“Summer Heights High”
Sundays at 10:30 p.m.

2.5 out of 5 Stars

In its ongoing quest to find a new comedy to rival the acclaim of “Entourage” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” HBO has premiered the Australian comedy “Summer Heights High.” Like “Curb,” the show is shot in a realistic style, but instead of shadowing a rich curmudgeon, “High” follows the lives of outlandish students and teachers at an Australian public school.

Writer/actor Chris Lilley (“We Can Be Heroes”) is apparently the Eddie Murphy of the land down under. Known for playing multiple characters in TV shows and movies, Lilley undergoes several major makeovers to play a variety of characters — from young to old, male and female — just like his American doppelganger.

Lilley’s portrayal of Jonah the bully is relatively convincing, even if, despite his shaggy hair and skater shoes, he looks nothing like an awkward teenage boy. Still, while watching Lilley make fart noises in class and say fuck every chance he gets, it’s easy to forget he’s a middle-aged man playing a 13-year-old kid.

In addition to portraying a teenage troublemaker, Lilley portrays an effeminate drama teacher known as Mr. G. Like Steve Coogan’s character in “Hamlet 2,” Mr. G has a knack for writing borderline inappropriate musicals with titles including “Ian Thorpe: the Man, the Music, the Water” and “IKEA.” Watching Mr. G take up his student’s class time with his one-man shows of interpretative dance and musical mayhem shows Lilley’s versatility as a physical comedian.

In yet another role, Lilley attempts to play Ja’mie, a high-maintenance exchange student from a prissy boarding school. Lilley isn’t very convincing as a spoiled teenage girl: Ja’mie appears to be a man with a stuffed bra doing a bad job mimicking a valley girl. Lilley’s characterization of Ja’mie pales in comparison to his other two portrayals. His female depiction is a sad reminder of other failed attempts in low-brow comedies like “Sorority Boys” and “White Chicks.”

Compared to HBO’s other recent foreign import, “Little Britain, USA,” a stale British comedy, “High” will likely receive a better reception from American audiences. For one, the characters of “High” prove to be much funnier than those on “Little Britain USA.” The show is also likely to attain a greater degree of success because it’s shot like a mockumentary, which should remind viewers of “The Office.” “High” pretends to catch real people in their daily lives, creating awkward but funny situations people can identify with. The humor appears to be more spontaneous and less contrived than “Little Britain, USA,” which might make it more accessible for an American audience.

“High” is a solid addition to HBO’s lineup. While it won’t rise to the level of HBO’s big boys, it could end up playing more of a supporting role, but still find a loyal following.

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