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Review - Ja'mie: Private School Girl

See what The Guide reviewers thought of episode one of Ja'mie.

PT5M5S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2vrur 620 349

How much of a "foul-mouthed mean girl" can a TV audience take?

It's taken several weeks for the ABC's broadcast of Chris Lilley's Ja'mie: Private School Girl in Australia to shed half its audience.

'Mean girl' ... <i>Ja'mie: Private School Girl</i> starring Chris Lilley has won little fans in the US.

'Mean girl': Ja'mie: Private School Girl starring Chris Lilley has won little fans in the US.

US television critics only took several minutes.

The series, which is co-produced by the US premium cable channel HBO and makes its debut here this week, has divided critics, earning either a resounding thumbs down or, in some cases, cautious praise.

To illustrate just how divided opinion on the series is in the US, it has been labelled both Lilley's "crowning triumph" and "sloppy, transphobic drag".

Only softening of the show is through supporting characters ... Ja'mie King's parents Jhyll and Marcus.

Only softening of the show is through supporting characters: Ja'mie King's parents Jhyll and Marcus.

"Unbearable" and "uncomfortably discriminatory" have also been slung in its direction.

But there is a prevailing sentiment: that without other characters to soften her, or some sense that redemption will come, she is reduced to a single-note, and a bigoted one at that.

USA Today's Robert Bianco, who described Ja'mie as a "foul-mouthed mean girl", said the pain inflicted by Ja'mie: Private School Girl "is a sterling example of what can happen when a writer becomes too enamored of his own creation".

"You can consider this too much of a not-good-enough thing." Bianco wrote. "Where Summer Heights High was in effect a one-man show, with Lilley playing all the major parts, Ja'mie reduces the act to a one-character show."

The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman said that Lilley's creation - Ja'mie King - was funnier in "short, searing scenes ... surrounded in Summer Heights High with tons of other great Lilley creations."

"But centering one of Lilley's most annoying characters in a series to ramble on incessantly robs the character of its past effectiveness and makes her, and the series, almost unbearable to watch," he said.

Bianco and Goodman are widely regarded among US television critics.

The Washington Post's Hank Stuever was kinder, describing King as Lilley's "crowning triumph".

He wrote that the series was "an enjoyably sick wallow in the evil that lurks in adolescence, as well as a formidable exercise in extreme portraiture".

"The jokes and situations can be ugly and uncomfortably discriminatory, and I do wonder what Lilley really gains by making fun of snooty teenage girls — fish in a barrel full of iPhones," Stuever said.

The series also won a fan in Slate's J. Bryan Lowder even though he noted that Ja'mie's coining of "quiche" (meaning "hot") was a little reminiscent of Gretchen's coining of "fetch" (meaning "cool") in Mean Girls.

"All in all, Private School Girl features the best parts of Summer Heights High, distilled," wrote Lowder.

"The exuberant crassness and sly social commentary are stronger here, and, along with Lilley's anthropologically rigorous performance of a certain kind of teenage girlhood, we get all the campy scoring and ridiculously lascivious dance numbers that made Summer Heights High great."

But The A.V. Club, one of America's most respected sources of television analysis and criticism, didn't mince words. They didn't like the series. Nor, it seems, are they fans of Lilley's work.

"[Lilley] ain't all that. His ambitions far outstrip his imagination and abilities," wrote Phil Dyess-Nugent.

In Ja'mie: Private School Girl, he said: "Every second of screen time is focused on a flimsy character who scarcely merits the viewer's attention for six minutes.

"Ja'mie: Private School Girl amounts to three hours of watching a skinny, long-faced guy in his late 30s flouncing around with what looks like a horse's tail on his head, looking as if he'd learned to dress from watching old Britney Spears videos," Dyess-Nugent wrote.

"Ja'mie is so drawn-out and lifeless that the mind wanders, wondering if there might be something ugly about the popularity of this character.

"After all, Ja'mie gives Lilley free rein to portray youthful female sexuality as grotesque, and to depict a manipulative but successful teenage girl as if she were one of the most dangerous people in the world — all through the finely honed art of sloppy, transphobic drag."

Clique