Summer Heights High: articles

students and Ja'mie

Students from Brighton Secondary College with principal Julie Podbury (second from left), where the new ABC-TV comedy Summer Heights High is filmed; series creator Chris Lilley as private school girl Ja'mie.

Two schools of thought on Summer Heights

SATIRE, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And when it comes to the new ABC comedy Summer Heights High, one woman's belly laugh is another's bellyache, it seems.

The principal of a private school where part of the show was filmed has attacked the show for peddling stereotypes. But the principal of a high school used as a set has applauded the sharply-observed satire of the show's creator, Chris Lilley.

The principal of Firbank Grammar in Brighton, where Lilley filmed frequently for his first series, We Can Be Heroes, and shot scenes for last Wednesday's debut episode, said the new show was "appalling".

Anne Sarros says she did not see the funny side of playing out the worst stereotypes of public and private school students.

"Every awful, stereotypical prejudice that you could think of was delivered," she said.

"It was a dig at every aspect of schools that you can get. It is clumsy because it is so blunt — and not true."

The show's three main characters — all played by Lilley — include pretentious private school girl Ja'mie King.

Firbank's rolling grounds were used as the set for Ja'mie's school in both series, but Dr Sarros is quick to say that students at the all-girls' school "bear no resemblance" to the bitchy, preening Ja'mie.

She said a speech Ja'mie delivered in last week's opening episode to Summer Heights High students — played by year 10 students from Brighton Secondary College — went too far by proclaiming most wife-beaters and rapists were government-school educated.

"He (Lilley) is extremely clever … but I think it's so extreme that people will just dismiss it," she says.

But Brighton Secondary principal Julie Podbury says her students, who are extras in the show, are sophisticated enough to understand mockery.

She says the series, which also includes Lilley's new characters — foul-mouthed student Jonah Takalua and egomaniacal drama teacher Mr G — does not exploit her school to make fun of a government-funded education.

"I think Chris Lilley and his team are very clever and they have taken satire and parody to a new level," she says. "He's taking the worst of things and making a comedy out of it.

"There are difficult-to-manage kids at all schools and he's using the characteristics of those difficult-to-manage kids in a satirical manner to make a mockumentary."

Ms Podbury said she agreed to let Lilley film at the school for 11 weeks for the hands-on learning experience it would give the students.

Ms Podbury said Lilley had approached her to use their school for its "textured" appearance — shorthand for not having much grass.

Lilley has won attention and praise from fellow performers in a notoriously tough industry.

Satirist and character actor Gerry Connolly said yesterday: "Above all, comedy is cruel — usually to someone else. Chris Lilley's targets are responding, so his satire is effective."

The ABC defends its new talent. Its head of arts, comedy and entertainment, Courtney Gibson, said: "We don't invite viewers to agree with the views of the characters in Summer Heights High. In fact, quite the opposite.

The series is written, filmed and edited to convey the clear sense that many of the attitudes are insensitive or abhorrent, and the characters become the targets of the humour, in much the same way that The Office and Borat work." The world according to Ja'mie

First reaction to the high school:

  • "It's so like not shady, know what I mean? There's not that many trees."
  • "It's way less … not crap but way less povvo than I thought it would be."
  • "I love your bins, so random."
  • "The buildings are so grey — no offence."

Ja'mie, addressing the school at assembly:

  • "Wife beaters and child rapists are really all public-school educated — no offence but it's true."
  • "Some of you may come from povvo families but that's not your fault. Some of you don't even have Foxtel."
  • Later (to camera): "a lot of public school people are dumb. It's not really their fault. It comes from their parents."

September 09, 2007
The Age