Roush Review: On HBO, a Clown and a Chameleon
Is Chris Lilley the next Ricky Gervais? Or is he the next Tracey Ullman? Would you settle for both?
In HBO's addictive import Summer Heights High (Sundays at 10:30 pm/ET), a funny/sad Office-style mockumentary depicting a year in the life of an Australian public high school, this wildly talented writer-star loves making you squirm (à la Gervais) while submerging himself inside the skin of characters so diverse (à la Ullman) you can hardly believe it's the same guy.
No child is left behind, or teacher spared, in Lilley's outrageously crass classroom study that revolves around three pathetically delusional souls (all Lilley): Mr. G, a ferociously fey and opportunistic drama teacher who sees himself as the biggest star on campus; Ja'mie, a preening and spoiled private-school exchange student who bosses and insults everyone in her orbit; and Jonah, an "at-risk" problem student
so profane and uncontrollable he's like a live-action Cartman.
Mr. G's story is the wackiest, as he turns a student's fatal overdose into tasteless fodder for his next high-school musical, but the aching heart of Summer Heights lies in Lilley's depiction of Jonah, whose break-dancing delinquent bravado barely masks the insecurity and fear of a boy who's given up at trying to measure up.
Jonah would love the rude bits in Ricky Gervais' Out of England stand-up special (Saturday, Nov. 15 at 9 pm), in which the Extras Emmy champ riffs with mischievous charm on topics from diseases to Nazis. His style is so nonthreatening, especially as he giggles while reading from a memorably
explicit safe-sex leaflet, that it's hard to take true offense.
I enjoyed Gervais' act, but hope we don't have a long wait before he returns to the venue that suits his talent best: series TV. Maybe a collaboration with Lilley?