Almost everyone's favorite We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High character is back on HBO, and trying desperately to carry her own series: a tall order for any spinoff character normally accustomed to sharing the proverbial stage. In this instance, if we were to judge on a spinoff success scale from, say, the most successful being Frasier where the spinoff trumped the original to, oh I don't know, Joey, the Friends spinoff that no one remembers, I'd give this opening episode a solid The City: the Laguna Beach sequel where everyone's most horrible attributes were exacerbated, and almost no tension existed because the possibility of failure for the spoiled suburban hell demons cast in that show was so insultingly impossible. Now I've gone and dated myself because none of you reading this even remember any of those shows, but I digress. And in case you're curious, I am actually 87 years old and am referencing television shows that were originally broadcast in standard definition. Ask your parents what that is.
From the opening titles, it is hammered home, as if there was ever any doubt, all the world is Ja'mie's stage, we are merely spectators and puppets waiting to be manipulated and hopefully entertained. With music composed by Chris Lilley, the open is an almost fairy tale-like fantastical montage depicting her getting ready for school, in a whirlwind of glitter and pastels, we see Ja'mie putting the finishing touches on her uniform, applying lip gloss, cascading majestically down the stairs of her home with her mother and sister (!!), and finally shoving her sister out of the way to get the front seat Mum's car. Even if you've never seen an episode of SHH, it should be clear: Ja'mie is the queen bee.
Look, this should not go unsaid: Chris Lilley is beyond brilliant. His characters are flawless, his mannerisms are perfection, and everything that we adored about Ja'mie in SHH is back with a vengence: her aggressive devotion to mercilessly and hilariously ruling a tribe of hot girls, her acts of "charity" driven by ruthless narcissism, her blatant racism and obsession with lesbians, and her almost admirable ability to get what she wants, regardless of the abhorrent means it often takes to get there.
The series picks up in the final three months of Ja'mie's life at Hillford Academy at the Centenary assembly. Ja'mie is often at her best leading assemblies, patronizing and casually insulting her audience. Who could forget the SHH assembly where Ja'mie tried to convince the Headmaster to have a year 11 formal to dissuade the public student body from (no offense) becoming wife beaters and rapists, and leading a dance on stage to demonstrate the harmony that a formal brings where asian share limos with lesbians, and hot girls talk to the fugly girls. This time, the dance that Ja'mie leads for the oldest surviving Hillford graduates is an over-sexed, under-attired pelvic-thrusting atrocity, and honestly, a bit hollow. There are the characteristic cutaways to the expressionless spectators, which are delightful, but overall, it's just gross and two dimensionally narcissistic. And yet a perfect example of the chasm between this new series and SHH. Because we've seen these devices in the past, they need to be elevated, and in Private School Girl, it's the opposite that happens.
That's when we're introduced to the prefects, her backup dancers: a flock of hot girls who apparently have the ability to discipline and to hand out Friday detentions for grave offenses such as having a cell phone on, or coffee in hand. They are also awarded their own section of the student lounge with an actual velvet rope separating their purple couches from the rest of the senior girls' lounge. And from the prefects, Ja'mie demads nothing less than lifetime devotion, including a casual suicide pact, as summarized by Ja'mie "like, for example, if one of us got depression and wanted to kill ourselves, then we, as part of the prefect promise would kill ourselves, too," to the surprise of a couple prefects who "didn't realize it was that serious." Ja'mie and the prefects have one goal for the series: to get Ja'mie the Hillford medal, and to have her likeness immortalized in bronze.
Another equally important goal for Ja'mie is to land Mitchell, the newest transfer from the boy's prep school down the street, pointed out to her by her gay bestie. While Ja'mie is introducing herself, her "bitch of a mother" pulls up three minutes early to pick her up, sending her on a rampage, but nonetheless delighted to a Ja'mie driving lesson scene where her inability to focus on anything but taunting her sister's tiny tits and friend requesting Mitchell on Facebook lands in a minor fender bender.
Maybe the most interesting addition to this series is watching Ja'mie interact with her family. Though watching her verbally abuse her mother is a bit stale and a bit nauseating, her sister Courtney is probably the only person in the show so far that challenges her. And, oh my god, is it necessary! Because although sleazy Daddy, whose assistant is always present and sometimes massaging him in front of Mum, half-heartedly scolds her for using his AMEX to buy a new iPad before Courtney even has her own laptop, and feigns frustration upon learning that she's booked rooms at a posh resort with his card, he really is a pushover and gives Ja'mie exactly what she wants whenever Ja'mie bites flirtatiously on his shoulder. This is a gesture that is so overtly sexual and kind of amazing all at the same time when you imagine that Ja'mie is actually a 39 year old man. These powers of persuasion are also employed later when Ja'mie convinces Daddy to let her have a party: the climax to a relatively flat episode.
These shoulder biting moments are the moments that I miss about Ja'mie. And sadly are few and far between in Private School Girl. There are the overwrought ILY goodbye scenes: where she hugs her friends for minutes cooing her love over and over, when they break for periods or at the end of the day. But, after the second time... it's meh. Sure she still preys on weaker groups, and the boarders (a new rival group!) by taunting them with the boring homosexual slurs for which she's known, but then she's ultimately bested when the boarders make fun of her tiny tits sending Ja'mie into tears reminding us about her eating disorder in year 8.
There are some great things about Ja'mie: Private School Girl. Lilley has fine-tuned those sequences where Ja'mie's self-deluded VO brags are cut to video showing the exact opposite. For example, while describing herself as an "ambassador of niceness," we are delighted to a montage of her leading a pathetic-looking girl through campus, while Ja'mie ridicules her to the camera, and then a shot of her taking mocking pictures of a group of asian girls threatening to hashtag it #friedrice. And her rivalry with her sister will hopefully provide some interesting tension.
However, Ja'mie's ability to carry a series remains to be seen. At the core of SHH, there was humanity and empathy. And although Ja'mie was hilarious and horrible all at the same time, that was punctuated and balanced by other characters and actors who provided texture, relatability, and heart. And at the moment, I don't see that in Private School Girl. Much like The City, it seems like the awful is magnified and often repeated in an effort to fill the time. But, this is only a pilot. You know what they say: never judge a show by its pilot. I miss Mr. G.