The bad news is, if you don’t like Ja’mie there’s plenty of her in Ja’mie: Private School Girl.
Chris Lilley’s follow-up to Angry Boys returns to his most popular character Ja’mie King, last seen in the wonderful Summer Heights High.
Now she has her own series, which focusses on her final year in high school as a prefect with attitude. Continuing his mockumentary style, Lilley puts Ja’mie front and centre -and left and right- in his fourth solo series for the ABC.
At Hillford Girls Grammar, Ja’mie rules the roost. She’s the school captain, perpetually surrounded by a posse of fellow prefects all of whom speak in a language known only to themselves (the phrases “OMG!” “like”, “FML” and “quiche” are chief amongst them). They spend most of their time talking about boys, body parts, mobile phones, Instagramming and the students beneath them. But it’s mostly boys. Lilley has always had a good ear for social observations and the Aussie vernacular, used to effect in scripted / improvisational scenes.
We also meet her well-to-do family, consisting of a submissive mother who seems to cop the complaining and abuse from her daughter without complaint, and a wealthy arms-length father whom Ja’mie dotes upon in order to get what she wants. There is also a younger sister, which will be a nice relationship to explore later in the series.
In Private School Girl, Ja’mie is hoping to win the Hillford Medal and become immortalised in a bronze statue outside the school’s newest development the Hillford Centenary Centre.
But first her gay BFF Cody (Alex Cooper) introduces her to a hot young athlete Mitchell (Lester Ellis Jr.) from the local boy’s school. After she meets Mitchell, Ja’mie finds it hard to concentrate on just about anything else other than her own vanity.
As in previous appearances, Ja’mie is a defiantly narcissistic bitch, continually dropping the put-downs to everyone outside her circle -unless of course she’s being patronisingly ‘fake-nice’ to others in order to get what she wants. In Summer Heights High and We Can Be Heroes such extremes were tempered by the relief of other characters Mr G., Jonah and the under-appreciated Pat Mullins. In Private School Girl there’s no escape. Ja’mie is in every scene, and the focus of every scene. The chasm between her and the show’s supporting players is vast.
Lilley’s dances as Ja’mie are amongst the better moments in this series, with a sense of theatrics helping to break up the repetition of teen cat-fights. Topics such as bullying, racism, homophobia, sexting, self-esteem and peer-group pressure are all on the table, but there may be division over whether they are addressed through humour or perpetuated by it. Comedy is, after all, always confronting.
That Lilley has a knack for capturing teenage Australian girls there will be little argument, but this is possibly the last time he’ll be able to physically get away with it. There’s only so much that make-up and costume can hide with age when the camera is up close, and only so many times one can suspend disbelief when it’s showcased in a mockumentary genre. I’d be very keen to see Lilley move beyond the chameleon act he has honed so well to bring us other comic sensibilities and form.
Private School Girl makes the most of a popular character, and is an improvement on the relentless, unlikeable characters of Angry Boys. Whether Ja’mie’s gags about ‘povos’, ‘lesbians’ and ‘shut-up bitches’ wears thin across 6 episodes, without other central characters or not, remains to be seen.
Ja’mie: Private School Girl premieres 9pm Wednesday on ABC1.