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HBO Snags Aussie Comedy "Summer Heights High," Why You Need to Watch

Jonah might have something to say about it but, frankly, such language isn't appropriate for this column.

I was pleasantly shocked and surprised to learn that HBO had acquired the hysterical eight-episode Australian comedy Summer Heights High. (Originally, HBO intended to pair Summer Heights High with animated comedy The Life and Times of Tim in a late-night Friday comedy block in June, but the pay cabler will now launch Summer Heights High in November.)

For those of you not in the know, Summer Heights High is an absolutely brilliant and gut-bursting Australian mockumentary created, written, and starring breakout comedic star Chris Lilly (We Can Be Heroes), which aired Down Under last fall and spawned a Top 10 dance hit single "Naughty Girl." (Seriously!)

Astonishingly, Lilly plays three vastly different characters: spoiled rotten 16-year-old private school girl Ja'mie King on a student exchange program from exclusive Hilford Academy; 13-year-old troubled breakdancing-obsessed Pacific Islander Jonah Takalua, constantly in trouble with the teacher and administrators at the school; and Helen "Greg" Gregson (a.k.a. Mr. G), the school's overly ambitious and narcissistic drama teacher who seems to be related in spirit to Christopher Guest's Corkie St. Claire, launching elaborate productions and on a mission to get the school district to built a massive theatre center named after himself.

It's entirely amazing to see Lilly disappear completely into these characters, each of whom starts off the series more over the top and unbelievable than the next. Yet Lilly's talents really do allow these characters to come to life over the next eight episodes and he imbues them with genuine pathos. In particular, his portrayal of Jonah is not only hysterical but heartbreaking: illiterate, aggressive, and rash, Jonah has a host of issues that Lilly brings to life and it becomes incredibly easy to forget after a while that he's not actually a Tongan kid but a white, 30-something performer.

That semblance is helped by the fact that the rest of the cast feels so naturalistic. The series is shot at an actual school and the scenes between Lilly and his young co-stars (and the hapless adult staffers) have a naturalistic feel to them. The result is a raucous comedy that is just as likely to have you laughing, crying, and then laughing again to the point that you might just wet yourself.

Summer Heights High walks the fine line between satire and emotional comedy and brings the best of both camps to the table. To see the complex transformation that Jonah goes through over the course of the series is absolutely as touching as it is hilarious; while you can't help but root for Jonah (while at the same time being repelled by him), you hope that Ja'mie and Mr. G get their deserved comeuppance: she for her egocentrism, he for his hubris.

If you haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing this remarkable series (and don't want to wait until November for HBO to air it), I suggest you do whatever possible--whether it be hopping on a plane to Australia, begging, stealing, or coercing your way--to obtaining a copy of Summer Heights High. You'll thank me afterwards.

In the meantime, check out the trailer (warning: NSFW!) for the series:

Summer Heights High launches November 9th on HBO.


Yay! I am so happy that this brilliant series is going to be shown in the US.

Drama teacher Mr. G definitely conjures up thoughts of Corkie St. Claire and Ja'mie could be the Australian cousin of Vicky Pollard but the character of Jonah Takalua is completely and shockingly original.

Chris Lilly plays all three parts wonderfully and not only made me consistently laugh out loud but also (dare I say it?) get a little teary at times. I highly recommend checking this show out!
Melissa said…
Chris Lilly is extremely talented. I saw some of his other show on Sundance last year about The Australian of The Year competition so I'm looking forward to this one.
Anonymous said…
THis is the best news for US viewers. Chris Lilley is a comic genius and for the life of me I can't help thinking poor Johah is real - it's just so believable, funny, poignant and risque. Check out the many Johah and Ja-aime clips on YOu tube for a teaser of this great show.
Also check out his other great character, Ricky Wong from Australian of the Year.
KW, Sydney
C said…
Haha. I love that show.
I saw it last year on DVD while in Aussie, and it's seriously good. Chris is entirely believable as all of the characters... it's amazing how quickly you actually begin to believe that he IS them.
Unknown said…
Where is it? It's now September and still no word when it will be shown here in the US. Anyone? I'm Aussie living in the US, all my family said this is the funniest thing they saw on TV LAST YEAR.... WTF HBO????
Jace Lacob said…
Andrew, it's now slated for November, from what I've heard recently.
Anonymous said…
This is seriously the funniest show i have ever seen. i already own the dvd because they took waaaaaayyy too long to air it in the US. if you dont watch it. you'll be missing out for sure. BEST.SHOW.EVER!
Anonymous said…
As an Australian with teenage kids we all watched the series and laughed and gasped at the same time. Jonah became an overnight sensation. The only issue is that Lille gives you very little in the Ja'mai and Mr G characters to relate to they are just horrible. His spot oncharacterisations of the staff are great. The women playing the principal is actually a real school principal in Melbourne. watch this show.
Anonymous said…
I've never laughed so hard after watching the first episode last week. I'm American who studied in Australia, sadly my own country men will not understand the subtle humor and piss take the Aussies are so good at. They will have to do a US version like Kath and Kim or UK Office for us to understand the humor. Sadly both these shows miss the point. Aussy humor is so sarcastic and hard to understand if you have never spent time there or with them. Anyway I'll be subscribing to HBO just to watch this series.
Unknown said…
to the last guy, dont underestimate the US viewers. Just finished watching the whole series on megavideo. damn, that was fckin brilliant. AU shows are easier to understand than UK shows as i dont find myself needing to us the CC to understand the jokes.
Anonymous said…
Kelsey 3/2/09

Hey wow! summer heights high is so funny i just laughed and laughed! chris lilley is so funny i hope he does another series he rocks!!!

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