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Hercules Audits HBO’s
SUMMER HEIGHTS HIGH!!

Published at: Nov. 10, 2008, 3:07 a.m. CST

I am – Hercules!!
An eight-episode Australian mockumentary series that looks at the faculty and students at a Melbourne high school, HBO’s “Summer Heights High” was masterminded by a fellow named Chris Lilley, who plays a drama teacher and two of the students. It was a huge hit Down Under. While Lilly’s ability to disappear into his three characters is admirable, I can’t say I found a lot of funny in the first four episodes. I got a good laugh at delinquent Jonah’s foul apology to a tiny red-haired kid in the first episode, but by episode two I already found myself numbed to Jonah’s casual barrages of vulgarity. Overall I didn’t notice a lot of new comedy ground getting broken. Lilly’s drama teacher character is to Corky St. Clair in “Waiting For Guffman” what Mohinder Suresh is to Seth Brundle in “The Fly.” Which it to say not as good but with a different accent. Entertainment Weekly gives it an “A-minus” and says:
… Brilliant! …
Time Magazine says:
… quite funny. …
The New York Times says:
… But are they funny? … I suspect that a lot of American viewers will be inclined to ask what all the fuss was about. …
The Los Angeles Times says:
… all in all, it's a rich work, full of detail and small moments, and grounded in reality by an utterly believable supporting cast partly drawn from the school where the series was shot. …
The Washington Post says:
… starts slowly -- but builds. Eventually, even farcical characters inspire emotional investment. It's cringe comedy, with suspense growing out of how mortifyingly the three main characters -- a drama teacher, a girl who's transferred from private school and an incorrigible sociopath -- will humiliate themselves. …
The San Francisco Chronicle says:
… The documentary look is engaging, and Lilley's wildly over-the-top performance as three distinct characters is made all the more funny as it clashes against the reserved nature of the nonactors. … niftily overcomes its familiar premise to bring fresh laughs to these shores.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says:
… Fans of character comedy may get a kick out of the "Summer Heights High." You just have to go in expecting to smile occasionally or maybe chuckle. It's not the kind of comedy that will produce big laughs.…
The Newark Star-Ledger says:
… in comedy, which is more important: versatility or the simple number of laughs? Much as I admire Lilley's ability to pull off a sort of one-man Christopher Guest movie, only one of the three "Summer Heights High" leads is funny on a consistent basis. … Lilley's obviously a talent, but for his next project, I'd like to see how he plays with others.
The Boston Globe says:
… hysterical … gives us an idea of what Christopher Guest, creator of spoofs such as "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show," might come up with if he were to make a TV comedy series. …
Variety says:
… One newspaper dubbed Chris Lilley "Australia's answer to Ricky Gervais" -- a comparison that, alas, is funnier than almost anything in this mockumentary fished up from Down Under. … seldom rises above silliness and mostly proves just plain irritating. …
The Hollywood Reporter says:
… has all the ingredients for a hilarious mockumentary without the benefit of actually being funny … Lilley himself has moments of inspiration but far too few, falling back on easy stereotypes that quickly grow tedious. … The inescapable conclusion: them Aussies are far too easily entertained.
10:30 p.m. Sunday. HBO.


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Readers Talkback

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  • Nov. 9, 2008, 4:29 a.m. CST

    If Simon Pegg says it's brilliant...

    by amamo

    ...then it's brilliant! Check out his post on peggster.net a few weeks ago to gauge his immediate reaction to Lilley's brilliance

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 4:36 a.m. CST

    This showed in the UK earlier this year and is

    by Chopper3

    wonderful - full of quotable lines. Like The Office (UK) it's the pathos that makes the show rather than just being gag-after-gag.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 4:37 a.m. CST

    Great, great show

    by Mr_Sinister

    Us Aussies are far too easily entertained? Ha! Anyway, I thought this was great stuff, though I still prefer his previous show, We Can Be Heroes. Ja'mie is excellent, but I hope he brings Ricky Wong back for his next project! 'Indigiridoo, indigiridoo, we're not just the people who eat kangaroo'

