Summer Heights High: articles

Captain Ideas Pants takes control

Once, twice, three times a genius - and still on the ABC - Chris Lilley is a one-man wonder.

REPEAT AFTER ME; Chris Lilley is a genius, Chris Lilley is a genius, Chris Lilley is a genius. I've watched the first two episodes of his new mockumentary Summer Heights High twice just to make sure. I'm going to put my coke on the bloke here and say that Summer Heights High is a masterpiece. Think Ricky Gervais. Think Barry Humphries. Think the team behind Kath & Kim. At times I despair about the state of Australian television comedy. Then I think of Chris Lilley and I have more than hope. I'm excited.

You may be familiar with Lilley from the award-winning We Can be Heroes. He wrote it, co-produced it and played five different characters. Enough of the over-achieving already! After watching We Can Be Heroes, I thought, "The guy can act his arse off, and he's Captain Ideas Pants but he's going to have to make a pretty big leap as a writer to pull off whatever's next." And guess what? He has. Congratulations Mr Lilley.

In Summer Heights High Lilley has done pretty much everything apart from the catering. His performances are startling. You don't think, "There's Chris Lilley pretending to be someone else." He is someone else.

We're talking characters not caricatures. Which is rarer in Australian comedy on both telly and the big screen than a sighting of Peter Costello.

The writing is funny as. But layered too.

The day after watching I found myself laughing at the funny lines but also thinking about the deeper social observations in the show.

The show is set in a government high school and stars Ja'mie, the annoying and pretentious private school girl we met on We Can Be Heroes. There's also Mr G, the deluded, bitter, power-hungry drama teacher who first appeared on Big Bite, and a new character, Jonah Takalua. He's a Tongan drop-out who is on his third school in 18 months after setting a student's locker alight at one school and spray-painting a dick and balls on the principal's car at another. His rendition is perfect.

The peripheral characters are played so straight you have to keep reminding yourself that it's a mocko and not a doco.

Summer Heights High is such a standout because of its strong, creative vision and control. Lilley is probably a bit of a control freak, and that's a good thing. He needs to be.

He'll only have this level of creative control if he stays at the ABC. Or at least stays there long enough to have the clout of Kath & Kim.

Part of the ABC's charter is to develop talent. Which is one of the reasons I love watching the ABC. I watch the ABC because I want to. The other stations I watch because I have to. Apart from SBS. I watch that for the porn. "Why is that man having sex with the donkey during the news, Mummy?" "Because it's SBS, darling."

Take a bow Chris Lilley. And don't go over to the commercial stations. Not yet anyway.

By Catherine Deveny
September 1, 2007
The Age