I hesitate to say this, and it is said with a heavy heart, but … I think I might be a bit over Ja’mie King. In fact, to be honest, I think I was a bit over her halfway through Summer Heights High.

Lucky he hesitated to say it or we might have thought he’d been possessed by the evil spirit of someone who actually had an opinion. But seriously, all bitchiness aside – well, aside from the show being discussed, which runs entirely on bitchiness – Pobjie has manfully stepped up to the plate with this one:

In all of these shows Lilley has demonstrated an uncanny Sellers-esque ability to inhabit his characters that brings them to life with a humanity seemingly at odds with their ridiculous premises.

Okay, not that bit, because comparing Lilley with Sellers is like saying Mahatma Cote is on par with Dame Edna because they’re both a man in a dress. Yes, we know Cote isn’t actually wearing a dress: that’s just how wrong the comparison is. But this, this we can get behind:

It looks like Private School Girl is the same old mannerisms, the same old situations, the same old teen-grotesque routine. Eventually Ja’mie will need to find a way to make us care, a way to make herself the character in a story, rather than just a snapshot of satirical horror

Still, to paraphrase a famous Chris Rock comedy routine, you don’t deserve praise for just doing your damn job and Ja’mie: Private School Girl is a project that deserves to have an extremely sceptical eye cast over it from day one. After all, stuff like this

Of all the loveable, though self-deluded, ogres Chris Lilley has foisted upon us – miscreant schoolboy Jonah Takalua, nerd-turned-theatre impresario Ricky Wong, country-hick twins Daniel and Nathan Sims – none pierces the nerves quite the way Ja’mie Louise King does.

So it’s unsurprising the self-obsessed, privileged and potty-mouthed teenager would get a ”one-woman” show of her own in the multi-talented writer-director’s latest enterprise.

– isn’t helping anyone. Why exactly is it “unsurprising” Lilley’s doing a series focused entirely on Ja’mie? Sure, you say it’s because none of his other characters “pierces the nerves” like she does, but isn’t it slightly more likely that after the critical and ratings flop that was Angry Boys Lilley has retreated to creatively safer ground? Isn’t that the kind of thing you should mention in passing at least once in a story about Chris Lilley in 2013? And don’t get us started on “multi-talented”: what’s the bet Private School Girl has the exact same sweeping choral opening music every other one of Chris Lilley’s shows has because he writes the opening music for them all and he can only write one tune?

Sure, ratings aren’t everything and plenty of good comedy shows either rate poorly or have a fall in audience numbers across a series. But from highest point to lowest, Angry Boys lost a million viewers: the only way most comedy in this country could lose a million viewers would be by murdering strangers door-to-door.

Blah blah iView figures blah blah international sales blah blah globally recognised. Yes, all those things are nice and with them in his back pocket there’s no reason why the ABC shouldn’t have leapt at the chance to give Lilley yet another series of the same old tat. The fact remains: the ratings dropped alarmingly across the course of Angry Boys, critical reaction was – for an Australian show – increasingly negative, and no-one walked away from Angry Boys thinking it was an unqualified success the way Summer Heights High was. This is Lilley attempting a comeback; that’s your story about Ja’mie: Private School Girl.

Instead, we get this:

The next obvious step after year 12 is university. Will you be going or do you have another career in mind?

I’m taking my gap year next year to focus on modelling and I’m gonna do aid work in Africa. And like stop child slavery and stuff. And because it’s Africa there’s hardly any food so I’m gonna look SO thin. I can’t wait!

Eh, we can’t really blame the Murdoch press for going down the “wacky in-character interview” path here, as otherwise their (often slightly-more level headed when it comes to local product) coverage actually would have to point out that Angry Boys tanked. Don’t go there, girlfriend!

What that faux-interview does reveal is that Lilley is running on empty. It’s the same old same old wall-to-wall in that article and while you wouldn’t really expect anything less from a promotional puff piece you can’t keep selling the same three jokes forever. She’s a bitch who thinks she’s hot who is played by a man: we get it. Even Ben Pobjie gets it.

