TV review: Big School (S1, E1)

(image via rapidmoviez.com (c) BBC)

 

It seems, if the press reports are anything to go by, that David Walliams and I have something in common.

No, you may  be surprised to learn it’s not a stellar career as a BAFTA Award-winning comedian (thanks to his work on Little Britain with co-creator Matt Lucas) nor as an author responsible for five children’s book including The Boy in the Dress and Gangsta Granny nor as a judge on Britain’s Got Talent since 2012.

What we share in common is a love of good old fashioned British TV humour.

Not so much the innuendo-laden jokes so beloved of 70s comic veterans like Benny Hill and Dick Emery, both of whom figured to some degree in my childhood too, but the sort of sitcoms that reigned supreme in the 70s such as Only Fools and HorsesUp Pompeii and Are You Being Served? that established Britain as the comic powerhouse of its time.

They all look a little cheesy now of course but they were tour de forces of farce, and double entendre, outwardly innocent but wickedly funny to the core, and the most hilarious things I had ever seen in my then short life.

 

 

So with that commonality of affection for UK sitcom humour of old in mind, I was expecting a great deal from David Walliams first comedy outing in some time in Big School where he plays a disillusioned chemistry teacher Keith Church, a man in love with science but ill at ease with his colleagues, the students, and it seems life generally.

Always on the cusp of resigning, and in the habit of loudly proclaiming to a disinterested staff room that he is about to do so, he is man with very little going for him.

That is until Miss Sarah Postern (Catherine Tate, who I normally find ridiculously amusing), the new French teacher turns up for her first day at school – a replacement for the old teacher Miss Kent who died, apparently hilariously from anaphylactic shock from eating Nutella, and whose funeral Keith missed thanks to text messaging inattentiveness – and he is instantly smitten.

Not that anyone really cares, including Miss Postern unfortunately, who though she recognises a man desperately in lust with her, is smitten with her own attractiveness, and who is just as likely to flirt with the out of shape PE teacher Trevor Gunn (Philip Glenister), a lecherous tracksuit wearing sleaze who takes pride in living at home with his mum, as entertain Mr Church’s clumsy advances.

But Mr Church, who like his colleagues has to battle ambivalent students who pretty rule the place, and a headmistress, Ms Baron (70s comedy veteran Frances de la Tour who shines in the role) whose sole joy lies in sarcastically belittling her staff and drinking confiscated alcohol, is not deterred offering Moss Postern a lift home which doesn’t quite go to plan.

It’s all supposed to be insanely, side-slappingly funny but it left me sadly cold.

 

Everyone smile! How I wish I could (image via rynostv.com (c) BBC)

 

You could see what Walliams was aiming for.

Disaffected, idiosyncratic flawed staff, a dysfunctional school and unrequited love that will struggle to get its voice heard given Church’s lack of confidence in just about everything but the power of science to change lives.

Ripe with possibility, endless guffaws in the making right?

Not quite, alas.

It all looks quite promising at the beginning in a scene where Church is excitedly getting ready to unleash an experiment in class – it’s almost touching how much he is looking forward to his students love of learning coming alive as 1000 ping pong balls explode all over the classroom – only to have it not work as planned until his bored students are wandering out of the room, the end of period bell shrilly shrieking to an almost deafening degree.

Its funny, touching and you almost get the feeling that Keith Church could be a likable, sympathetic character.

 

Catherine Tate can pretty much say anything usually and I fall about laughing. Alas not so this time (image via bbc.co.uk (c) BBC)

 

Unfortunately that’s not sustained through the episode, and while the characters are undoubtedly wacky and social dysfunctional, they aren’t the sort of people you’d really want to spend a sustained amount of time with.

Contrast that with Green Wing, an off the wall show set in that other great home of TV comedies and dramas, the hospital, where the characters are just as flawed but thanks to snappy dialogue and an inherent absurdist bent, are eminently appealing.

Big School is one of those unfortunate misfires in TV – all the right ingredients in place, the recipe laid out ready to be followed to the letter but with no inherent rhythm or personality, too over thought to be spontaneously its own comic creature.

Bravo to David Walliams for trying to bring back some old style British sitcom humour.

As a fellow enthusiast I appreciate his efforts.

Unfortunately all he has given us is a classic sitcom in appearance only, one which lacks the warmth and good humour that sustained the old shows he, and I, still love so much.

Big School, I can fairly confidently say, won’t be joining them.

Posted In TV

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