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In defence of Ja'mie and unpopular opinions

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When ABC last week announced their television line-up for 2014 with Chris Lilley’s upcoming series Jonah, somebody I follow on Twitter posted: “Great. Another Chris Lilley show everyone can pretend to enjoy.”
That’s funny. I didn’t realise I was just pretending to enjoy Ja’mie: Private School Girl. Obviously, because my opinion on the show doesn’t line up with that person’s opinion, or the majority of critical opinion, I must be in some self-deluded state where I’m desperate to hold onto a performer and a character who once gave us so much, but is now just a pale, yet hideously overplayed caricature.
Well, no. I’m not. I enjoyed Ja’mie: Private School Girl. I don’t think it’s absolutely genius, and it’s not Lilley’s best work, but it captures something about the pressures of high school and the evil that’s lurking in the ambitions underneath. It’s occasionally one-dimensional, and you probably have to be really into Lilley’s schtick and his subversive, no-holds-barred take on teenage girls, but it’s hilarious and has something to say. And I enjoyed it.
The majority of critics, particularly in the US, fiercely disagree (a few have gone into bat for Lilley). The show has been labelled “sloppy, transphobic drag” by the AV Club. Even audience numbers fell by a third over the course of the six episodes, which would be of much bigger concern to the ABC.
With the proliferation of sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic (and even we, at Daily Review have bought into this with our “review of reviews”) audiences have access to a broad range of critical opinion more easily than ever. We’re aware of the broad range (practically nothing has a perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes) of opinions out there, but unpopular opinions fall underneath the steamroller of consensus far too often. They’re treated as an anomaly in the broader critical sphere, and far too often, much of the nuance of that critic’s argument is lost.
We all have unpopular opinions, don’t we? Here are just a few of mine (as I take a deep breath and prepare to be pelted with sticks and stones for stepping outside the status quo): Games of Thrones is just Xena Warrior Princess with more money, sex and violence, but less fun. War Horse is dire onstage, but the film is Spielberg at his best (if 15 years too late). Miss Saigon is a better musical than Les Miserables. MASH is so un-funny it’s depressing. Step aside Breaking Bad (which I happen to think is awesome), Orange is the New Black is the best television drama of the past decade (although that one mightn’t be that unpopular, and the second season will probably prove me wrong or right).
Hilary-Cole--CarrieThis weekend, I saw Squabbalogic’s Sydney production of notorious Broadway flop Carrie. For those unfamiliar with the show’s history, it premiered on Broadway in 1988 at a cost of $8 million, and closed after only 16 previews and five performances. There’s even a book by Ken Mandelbaum called Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops.
Squabbalogic’s production is based on a 2012 Off-Broadway version of the show, which has been substantially rewritten, and works (for the most part). It’s actually kind of revelatory. Sure, the lyrics are still pretty awful, and some of the script is just plain weird, but the direction by Jay James-Moody and the performances are sharp as a tack, and manage to redeem most of the show’s problems. If there weren’t people out there fighting for dear old Carrie and genuinely believing there was life in her yet (I can say I was definitely not one of them), Sydney would have missed out on a fine piece of musical theatre.
So if you genuinely believe a piece of derided art is worthwhile, fight for it. Nobody else will. If you think something else is completely overrated, say so. Throw your shame aside and proudly declare your unpopular opinion.

17 responses to “In defence of Ja'mie and unpopular opinions

  1. Can’t see why anyone would want to pretend to enjoy Ja’mie. Some of Lilley’s earlier work had inspired wackiness but this was just one tired joke repeated endlessly. The basic premise of Ja’mie was adequate when it debuted back in the Heroes series but even there it was overmilked.

    1. My teenage daughters both loved Ja’mie when she first appeared on our screens, they were both completely hooked on Summer Heights High and bought the DVD’s of the whole series and watched them over and over again laughing themselves silly. It was with that same interest that I started watching Ja’mie: Private School Girl. I was in awe of Chris Lilley’s extraordinary talent. I cringed A LOT during the series, both my girls have since grown up and moved out of home so I don’t know if they watched it or enjoyed it, I found some of it very funny and close to the bone as both my daughters were private school girls, but so much of it seemed quite dangerous and really subversive and scary: the tits exposure in front of the whole school, the black boy wanking to Ja’mie’s exposed breasts on Skype from the next bedroom, all the “dick pics” being sent via iphones, all the “I fucking love you’s” to all Ja’mie’s best friends, it all got a bit out of hand and gross in my opinion, and certainly shouldn’t be watched by younger teenage girls! Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’d prefer a bit more class.

    2. My daughters loved it, wouldn’t miss an episode. I on the other hand couldn’t bear watching her. It was such an accurate portrayal of girls we have known that I found it repulsive and couldn’t find it funny. This time Lilley was too convincing for me. I’m amazed at how he gets inside the heads of his characters

  2. sorry i haven’t even PRETENDED to like anything Lilley has done since Heroes. Tried to perhaps. Never succeeded. Now given up.

  3. While at times repetitive and lacking the same genius as his earlier work, I still got a few laughs out of Ja’ime. Not brilliant, but not bad either. Just harmless fun. I’m looking forward to seeing Jonah back on TV.

  4. Can’t imagine how the ABC could devote so much time & money to Chris Lilley.
    No-one, young or old whom I know likes anything he has done. It’s just the same old, same old.

