November 25, 2013

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Ja’mie: Private School Girl”


JA’MIE: PRIVATE SCHOOL GIRL:  Sunday 10:30PM on HBO – Change the Channel

JA’MIE: PRIVATE SCHOOL GIRL belongs to that particular British Empire school of comedy in which the central joke is that a female character is played, very obviously, by a man in drag–not that the character is a man pretending to be a woman, as in Mrs. Doubtfire or La Cage Aux Folles, but that she’s been designed to be cast with a (usually quite masculine) man who doesn’t particularly try to “pass” as a woman, but is treated by all the other characters as though she really is one.  At its best, this pantomime-inspired gag has given us some memorable Monty Python sketches and, more recently, the villainess in the musical Matilda, but it can get awfully old very quickly.  (In America, one could look to the John Waters films that stared Divine in female roles, but Divine was a altogether more sui generis presence.)  The lead character of Ja’mie is a teen girl her creator, the middle-aged Australian performer Chris Lilley, has been playing for several years in shows like Summer Heights High, and now she has an unnecessary spin-off series of her own.

Without the drag aspect, and the many uses of the word “fuck,” Ja’mie would barely be notable as a sitcom.  Ja’mie is a prototypical mean girl, who when we meet her is 17 years old and in her last few months at Hilford Girls Grammar School.  She’s the captain of multiple school teams and assumes she’ll be named school captain in general; narcissistic and generally hateful, she surrounds herself with mostly blonde sycophants, flirtatiously manipulates her father, and treats just about everyone else as disposable or worse, saving particular vitriol for her mother.  If she’d been played by an actual girl, she’d basically be a more foul-mouthed, less interesting version of Dalia from Suburgatory, Sadie on Awkward., Chris in Carrie or one of the Heathers, to name just a few.  The fact that it’s a big-shouldered 40-year old man fretting about who’s looking at his/her cleavage and calling cute boys and girls “quiche” is supposed to make it instantly new and hilarious, but even by the end of the first half-hour episode (of six), it feels like an SNL sketch that’s badly overstayed its welcome.

Lilley’s been doing this for a long time, so clearly there’s an audience for this (it’s hard to even judge his performance, since it’s not meant to be “convincing” or even recognizably human in any conventional sense), and HBO’s hardly ever seen an Anglophile cringe comedy it hasn’t put on the air, so Ja‘mie has found its proper home.  Perhaps over the course of time, this will become more than the dreary and unpleasant one-note comedy it appears to be, but for now, prospective viewers will probably know within the first 30 seconds whether Ja’mie is the girl for them.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."