  • Watch it though. Far better than most shit.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 5:23 a.m. CST

    it's not surprising SMH isn't meant for America.

    by Damien Chowder

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 6:16 a.m. CST

    Aussie sitcoms are not USA friendly

    by mothandrust

    like Kath and Kym, this hits home for Aussies, but I'm glad to hear some positive reviews outside of our li'l island. For me, an Australian teacher, this show is drop dead, laugh out loud, funny. Much of it was ad-libbed and the out-takes on the extended dvd are hilarious. Quality cringe humour, and I don't know how they got handicapped and child actors to understand 'the joke' so well to deliver some of the gags. Amazing television.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 6:31 a.m. CST

    More on Aussie sit-coms

    by mothandrust

    Most of our sit-coms are complete crap, but we do have exceptions... "Mother and Son" being one, umm, are there any others? We do mockumentries pretty well I think: Frontline, The Games, We can be Heroes. Kath and Kym is funny, but a bit tacky with it. Some recent sitcoms have been working for me, including "Very Small Business" and "Stupid Stupid Man". Kingswood Country was an old time classic, but would NOT translate well at all. Apart from these gems, Australian sitcoms suck to an embarrassing nth degree.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:04 a.m. CST

    "Fuck off Miss"

    by kuryakin

    Loved this show but I have to say I preferred We Can Be Heroes <b> <p> I watched both series' in one go and that's probably the best way. You do become pretty involved with the characters and to be honest when Jonah read out his bit in class at the end I found it quite moving.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:09 a.m. CST

    Not seen the show

    by Lloytron

    But if a US audience are most likely to find it not very funny, it must be a winner. I've seen the shows that they do like and they mostly stink, so this is worth checking out.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:09 a.m. CST

    Wow, this looks even worse than Concords

    by GreatCzarsGhost

    Predictable stupid dumb characters who aren't popular in high school so they do stupid things that really just prove how stupid and predictable they are. Be kind to yourself and skip the crap on HBO and watch just about anything on Showtime. HBO wants to be the CW Network of Cable.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:28 a.m. CST

    Most Americans simply wouldn't "get it"...

    by The Grug

    In much the same way that a lot of American comedy isn't the slightest bit funny to Australians (the US version of the Office? It's AWFUL, it makes me cringe but unlike the original it never makes me laugh). Which is a shame because it's not often that locally-made comedy shows down here are actually any good, but SHH is one of them... I think we can put this one down to "lost in translation".

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:36 a.m. CST

    CzarsGhost

    by SirFlibble

    That description of the show is completely wrong. I wouldn't call any of the characters unpopular or doing stupid things. They do, but only from our point of view. And don't worry we don't expect you to undestand SHH or Conchords... we just have a different sense of humour.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:37 a.m. CST

    Am I too old for today's Australian comedy?

    by Amy Chasing

    I'm in my 20s. I grew up with Australian comedy through the 80s and 90s, so I remember the Big Gig, Fast Forward, Late Show, Frontline, & The Games just to mention a few. Only the recent series The Sideshow was anywhere near as funny as those other shows, otherwise I'm just finding "the music's too loud" in Australian comedy these days. <P> Although I do think Kenny's World is the best travel show on Australian TV (yes, better than Getaway and its ilk).

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:42 a.m. CST

    Pat on the heads of Americans who do 'get it'

    by mothandrust

    We're very proud of you. The US Office is a joy to watch. It's a little less gritty than the UK version, and Michael is almost parodying himself after a few seasons, but it's still funny. We balked at the first season, but it came into its own. Is Conchords Aussie or Kiwi? It's set in NY... what's up with that? Is it a cross breed? There are people who don't think Conchords is funny? pfft

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:47 a.m. CST

    Conchords are kiwis

    by SirFlibble

    but as with anything a successful kiwi is always considered an Aussie

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:48 a.m. CST

    Conchords are from N.Z.

    by Amy Chasing

    And they're brilliant. They remind me of what Tripod used to be like.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 8:18 a.m. CST

