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A show that makes ‘Summer Heights’ look tame and tactful, ‘Angry Boys’ pushes the limits of political correctness even further by depicting a broader, more controversial range of stereotypes – including an African-American rapper whose claim to fame is a rap song identifying him as an “”underprivileged black kid from the slums””, when he is in fact from the wealthy suburb of Calabasas, California, attended a mostly-white private school and grew up listening to the ‘Wicked’ soundtrack.
Lilley also plays a manipulative Japanese mum who promotes her first son as the first gay skateboarding champion, building an empire out his success called “”GayStyle Enterprises””.
Chris Lilley plays his biggest range of characters.
Back at her exclusive prep school, Hillford Girls Grammar, for the last few months of year twelve, Ja’mie King stops at nothing to make sure she’s awarded the prestigious Hillford medal. Believing herself to be the ideal Hillford girl, Ja’mie only befriends the other ‘quiche’ girls at school (a word they invent meaning ‘hotter than hott’); though she is, of course, the ‘quichest’.
Other examples of her shameless self-promotion include performing a raunchy dance routine under the guise of honouring elderly Hillford Girls alumni who are visiting as part of centenary celebrations. Ja’mie’s claim to winning the Hilford medal, competing against a Christian girl who performs charity work, rests on her dubious commitments to community service – namely hosting a Ugandan boy, Kwami, at her parent’s home. This materializes as yet another attempt to stroke her own ego – when Ja’mie’s sister posts a video online of Ja’mie and Kwami engaging in flirtations of an explicit nature. When Kwami declares his love for Ja’mie, she even admits she’s only used him to get the Hilford medal.
Manipulative though she may be, will she actually secure the thing she’s so doggedly pursued?
"Ja'mie, J-A-apostrophe-M-I-E...weird name I know but you'll get used to it."
Chris Lilley’s first mockumentary tells the stories of five hopefuls for the real-life title of ‘Australian of the Year’, including a few characters that Lilley would later develop in other TV series like ‘Summer Heights High’ – Ja’mie King in ‘Summer Heights’ and her spin-off and Nathan and Daniel in ‘Angry Boys’.
Daniel Sims’ claim to winning the title is an unbelievably selfless act of surgically donating one of his eardrums to his deaf twin brother, Nathan.
Another brave character is housewife Pat Mullins, who overcomes a disability caused by skeletal dysplasia, aiming to be the first person ever to have rolled from Perth to Uluru, despite suffering some setbacks during training.
The first comedy from Lilley.
The only show on this list that isn’t a Chris Lilley mockumentary, Channel 4’s ‘Peep Show’ is a dark comedy that similarly pushes the boundaries of political correctness, but has won multiple BAFTA and Royal Television Society awards.
Mark and Jeremy are two social miscreants who share a flat in Croydon, South London. Mark is the anal-retentive, socially inept loan manager while Jeremy is the hedonistic leach that lives off of him.
Weaving in and out of the two main characters perspectives, with point-of-view shots and voiced-over internal monologues, we hear all their dirtiest and most truthful thoughts, which at times teeter on sociopathic.
Two dysfunctional friends offer stream of consciousness commentary.
“We’ve all known a Jonah”, as one teacher desribed. One of the ‘islander boys’, Jonah is larger than the average boy his age, and uses his size to bully other kids and teachers. Known for his ‘dicktation’ grafitti symbol, Jonah often disrupts class by asking inane questions like ‘what is the difference between a dick and penis?’ and calling fellow classmates ‘homo’, much to the hysteria of English teacher Miss Wheatley, Jonah’s favourite subject of torture.
Though the school counselor places Jonah in the ‘Polynesian Pathways’ programme, it amounts to only a superficial engagement with Polynesian culture that fails to challenge Jonah and the other Tongan boys. They find another outlet by creating a breakdancing crew called the ‘Poly Force’.
Jonah’s character drew further controversy with the second spin-off of ‘Summer Heights High’ aired on HBO, ‘Jonah From Tonga’, which was slammed by several U.S. civil rights organizations, including The Asian Pacific Media Coalition and The National American Tongan Society. To be fair, the racial stereotypes of Tongan people in ‘Jonah From Tonga’ are overdone and less poignant than those in ‘Summer Heights’, which focuses more on Jonah as a disadvantaged kid than as a Tongan. Chris Lilley’s Jonah is an acute, if at times over-the-top, portrayal that attests to the comedian’s deeper social understanding.
Jonah is an endearing, though problematic, caricature.
Here’s my list of TV series similar to ‘Summer Heights High’. Let me know what you think!