BBC3 have got a bit of a dodgy track record when it comes to their sitcoms though they’re the channel that produced both the brilliant Him and Her and the cancelled before its time Pulling but there are also some very questionable shows which in some cases sully the good name of comedy. There was for example the horrendous Coming of Age and the dreadful Grown-Ups plus I always felt they kept Two Pints of Larger running for far too many series and it seems that even Pulling’s Sharon Horgan had lost her touch earlier this year with the uneven Dead Boss. Jack Whitehall is the latest name to produce a comedy for the channel both writing and starring in Bad Education which has a very familiar plotline in that it’s about a teacher who is as juvenile as his students, hands up if you’ve heard this before.
Alfie Wickers (Whitehall) is a 23 year old waster who still gets his dad to drive him everywhere and gets drunk every night of the week but somehow he has still managed to get a job as a history teacher. He just about gets by by having a class who understand that though their teacher is an idiot it’s better than having someone who’ll actually make them learn so only nerdy Asian Jing (Kae Alexander) is that bothered that lessons tend to include re-enacting battles or learning about the Apartheid by separating the classroom in two. The first episode sees staff night approaching but unsurprisingly Alfie has yet to mark any of the mock GCSE exams which annoys frosty deputy headteacher Miss Pickwell (Michelle Gomez) who sees him for what he really is. Alfie constantly attempts to get out of doing this marking while at the same time chasing after Miss Gulliver (Sarah Solemani) who has recently split up with her boyfriend. Alfie’s only problem is that Head Teacher Fraser (Matthew Horne) is after her too but luckily he’s asked to be the head’s wingman so leads him off the path in order to enchant the woman he loves.
It’s true that Bad Education isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before but that doesn’t stop it from being funny and I’d laughed about five times within the first ten minutes or so. Though all the kids in Alfie’s class are simply stereotypes – the slut, the nerd, the gay one, the thug, the fat kid and the one in the wheelchair the young actors portraying them have so much energy that it’s hard to care. I especially liked Jack Binstead as wheelchair-bound Rem-Dog, who is one of the most aggressive members of the class only lighting up when he gets to play a tank in Alfie’s reconstruction of Pearl Harbor, while Ethan Lawrence also impresses as fat dogsbody Joe who will do anything that his teacher asks of him even if it means climbing into a cupboard with no explanation. Whitehall has penned an easy role for himself to play, a posh layabout, however he excels in the role and once again he’s surprised me both as a performer and as a writer. I was never a big fan of Whitehall as a stand-up however since he played the unlikeable posh student JP in Fresh Meat I think he’s definitely found his calling in scripted comedy.
Though Whitehall is good it is Green Wing’s Michelle Gomez who steals the show as Miss Gulliver the terrifying deputy head who speaks to Alfie as if he were one of her worst students with the actress getting her icy glares down to perfection. Sarah Solemani of Him and Her is also a perfect pick as Alfie’s love interest as she’s someone who is way out of his league but at the same time may look to him for comfort as she says, ‘if ever I need drunken pity sex you’ll definitely be on the shortlist.’ To me the only bum note in the cast is Matthew Horne who for me is the wrong choice to play the headmaster who thinks he’s ‘down with the kids’ but is really just a bit of a tool mainly as I find him a little too young. Horne does try his best but he doesn’t convincingly pull of playing an authority figure even one who doesn’t really have that much authority while to me it’s quite plausible that Miss Gulliver would want to go out with him rather than Alfie.
Bad Education does have a strong start but I found it petered out towards the last ten minutes when Alfie lies about Joe’s mother dying in order to get closer to Miss Gulliver. I found this was a cheap plot device and one that had an obvious outcome seeing as parent’s evening was coming up though it seemed Whitehall felt it was necessary in order to further the romantic subplot I think he could’ve advanced this story in a cleverer fashion. Overall though Bad Education does get off to a stronger start than most recent BBC3 sitcoms have thanks to a fast-paced script, a leading man who has written a role that he can play perfectly and a bunch of young actors looking to impress with their first major roles. It’s too quick to judge whether or not Bad Education will be another success for the channel or be cancelled after one season but on the evidence of this first instalment I would have to say the future is very bright for BBC3.
Bad Education Continues Tuesday’s at 10.00pm on BBC3
Contributed by Matt Donnelly Follow Matt on Twitter