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Privileged schoolgirl 'Ja-mie' shouldn't stray from the rest of the 'Summer' ensemble


By Alec Stern, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 4, 2013

HBO has often extended its reach in the comedy department, importing popular shows from other parts of the world. In 2008, the premium cable network struck gold with “Summer Heights High,” a side-splittingly funny mockumentary following the lives of a privileged schoolgirl, a wannabe rapper and a drama teacher, all played by Australian comedian Chris Lilley. Three years later, Lilley used the same formula with “Angry Boys,” a lesser, yet still memorable, comedy. Hoping to capitalize on the success of his flagship series, Lilley plucked the privileged schoolgirl from his hilarious “Summer Heights High” trio and gave the character her own series.

Ja’mie King made her debut as a supporting character in Lilley’s first creation, “We Can Be Heroes,” a series only made available in the United States for a short time via HBO on Demand and HBO Go. “Ja’mie: Private School Girl” returns the titular character home, following her senior year at Hillford Girls Grammar as she navigates her many roles, from School Captain to Queen Bee. And unlike “Summer Heights High,” “Ja’mie” introduces viewers to the King family: Ja’mie’s mother, father and sister. “Ja’mie” is the first of two announced “Summer Heights High” spinoffs, with a Jonah Takalua series coming next year.

“Ja’mie: Private School Girl” is the kind of show you really want to like — in the same way you really wanted to like “Joey,” the ill-fated “Friends” spinoff. Like any of the characters on “Friends,” you could argue that Matt LeBlanc’s Joey Tribbiani was the funniest of the six iconic, coffee-drinking pals. But without Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Monica or Phoebe to play off of, “Joey” lost the vibrancy and quick, quirky comedy “Friends” did so well. LeBlanc was a vital part of “Friends,” but never a leading man. His was one of a half-dozen characters, without the rest of whom viewers found little reason to tune in.

Similarly, without the support from Mr. G, Jonah or the Summer Heights High backdrop, “Ja’mie” is an overlong, tiresome exploration of a character built for an ensemble. Much like Joey’s crucial role in “Friends,” there can be no “Summer Heights High” without Ja’mie — but she’s no star. In “Summer Heights High,” Ja’mie thinks the world revolves around her, and it’s funny that way. But in “Ja’mie,” when the world actually does, the fun wears off pretty quickly.

Whereas “Joey” had no adverse affect on the legacy of “Friends,” “Ja’mie” actually does a disservice to “Summer Heights High,” emphasizing Lilley’s reliance on one-note characters. From Ja’mie to Jonah to Nathan to Gran (the latter two of “Angry Boys”), the overabundance of characters in each of the comedian’s previous series provided much-needed breaks for the audience … breaks that are sorely lacking in “Ja’mie.” And this is just the first half hour. Getting through all six episodes of “Private School Girl” will feel more like a chore than a pleasure for devoted fans of the character.

That’s not to say there aren’t some laughs here. Ja’mie is a very quotable character, thanks to whom we now have the word quiche and a great way to reprimand someone for stealing your Coke Zero. And for better or worse, everyone knows someone who is a little bit like the conceited, spoiled heroine. As a series, however, there is no denying the failure of “Ja’mie,” a holistically unfunny attempt to revisit a beloved member of the Chris Lilley family.