    The Office (US) is fucking hillarious. (Im Australian)

    by MMacKK

    Granted, at first I went fuck this. But I'm now at Season 3, and wow, it has really grown into something of its own. You must watch Season 2, when it begins to breakaway from the original and become its own series. Its development is fantastic. The scenes with Creed are hillarious.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 1:19 p.m. CST

    Funnier than Hollowmen?

    by EvilWizardGlick

    I watched s1 of Hollowmen and it is the funniest political show. Immediately after some episodes political activity in the real world reflected the points Hollowmen were making. The "whistle factor" for the bailout for example.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 2:02 p.m. CST

    SEEN THE WHOLE SERIES

    by The InSneider

    And I quite liked it. I think Jonah is a brilliant creation and his relationships with his Dad, and the guidance counselor, are priceless.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 3:07 p.m. CST

    Anyone remember...

    by chook chutney

    In the Office U.S. when Michael drove his car into a lake because his nav system told him to turn right? It's poorly written shit like that that gets under my skin. Anyone who claims it's better than its UK counterpart doesn't know a damn thing about comedy. (That said, Ed Helms and Rainn Wilson are both fantastic on it.)

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 3:08 p.m. CST

    I have lost faith yet again with the american press

    by Damien Chowder

    (never gained it back anyway) SMH is amazing and here in the UK it's garnered critical acclaim by our best source in Empire and some. All my friends love it and it surprises me not that america doesn't like it. You know what I thought it was a fluke that america took to The Office at all.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 3:09 p.m. CST

    And as for SHH

    by chook chutney

    I'm almost done with the series, and it's fucking spectacular.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 4:07 p.m. CST

    Such an amazingly hilarious show

    by qbert455

    I had never heard of this show before, and one day at the beginning of summer, a friend recommended I download it. It was one of the funniest things I'd seen in ages! Chris Lilley is genious. If you like this, check out We Can Be Heroes...so good!

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 4:34 p.m. CST

    It's flippin brilliant!

    by geekzapoppin

    I just don't think Herc got it. My wife is a high school teacher and we both come from a Theatre background. Summer Heights High is the most realistic portrayal of both frustrated Theatre people and troubled teens that we've seen. It's amazing on many levels. Chris Lilley should become a real star in the U.S. if there is any justice in the universe.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 4:39 p.m. CST

    ^^^^^ Yeah agreed!

    by Damien Chowder

    It's not supposed to be an all out comedy. There is quite a bit of drama in it. The show connected with me and my friends who have seen those characters and circumstances.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 5:16 p.m. CST

    I really love this. But I'm British, what do I know?

    by performingmonkey

    Seriously, Summer Heights High is one of my favourite shows from the past year. Chris Lilley is a fucking genious, without a doubt. The Mr G music/drama teacher character is so funny to me, maybe because he reminds me of so many real teachers I had at school. I imagine this will hit home more with a British and Australian audience. It's definitely closer to the Gervais Office than anything else (it's closer to it than the US Office). Ja'mie is a brilliant character too. I don't know how he does it but you really do believe he's this teenage girl. It's so funny when she pretends to do an AIDS awareness fundraiser to get money for the school formal. And she goes out with an 11-year-old ('I'd rather be a paedophile than a lesbian!') Like The Office there are also some moving moments, particularly in the last two episodes with Jonah. My favourite scene in the series is definitely this - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUfpYBX6AXo

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 5:16 p.m. CST

    "cringe comedy/humour"

    by Amy Chasing

    seems to be for the noughties what observational comedy was for the nineties. <P> I guess if you like shows like The Office and Kath & Kim, you'll probably like SHH. Much like if you liked Seinfeld, you'd also like, well, whatever other observational sit-coms there were around then. <P> Not my cup-of-tea, but then I like Chuck and Big Bang Theory, so what would I know.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 5:39 p.m. CST

    Some American comedy is funny to (most) Australians...

    by Mr_Sinister

    Look at Two and a Half Men! Why? I don't know. Channel 9 shows that as much as possible, and the DVDs sell by the truckload.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 5:59 p.m. CST

