KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Film and TV

Not so ‘quiche': Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie: Private School Girl

by Anthony Morris , December 10, 20135 Comments

Private School Girl

If we’ve learnt anything from Chris Lilley’s latest series Ja’mie: Private School Girl, it’s that no one in their right mind wants to see Ja’mie topless. Once you look past Ja’mie’s bizarre and frankly creepy on-stage disrobing at the climax of the series (if you even can because Chris Lilley’s head on a teenage girl’s body really was the stuff of nightmares), everything else going on in this series was old news. What, Ja’mie is a racist, self-obsessed horror who insults and manipulates everyone around her in a painfully transparent fashion? Lilley established that back in 2005 with Ja’mie’s appearance in the six-part We Can Be Heroes. And then he did it again in 2008 with her appearance in the eight-part Summer Heights High. Taking another six episodes to revisit this well-worn ground seemed a touch self-indulgent, but when has Lilley ever been anything but?

Lilley makes television where he plays all the main roles then squeezes out the supporting characters until they barely register. The first episode of Ja’mie promised subplots involving Ja’mie’s enemies at school, her relationship with her little sister and her parents’ obviously troubled marriage. By the end of the series all three had been lucky to get a handful of scenes across the entire six episodes; what little screen time they grabbed usually involved standing around while Ja’mie shouted or swore at them. Then again, Lilley prefers to deal with non-professional actors. ‘I prefer just bossing real people around,’ he says, which only reinforces the feeling that Ja’mie is the only ‘real’ character on the series.

Ja’mie’s group of friends were an undifferentiated mass of teen mean girls, a Greek chorus cheering her on. Who could pick that one girl who betrayed Ja’mie out of a line up? The only kind of scenes her parents and teachers were allowed to have were ones where they lectured Ja’mie while she rolled her eyes or swore at them. As for her relationships, one was with a boy whose longest on camera sequence was a montage of moments with Ja’mie right before they broke up and the other was with an African refugee who barely spoke English, whom she treated like a slave.

Ja’mie is a frighteningly self-obsessed character created by someone who seems to share some of her self-obsession. Lilley (who as star, writer, producer and co-director, amongst other credits, is basically a one-man band off-screen as well as on) keeps the focus on her (that is to say, himself) so firmly that even elements you’d expect to be central to a comedy – such as the comedy – often felt like an afterthought. Every show Lilley has done has featured the same elements: total self-obsession (check); dubious comedy songs (check); terrible stage performances (check); racism played for laughs (check). Large chunks of this series might as well have featured Ricky Wong. Or Mr G. Or S.mouse.

For a show that was often lauded for its documentary-like insight into teenage girls (Lilley himself describes it as such, saying, ‘To me, it’s really funny that my character is in a real environment and you think it’s a real documentary’), large stretches of the series seemed surprisingly unrealistic. Seriously, in the final episode she makes an on-stage rant about how the school has ripped her off and the principal comes on stage to stop her from talking…and then he promptly gives her back the mic so she can sing a school song.

Ja’mie never went to class. She wasn’t interested in clothes or trends or hobbies. In fact, for someone so self-obsessed she had no internal life at all. In an earlier look at Lilley’s Angry Boys I suggested that Lilley has become less subtle with each series:

In Lilley’s first solo effort We Can Be Heroes, Phil Olivetti was able to be both funny and pathetic at the same time. In contrast, the current crop are all two-stage characters from the same mould, comedy monsters who are revealed to have hearts of gold.

With Ja’mie, Lilley didn’t even bother with the heart of gold.

Chris Lilley’s career isn’t finished yet – there has already been a handful of promos for his next series early in 2014 – but how much longer can he go on playing characters half his age? With his next series based around Summer Heights High’s wayward student Jonah, he’ll once again be a man in his forties playing a teenager. Creatively he’s been repeating himself since day one, so it seems plausible to suggest that he’s been able to get away with it in large part by drawing in a new audience of teenagers each time. We Can Be Heroes aired in 2005; his current crop of teenage fans would have been in early primary school when Ja’mie first appeared. If Lilley’s going to keep those viewers coming back as he moves into his fifth decade, he’s going to have to come up with characters who change and grow up.