That said, we’d be remiss in our duties here if we didn’t point out that for a scathing take-down of Chris Lilley’s upcoming series, Pobjie sure does have a lot of nice things to say about the guy. Things like:

This is not to put down Chris Lilley, who I believe is one of the most brilliant comedic minds and greatest actors Australia has produced

and:

Summer Heights High brought Lilley the big hit he deserved and was followed by the ambitious Angry Boys, not such a hit but in my view, a greatly underrated series.

and:

it would be a shame to see a pull-back from the whip-smart inventiveness that has characterised his career to date

and:

If Lilley can find a way to make that happen, Private School Girl could be another triumph for this bona fide genius.

Geez, we’d hate to think what he’d say if he thought Lilley had made a good show.

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11 Comments

  • Just saying says:

    Same with David Knox on TV Tonight. Too scared to give a real opinion with lots of hedging of bets both ways. They are sycophants who want to be friends with all the talent rather than independent critics.

  • urinal cake says:

    The problem with Pobjie is that he wants to become the talent as well.

    I called this a long time ago- a week ago. I get the feeling by the end of the series Lilley kills off Ja’mie (cancer) but not before she learns humility and kindness. Which wouldn’t be so bad really.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Our money is on some kind of family upheaval. But as Lilley’s only ever killed off one character and that was at the start of his career, worse-case scenario here is probably just humiliation rather than death. And even then she’ll probably change on her own terms – “being gay and poor is great!” etc.

  • urinal cake says:

    Wishful thinking on my part because it’d be a more interesting character/story arc and an annoying character will finally die.

    I think Lilley himself suggested that there will be some family upheaval. I’m guessing Ja’mie’s father facing financial ruin myself. Ja’mie facing the fact she’ll be a ‘public school girl’ and ruining her VCE (and as such the rest of her life).

    But despite whatever the story arcs if the humor is at the level of the faux interview I’m not expecting much.

  • Billy C says:

    Yeah Pobjie is desperate to be a stand-up but still well and truly has his training wheels on. Having come to it late in life he has to learn with a profile which is not easy. His biggest problem like several other comedy ‘critics’ (I’m looking at you Fiona Scott Norman et al) is that once you step on stage you can’t really critique the people you’re going to try and get a job from. You need to pick a side. Brooker managed it because his act was criticism. He was a funny critic. Lilly is not a really a live performer so Pobjie won’t be bumping into him at a festival bar. I imagine that’s partly why he feels he can at least softly engage in some actual criticism rather than fawning praise.

  • felix says:

    Agreed. Pobjie seems really conflicted- he wants to say the show isn’t promising, while at the same time back-pedalling as much as he can with all the ‘genius’ stuff. You can’t be a critic and want to be mates with performers/tv writers at the same time.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Meanwhile in shit critic news, Fairfax’s Melinda Houston wrote in today’s Sunday Age TV guide that “In the last decade, loads of Aussies have made good in LA, but I can’t think of another who has got their own show up and running on network television. So [Super Fun Night]… is newsworthy for that alone.”

    Uh, Jason Gann and Wilfred? Don’t let the door hit you in the arse on the way out.

    (She also calls Ja’mie: Private School Girl “First rate all round”, which doesn’t help matters.)

  • Matlock says:

    Wilfred isn’t on “network television” though is it? It’s on basic cable.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Good point. Though considering almost all the stuff worth watching from the US comes from cable, quality-wise her point makes even less sense.

  • urinal cake says:

    Oddly enough this review of Thursday FC pretty much hits the mark and sinks the boot in (pun intended) http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/oct/17/thursday-fc-tv-review-sbs and is able to be funny as well. It’s probably due to the fact that he’s not an entertainment reporter and hence not with the ‘crowd’ there’s finally a review I mostly agree with.

    Okine really is a third wheel on that show.

  • BetamaxRevivalCrew says:

    It’s on Eleven once a week. I forget which day.