Summer Heights High

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Australia’s funniest export since cork-hats


There was a time when etiquette dictated that a new BBC Three comedy should be met with audience derision — this, after all, was the channel that saw fit to commission seven series of Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps. Recent years have, admittedly, seen a real upturn in quality with the success of Little Britain, Doctor Who-offshoot Torchwood and modern horror Being Human. But it wasn’t until the airing of the rather brilliant Australian comedy Summer Heights High earlier this year that Auntie Beeb’s younger sibling really came into its own.

Chris Lilley’s fly-on-the-wall mockumentary about life in a typical Aussie high school is the television highlight of the year and a comedy classic for the reality TV generation. Actor-comedian Lilley plays the three main characters (snobbish and mean-spirited exchange student Ja’mie; gloriously camp and theatrically militant drama teacher ‘Mr. G’; and Tongan bad boy Jonah) in a show that provokes initial comparisons with the comedy of embarrassment of The Office and the outrageous stereotyping of Little Britain. Look a little deeper, though, and you will be rewarded with a rich, nuanced and painfully accurate look at modern school life.

Whether he’s exploring the borderline-psychotic world of all-girl cliques (the hell of the Formal) or the narcissism of a nakedly ambitious teacher (the double-hell of the school musical), Lilley’s success lies in the detail — well, that and controversy-baiting gags about self-harming, teenage drug deaths and how not to touch a pupil with Down’s Syndrome. Watchable as both a comedy and an emotionally engaging docu-drama thanks to a brilliantly subtle supporting cast of “povo skanks”, “fuglies”, and “lesbos”, Lilley’s genius creation should be essential viewing on every teacher-training course.