E Unus Pluribum

‘Summer Heights High’ offers three for the price of one

By Nancy Ford

The many faces of Chris Lilley in Summer Heights High. Here, Jonah.

 Tapping the proven success of the single player, multi-character comedy sketch market previously cornered by Tracy Ullman, this month HBO is adding a new series of a similar vein to its viewing lineup. 

Summer Heights High focuses on three characters, all played by series creator and writer Chris Lilley, set against the material-laden backdrop of high school. 

We already know well these characters Lilley has brought to life: The fey (no, not Tina) drama teacher, Mr. G.; the disruptive-because-he’s-misunderstood bully, Jonah; and the self-absorbed exchange student who can’t resist constantly twirling her own hair, Ja’mie. 

Lilley dissects each character with a hatchet instead of a scalpel, the result being broadly stereotypical. Yet, despite the predictability of Lilley’s three main characters, the series’ comedic appeal can’t be denied. We’re especially fond of the outrageous Mr. G, particularly for his attempt

to teach interpretive dance to an actual “special needs” class. Another funny moment comes when Ja’mie invites Tamsin (Brigid Gallacher), a lesbian character, to the prom. 

The show’s deceptively documentary-like feel is likely the result of shooting all eight episodes at a real-life high school, featuring real-life students and faculty as they interact with the chameleonesque Lilley. 

With two wins at the 2008 Logies (the Australian Emmy) for Most Outstanding Comedy Program and Most Popular Actor, Summer Heights High will likely be embraced by HBO’s American audience, as are most of cable’s already-proven imports. After all, it’s working for Graham Norton. 

Debuts November 9 at 9:30 p.m. on HBO


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