    Two and a Half Men

    by Amy Chasing

    is a traditional US sit-com done well. Like Home Improvement or Frasier (well, not as good as Frasier - but then that was a hard act to beat). There's so many bad sit-coms that you can understand when one works and gets popular, it gets more air-play and stands out (like channel 10's obsession with The Simpsons). <P> I'd rather a week of regular TAAHM than a string of Do Not Disturb & Til Death type sit-coms, which seem to be the norm.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 6:57 p.m. CST

    More Hollowmen, please

    by jbs0209

    More Hollowmen please or Frontline<p> Those two shows are fantastic<p> They should redo make a US version of Hollowmen.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 7:18 p.m. CST

    Chris Lilley is undeniably talented. He's also way overrated.

    by Paul T. Ryan

    I think the success of Summer Heights High and its predecessor We Can Be Heroes really depend on your sense of humour. If you like cringe humour then this will be your thing. If you're like me and don't respond to that humour, you won't. Much has been made of how well-observed Lilley's characters are, but to me they're dead-on without actually being funny. Kind of like Kath and Kim in that respect. Then again, I'm also soured on Lilley from all the fawning hype from the Aussie entertainment press, so my judgement here isn't exactly objective.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 8:09 p.m. CST

    Clever vs. Humorous

    by shellfishh

    There have been a few American shows like that, where you don't have any doubt that they are clever, they just don't make you laugh.<BR><BR> Currently we have the "Sarah Silverman Program" and for those that remember it, the old Ben Stiller show on Fox. They had a sketch of U2-the early years, where they were performing at a Bar Mitzvah. Clever, but it just wasn't funny.<br><br> And I haven't seen much of it this season, but "Two & A Half Men" is the funniest sit-com to ever get completely and constantly shit on, usually by people who have never seen it.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 8:12 p.m. CST

    Americans don't "get" underplayed comedy

    by scumbag

    Just a cultural thing. They've been conditioned to need a punchline and an "exclamation mark" like musical sting or a canned laugh track to underline a joke. <P> Comedy without punchlines, or delivered in a deadpan manner (perfectly done by Conchords) doesn't register as comedy, therefore the shows are perceived as not funny.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 8:50 p.m. CST

    I don't believe that.

    by Amy Chasing

    Didn't Flight Of The Conchords just win an Emmy or something? Wouldn't get that if the Yanks didn't like it. <P> Americans can get underplayed comedy. I really liked Little Miss Sunshine, and Rocket Science is the best high school love story ever told on film as far as I've seen. <P> But the Brits do it best and to more universal appeal. Americans (and Australians) are a bit more yocalised.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 8:54 p.m. CST

    Americans won't get this... It'll bomb like Kath'n'Kim...

    by Fleet

    ...And it's not because of "australian comedy" vs "american comedy" - It's simply because Australians can understand and appreciate the parody the characters present - Americans can't... Jonah saying things like "That's a nice dress, Miss - Did you get that at Suzannes?" won't even get a chuckle out of US audiences because they just won't get it... Ja'mai screaming "I am a Private School Girl!" into the phone to her mother won't mean the same thing as those who have experienced those exact girls in their schools (hell, I teach about 30 of them... it's amazing how accurate Lilley is with his portrayel...) But, like Kath and Kim... it'll get lost - Not because our humour is different, but because they simply won't understand the cultural references... We can laugh at ourselves because we get it... It'll fall on deaf ears elsewhere...

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 9 p.m. CST

    The biggest worry...

    by Amy Chasing

    How many teachers seem to be posting here... And during school hours! ;)

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 9:01 p.m. CST

    Generalizations

    by shellfishh

    As an American, I list "Yes Prime Minister" and "To The Manor Born" as some of my favorite all-time shows. There are Americans who appreciate subtle dry humor.<br><br> Having said that, let's remember that the UK is also the birthplace of "Benny Hill" and "Are You Being Served?", hardly monuments to wit. There are people in all countries who like different types of humor.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 9:18 p.m. CST

    Arrested Development was a great underplayed sit-com.

    by Amy Chasing

    And more recently J-Pod and that show about the chemisty teacher who starts cooking crystal meth. Just off the top of my head.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 9:39 p.m. CST