  5. I also find his apparent humour befuddling and unfunny.
    Befuddling only in the sense that I can’t see how other people think it is funny. It has always looked like average to poor high school writing and characters…….
    with apologies to high schools.

  6. I concur with BRETT, SANDY & DOG’S BREAKFAST. When Chris Lilley becomes the subject, I just keep browsing. What some may consider an innate skill, I consider unfunny. As such, he unnecessarily consumes oxygen and bandwidth.

  7. Ja’mie is an excruciating caricature. I recognise people I have known in that age group, and so I wince and keep wincing throughout at the accuracy. It takes the worst of such people and puts them all into the one character. Enjoyment is not quite the word for my reaction, but definitely appreciation for the fine understanding Lilley has of these adolescent foibles, as well as the recognition of the damage that such sociopaths can create.

  8. I suspect that Lilley wasn’t really expecting people to “enjoy” Ja’mie: Private School Girl. I suspect he wanted us to wince as we recognised many of the pervasive issues in today’s supposedly egalitarian, laid back society – elitism, mean-spiritedness, a sad but desperate need be “better” than other people, lack of sympathy, self-centredness – shall I go on? As conservative middle aged Australians my wife and I enjoyed the series, even though we winced at times as well. This is a parable that we should all discuss with our friends and families – the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” or the “Wicked Stepmother” in Cinderella. By externalising these traits in one person Lilley provide us all with the opportunity to commit to be as unlike “Ja’mie” as we possibly can.

  9. Chris Lilley holds a mirror up to both our society and the USA and people are horrified by what they see. So they blame the mirror holder. With 3 teens in high school this show was watched by us all and discussed at length. We laughed, were embarrassed and can see society all the clearer.
    Yes it was exaggerated, but not as much as the TV critics say. Please keep making these shows Chris Lilley, you are a genius, perhaps the most accurate critic our society has. Take a good look at yourselves Australia, it is not a pretty sight.

  10. The comments by Fiona and Simon pick up on the point missed by many. This is satire and Lilley is a very clever satirist. Satire aims to highlight the folly of humanity, to make us laugh at ourselves or in this case to make us wince with uncomfortable truths. Take as an example the hideous treatment Jamie’s mother receives from both husband and daughter and her desperate looks of powerlessness as the camera shot holds and holds and holds until we have to almost look away for relief. Swift wrote a Modest Proposal, perhaps the most famous piece of satire ever as a response to the Irish Government’s treatment of the poor. His pitch was a detailed account of how cooking new born babies and then selling them onto rich folk could be solution. Uncomfortable, yes, shocking, yes. We should be talking about what Lilley is really saying and not be distracted by whether we like it or not.

    1. Yes I agree ,he is out there to bare the truth you might say , my eldest daughter went to a private school , there she learnt to use cocaine ,drink alcohol and disappear with her school friends for days on end , the rich kids had the money to buy the drugs and pass them around , so it’s not really comedy he is into now it is very good satire , I am not really into men impersonating women ,but he does it well ,I did like his early stuff lets see how he goes next year! My daughter settled down and is happily married with three kids ,but we knew how Jamies Mum felt !

  11. Chris Lilley made it known that this time around with Ja’mie he was just having fun for himself. He’s entitled to that imho.
    In my view Chris Lilley is the greatest Australian comic to date – because unlike Barry Humphries and Kath n’ Kim his humour is not nasty, rather it is always empathetic. These moments are even there in this series featuring his most one D character.
    And yes, I live in a suburb where there are a few schools like Hillford and many of the girls who attend these ridiculous institutions are disgusting in the way Lilley portrays them.

  12. Ja’mies mother Jhyll disturbed me. This deliberate display of disregard of a middle aged women bears discussion. Her invisible presence in ja’mies life remind me of the mother in Muriel’s wedding-burnt the grass in the backyard because no one would mow it when she asked and ultimately committed suicide. A women I worked with recently told me that once you reach a certain age as a women you become invisible. If at the shops or out so long as no one is hurting you it’s harmless enough but within a home, with your family? That’s pain. Jhyll does what every mother does-their best. Ja’mie is high maintainence. Ego unrestrained. She behaves as many teenage girls do-private school educated or not. She is selfish, self absorbed with little regard for the wake she leaves but she is also a product of her environment- over indulged. And so many teenage girls are indulged. So many boys are indulged. Our enlightened age has a lot to answer for-how we raise our girls and boys. I have two teenage girls and they love Chris Lilley and everything he has done. They see girls they go to school with in Ja’mies behaviours and possibly within themselves. The selfie, the mad intensity of relationships. The ultimate strongest of the fittest- the most wealthy, robust ego, the bitchiness and the judging of each other. Ja’mie is insecure in a perverted surround me with your support kind of way. I remember girls at high school like that and I went to a bogan outer suburb of Melbourne hick school. It’s reality and Chris does reality very, very well.
    Lilley nails stereotypes. Uncomfortably so. He is a genius in his ability to capture such a range of characters. He too sees what we all see and often just accept and not talk about much but Lilley in his creativeness has made an entertaining, uncomfortable and hysterical series that I and my teenage girls have enjoyed immensely. I look forward to Jonah and the work he will do in the future.
    Sam – @bad_cat_

  13. J is completely accurate and funny enough – i liked it – simply wasn’t enough to sustain a whole show – should have tried another character as well – or at least resurfaced Jonah.. the real secret of Summer was the ability to edit between each.. hides the flaws. Reeks a little of desperation.

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