Educating Yorkshire Christmas Special: The gift that keeps on giving
Educating Yorkshire, you were my sticky bun, my brew, my crystal meth. If loving you was wrong, well, I didn't want to be level 8. You were my emergency cigarette and my final bell. You were a snow day. You were a cancelled INSET.
I thought my love would last forever. I was wrong. Eight episodes, you libertine. But death is only final in real life. In telly, anyone can come back, and nothing succeeds like success. The makers of the Educating x series, where x is equal to the current school location, have hit a seam, and understandably want to mine it until their picks wear down into clubs. Essex gave us something rare in the reality TV sausage machine: talent. Drew and Goddard, the Butch and Sundance of education: the terminator of Obsessive- Compulsive pupil management, and the nuclear reactor of optimism, high expectations and dreams. I blogged about their capers like a junkie monkey.
But Vic wisely refused a second series. Fonzie had jumped the shark; the first was an uncut diamond in the schedules. The second would lack the element of surprise. So, Educating Yorkshire. Perhaps not quite the innovation the first had been- understandably- it personified a don't fix it philosophy; it was as daringly different from the first as Spy Kids 2 was to 1, ie barely at all, except the filming cycle seemed far more concentrated around a few months, meaning that the weekly narratives were much tighter, and stories were far more focused. It ended on a high, as the bright Musharraf escaped from his stuttering prison in a moment that was purest Hollywood.
Everyone who films the professions- the lawyers, the doctors, the police- encounters the same narrative Kryptonite: most of these jobs are intensely dull, and utterly unwatchable: paperwork, meetings and repetitive liturgies of bureaucracy. But nobody wants to watch Gregory House differentially diagnose gastric ulcers, or thrill to Luther as he knocks on a hundred doors asking if anyone saw who graffitied the local Spar. Pity, then, the producers who staked out a school for three months. Educating Yorkshire had over 100 fixed rig cameras, rolling for almost a year. That's an eye watering number of staff- hours spent watching kids walk slowly between lessons, and teachers struggle with keys outside stationery cupboards. There are webcams on Orcadian Viking tombs that yield more excitement.
The Christmas Special Rick-rolled us. It was more of a Greatest Hits than new material, as it whizzed through a medley of the peaks and troughs of the series, from savant Ryan- the first of the three wiser men- sadly bringing joy to the world, to Balthazar Robbie-Jay, the jumping bean. We saw Bailey, older, wiser, less orange, who had regrown her eyebrows (and with it, gained wisdom), and found love, in the form of Melchior Thomas, another alumni of series 2. All we needed was a birth in a manger. Ryan had also found a girlfriend, but astutely, didn't feel like pimping her out to the cameras- evidence, perhaps, that the children of tomorrow have realised being looked at by everyone isn't quite as awesome as it sounds.
Like the end credits of Grease, we saw beyond the school gates into the immediate future of Hadiqa and Safiyah, two unlikely best friends whose friendship we last saw detonating like Semtex before reforming in time for the credits. Hadiqa was moving away, and we saw a meme of secondary graduation that becomes a familiar tattoo as we get older- separation.
And of course, we met Musharaf again, the pay-off for the series, with his stuttering epiphany straight out of The King's Speech. Nearly mute from his inability to talk publicly, he addressed the whole year group at the climax of last season, and then went on to appear on TV and radio as his glorious rebirth went viral across the world. The irony: from a near mute to a voice heard across the world. Search an atom and you'll find it's mostly vacuum: in any teaching career, our time is mostly mundane, repetitive and unremarkable. But every eon or so, we are privileged to witness the kind of casual wonder to which Mr Steer, his English teacher, bore witness. We have to follow a lot of stars in the East before they happen, long torturous journeys of uncertainty and hope. But sometimes we're rewarded with children who perform miracles. Capturing a moment like that on camera was itself, a little piece of television magic.
This wasn't so much a Christmas Special as a collage. To appreciate the emotional hinterland of each student it was necessary to watch each episode dedicated to them. For regular viewers/ obsessives like me, this seemed to be as satisfying as reading the summary of a Shakespeare play. And to new viewers, it would have lacked the punch provided by unfolding the story in an hour each. Still, at least we were reminded of what schools can really be like. Dramatic enactments of schools are usually absurd (Waterloo Road) or patronising (...Er, Waterloo Road). But this at least speaks the truth using lies. Roll on Educating North London.
And Merry Christmas.