    I can't believe

    by Ruddy Heck

    That people are defending 2 and a half men! Typical 'obvious setup, lame zinger' comedy - and yes I have actually seen it. Loved SHH, especially the Mr G musical. "When girls do drugs, and then they die... Who would've thought, at Summer Heights High? Days like this... it's a bummer heights hiiiigh.." Awesome.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 9:58 p.m. CST

    2.5 Men and Benny Hill and SSH

    by Amy Chasing

    are fine for what they are. Nothing special.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 10:19 p.m. CST

    'She's a naughty girl with a bad habit, a bad habit for drugs'

    by Mr_Sinister

    'She was what you'd call a slut'. Did you like that one Ruddy Heck?? Chris Lilley is great. Who would have thought he'd go from Extreme Darren in the Big Bite (or whatever it was) to this stuff. And I don't think the show was too overhyped here. I knew more people that tuned in as it progressed because of good word of mouth. Anyway... 'Ecstasy, ectasy, e, e, e, ecstasy'.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 10:27 p.m. CST

    I actually got many reports that SSH was crap.

    by Amy Chasing

    From friends that watch a lot more TV than I do, and they like The Office. <P> I don't know where all the good word-of-mouth is, but I haven't heard any until this talkback. And after seeing an episode, I won't be a good word-of-mouth contributor.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 11:45 p.m. CST

    Arrested Development was underplayed?

    by NormanJohnson

    I guess jetpacks, hands getting bit off by seals, and lawyers pretending to be blind to win sympathy is "under playing" and subtle. Also, people who are literally retarded that other people think are... spies? Arrested was a great show, but please, it sure as hell wasn't underplayed. And Summer Heights High is genius. By the time the last few episodes roll around, and the emotional stuff kicks in, the trip is well worth it. Great show.

  • Nov. 9, 2008, 11:51 p.m. CST

    Arrested Development did dead-pan really well and

    by Amy Chasing

    didn't do the one-liner thing like more main-stream sit-coms. It was more about the character's behaviours than gags.

  • Nov. 10, 2008, 3:51 a.m. CST

    He he he

    by Ruddy Heck

    I certainly did Mr S! "She's a slut and she knows it. She likes to root all the boys..." Gold.

  • Nov. 10, 2008, 4:37 a.m. CST

    it was not a huge hit Down Under

    by Maniaq

    and by all accounts absolute rubbish - hasn't the idea of an actor/s taking on multiple roles been done to death already?

  • Nov. 10, 2008, 5:58 a.m. CST

    Sheep

    by Joey17

    Baa Baa Baa Baa Baa

  • Nov. 10, 2008, 9:01 a.m. CST

    HEY DAD

    by mothandrust

    ... still makes me dry reach. I almost feel like I'm intruding here when talking about Australian comedy. Mother and Son was the best 'sitcom' and so well acted. Sean Micallef's "Newstopia" airing atm is a good example of the Aussie style. Much of our sketch comedy has been high calibre.

  • Nov. 10, 2008, 4:15 p.m. CST

    Just posting to say it's incredible...

    by DanielKurland

    Very, very funny.

  • Nov. 10, 2008, 6:47 p.m. CST

    Daniel Kurland

    by NormanJohnson

    You my boy, mofucka. This is a great show. It's only 8 eps long, trust me -- worth watching all 8 eps. That's only 4 hours of your life. C'mon.

  • Nov. 11, 2008, 3:34 a.m. CST

    Her doesn't have much of a comedic compass.

    by SmarkJobber

    So far this show is plenty funny. First you exclaim that "Bender's Game" is the funniest of the "Futurama" DVDs (it certainly is not), and then you shrug at "Summer Heights."

  • Nov. 11, 2008, 7:37 a.m. CST

    Futurama is to SHH like

    by Amy Chasing

    Ghostbusters is to 40 Year Old Virgin. Apples and Volkswagens dude.

  • Nov. 11, 2008, 8:03 p.m. CST

    I wasn't comparing Futurama and SHH.

    by SmarkJobber

    I was pointing out the fact that Herc doesn't know funny if he thinks that SHH is mediocre and Bender's Game is the funniest Futurama film. He's wrong on both counts.