“Miseducation” follows the scandalous lives of students at Grahamstown University after disgraced wannabe influencer Mbali Hadebe (Buntu Petse, “Generations: The Legacy”) joins their ranks. Her arrival turns what may have been a somewhat normal college experience into a drama-fest fit for even the most chaotic gossip podcast. What Mbali desperately hopes will be an escape from flaming cancellation and widespread rejection turns out to be an even bigger opportunity for prying eyes to get their pound of flesh.
It would be bad enough for Mbali that her dirty-politician mother was publicly exposed at her 19th birthday party, moving schools because all of her influencer friends abandoned her is the icing on the cake. Stuck with no other options, she transfers to a small university hoping to start from scratch. Her plans are quickly thwarted, however, when her former classmate, Natalie (Micaela Tucker, “Makoti”), outs her as the canceled politician’s daughter. This entire exchange felt forced: It could’ve been something out of a children’s show or a Wattpad fanfiction written by a 14-year-old. The only person who shows her kindness after this trope-y reveal is Jay (Preven Reddy, “The Honeymoon”), a classmate in her ethics course. While the experience is meant to teach her the error of her old ways, self-reflection isn’t our protagonist’s strong suit considering her selfish, status-obsessed streak throughout the series. The clash of her long-held beliefs with the new experience creates conflict that propels the story forward as she continues to act morally questionable — only now she feels guilt for it, too.
Mbali consistently makes choices that actively harm those around her for her benefit. Her constant, ill-conceived schemes to get back to the top of the social ladder keep failing, which only pushes her to find new ones. The conviction she shows coupled with the downright wacky plans she concocts make her an anti-hero to root for. She always fills a room with her over-the-top fancy outfits and mighty attitude, the mean girl to end all mean girls. So, when we see her cry at the failure of her plans, the wall comes down and we see a real human being behind her facade.
In her master plan to start dating the Olympic bronze medalist at Grahamstown, Sivu Levine (Lunga Shabalala, “Legacy”), she decides to get into the good graces of his sister, Natalie. Never mind the fact that Sivu already has a girlfriend or the fact that Natalie wants nothing to do with Mbali. Honestly, Mbali would be completely insufferable if her masterful charm didn’t take on a lot of the heavy lifting to win the audience over. Her redemption may be far out of reach, but from the get-go, it’s clear she’s heading toward it eventually. Watching her make mistake after air-headed mistake is just a way to enjoy the ride.
The consequences of Mbali’s actions on the lives of those around her stir up enough drama to keep the show’s entertainment factor up. Mbali is like the first domino in a long line waiting to hit the ground. When she sneaks into an A-list party, gets chewed out by other guests and finds solace in Sivu, she sets into motion a fight that leaves the star athlete physically unable to compete. True to her nature, she doesn’t apologize — because when has she ever had to take accountability? Her childlike inability to admit wrongdoing reveals the naivete beneath the surface, and as she uses her actions to rectify the situation rather than simply apologizing, it becomes clear that her guilty conscience will win eventually.
The same can be said of Sivu himself, whose lack of accountability to his team gets him canceled on campus as well. Instead of genuinely apologizing for his actions, he goes into hermit mode until Mbali comes up with a way to get the public back on his side. For Mbali, this is a way to correct her mistake to earn Sivu’s forgiveness and conveniently get her status back. Their every interaction is so over-the-top exaggerated, with fantasy sequences and relatable Gen Z references, that watching them in their borderline-evil plots is still plenty of fun.
The way that cancel culture is addressed in the series remains very mixed. These two very privileged characters are complicit to serious harm and too self-obsessed to actually take a look at their own morality. They don’t really feel bad for their actions until direct consequences are thrown in their face. But Mbali doesn’t think that they should spend their entire lives atoning for their biggest mistakes in the eyes of the public. To a certain extent, she’s right. She and Sivu haven’t committed any major crimes and they seem to be making amends for their actions on the surface, so why does the past matter as long as they’ve changed? The issue arises, as it always does, when the next incident occurs because they haven’t changed, and the collective memory doesn’t fall through.
People around Mbali remember what her mother has done, and that will follow her as their first impression until she does something to convince them she isn’t her mother’s daughter. But, considering how she continuously defends corporate greed in ethics class, that won’t be anytime soon. These moments are played for laughs, but the humor of the show doesn’t land half the time. Scenes that were clearly meant to elicit laughter just fall completely flat in that regard. That doesn’t mean the series doesn’t have a lightheartedness about it; on the contrary, the series does well to balance its more serious statements with a flair for the dramatic. It simply doesn’t do so with enough original style to be anything more than a fun, forgettable watch.
Daily Arts Writer Mina Tobya can be reached at email@example.com.