Anthony Morris is a Killings columnist and has been reviewing films for almost 20 years for a variety of publications, many of which have closed down through no fault of his own. Though his insistence on reviewing every single Adam Sandler movie may have played a part. 

His essay ‘A Bad Habit: Chris Lilley and How We Rate Comedy’ appears in Issue Three of Kill Your Darlings

ACO logo




  • Peter Farrar

    If nothing else, Lilley is an Anthropologist. He has in particular studied the habits (or if you like, the antics) of high school young women and translated them into the characteristics and especially speech patterns you see on this show. I know he’s nailed this, not even because I watch it (I don’t) but because my daughters say it is like watching their own schoolyard.

  • Amber

    I agree that the comedy in this series felt like an afterthought. It worried me that the sort of girls he was typecasting and their behaviour would condone it. The bullying, racism and body image themes did not sit well. Great article, though!

  • http://jennyackland.wordpress.com/ Jenny Ackland

    Great article. Agree that the potential of storylines in the first episode wasn’t picked up, and could have been.

    I think people watching Chris Lilley’s work simply ‘for the laughs’ aren’t watching it for the right reason or comprehensively. I don’t think it’s about humour necessarily which might be why it seems as an afterthought for some. I think it’s more about holding up a mirror so the viewer sees something that makes them very uncomfortable. More about social comment. And no heart of gold for Ja’mie because, she has no self-awareness, no sense of remorse, no heart. If she’d redeemed in that last episode that would have be even more wrong.

    • http://discombobula.blogspot.com Sue

      Yep, what you just said!

      I think Chris Lilley is really talented but I agree the whole thing is feeling somewhat jaded now. I was surprised at how long it’s been since WCBH first came out. I wonder if Chris is feeling stifled by expectation? I would like to see him head in a different direction, keeping that element of social commentary.

  • Brett Sprague

    He’s a bit sus that Chris Lilley

AffirmPress_Fallen_CVR

Rochelle Siemienowicz

A Bride Stripped Bare: A writer gets naked on the path from novel to memoir

You can find my book in the nonfiction section of the bookstore. I can’t deny it. It’s even me on the cover. And it is me, talking on radio and writing in women’s magazines about open marriages, non-monogamy, and how religion can fuck up your sexuality. People are calling me ‘brave’, but I’m not sure it’s a compliment. I feel so naked. How did this happen? Read more »

9781921924835

Gerard Elson

Dissolving Into Humanity: An interview with A.S. Patrić

A.S. Patrić’s fifth book, Black Rock White City, is not your typical immigrant novel. Its married protagonists, Jovan and Suzana Brakočević, are academics from the former Yugoslavia. She is a would-be novelist, he a former poet – the couple were displaced to Melbourne at the end of the last millennium by the ravaging Bosnian war. Read more »

9781922079381

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their picks from April

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

gbbo

Rebecca Shaw

Crumbling the Great Wall of Heteronormative Assumption

You are just there to see a doctor, or have a haircut, when all of a sudden you are reminded that you are different. You are forced to come out to strangers over and over again. You are required to either refute their assumptions and risk having an awkward or unpleasant discussion with a stranger about your personal life, or you are forced to lie. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

every-day-2012-005_cmyk

Anwen Crawford

Being Boring: Passing time with the films of Michael Winterbottom

What does it mean to film the same performers over the course of years, to have them age in front of the camera? Everyday pays careful attention to boredom, and at moments it manages to capture a sense of time that is both elusive and profound. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »

ForceM6609

Jane Howard

Witness and Connection at Melbourne’s Dance Massive

In a city where it feels not a day goes by without an arts festival, or three, happening, Melbourne’s Dance Massive is resolutely unique. Australia’s largest dance festival is by necessity heavily reliant on Melbourne-based companies and shows that will go on to tour independently of the festival. The festival is undeniably of, and for, the dance sector in Melbourne. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »