Bad Education is currently top of the "Most Popular" programmes on BBC iPlayer, so I thought I'd give it a look.
Oh dear. It quickly becomes clear that the writer has never spent any time in a state school. Or in a multi-cultural environment of any kind. This is once again a middle-class comedy that sniggers at the working classes, and plays on lazy stereotypes to guarantee an easy laugh. These stereotypes aren't presented as the crass misunderstandings of an idiotic character like Alan Partridge or David Brent, where we are invited to laugh at their shortcomings; they are plainly delivered as truth, and for that they are all the more damaging.
All of the featured teachers are white and middle-class. Most of the featured students are white too - but they're working class, because obviously middle-class kids don't go to comps (They do). The only non-white featured students are a gay mixed-race boy and a Chinese girl. This curious bias is best shown when Alfie has divided his class in half to demonstrate Aapartheid (Ooh, edgy!). There are four students on that side of the room, and all of them are feature characters. Even when another student has to give a brief cameo to ask what a "glittorish" is, they select a white boy. Shameful. Of course the intercut scenes of life in the school are filled with a mixture of ethnic backgrounds - as is Alfie's class- but you get the sense they're just there for show.
So, a few pointers for those writing the second season that has been announced:
1. Not all Chinese students are hard-working and dedicated. The first student we encounter is Jing, who delivers bile-filled invectives about her teacher in her native tongue - only to be hilariously misinterpreted by Alfie. He also thinks she's Japanese. Hilarious. She most closely resembles Chung Su-Lee from the 1970s study in multi-ethnic Britain Mind Your Language - she is only missing Chairman Mao's little red book.
2. Not all gay students are flamboyant and love dance and Steel Magnolias. Really? Are we still doing this?
3. Not all overweight children are asthmatic victims of bullying. Now I know Joe becomes a bit of a heroic figure in the show, but he is presented as an outsider and figure of fun.
4. Not all white working class boys are bullies. (There are two in the class and one in the corridor).
5. Not all middle-class white men are total idiots. (It's okay, the only really awful people in the show, Alfie and Fraser, are white and middle-class, so that's all right then).
6. Not all women are either a)Furies (Pickwell, the SS Style Deputy Head) or b) Gullible Angels (Miss Gulliver, the biology teacher who believes Alfie is a decent man because of some nonsense he's cooked up).
There are some very good performances here.Tthe kids are great for the most part; all the female staff are well portrayed.
The men, however, are another story. The worst thing Ricky Gervais ever did was spawn countless charmless impressions of his style. I loved The Office, but people missed the point. Brent was believable, and a vulnerable human lurked beneath the bullshit. Not quite the same here.
Jack Whitehall as Alfie is not a tenth as charming as he seems to think he is. And he really cannot act naturally. He's a competent stand-up - but he has not bothered to change his delivery from the one he'd use for a Jongleurs full of stags and hens , and it sticks out. He gurns, puts on silly voices and fake gaps in his speech, and on it goes...
Although stand him opposite Mathew Horne's truly risible Fraser and Whitehall's poor skills pale into insignificance. This is an out of place performance the like of which hasn't been seen since Jonty de Wolfe in Campus. He overdoes it, peppering his shabby lines (which are admittedly not his fault) with bulging eyes and grimaces. Oh, and he has funny hair.
Then finally we come to the crux of the matter - why, in the end, this doesn't work. Too much of this is so over-the-top, so unlikely, so borne of a desire to be outrageous without recourse to what real people might do, that it falls apart, especially given that this is set in a recognisable, modern context, and most of the characters are natural.
There's no suggestion that the reality-busting world of Green Wing might be at play here. So when the headteacher says "Chill your boobs" (Or worse "Chill Winston"); when a student steals a teacher's shoes; when a history teacher licks his fingers and pretends to touch his own penis in a class full of students and parents we become distanced from it.
Shameful. Bad Sitcom.
Second series you say?
Shameful.Suggest a correction