Review - A good balance of cliche and cringe

17th August 2012 at 01:00

A young man walks into school. First the teacher tells him to take his hoody off, then a bully stares him down in the corridor. Finally, he slumps into his classroom chair. "Hello, class," he says.

Boom boom. But stick with Bad Education, the new BBC Three sitcom set in the fictional Abbey Grove School, because it is much better than its opening sequence.

It is true that the obligatory roll call of school-based cliches is present and correct: the oversexed 15-year-old, the drama-loving gay kid, the trendy head, the painfully earnest love interest. But there are also real laugh-out-loud moments.

Jack Whitehall, who also wrote the sitcom, is Alfie Wickers, hoody-wearing history teacher. His teaching style is probably best summed up by the wall display "hot babes through history", and by his interactive lesson on Pearl Harbor, in which he casts the pupil of Chinese origin as the Japanese army and the gay kid as Kate Beckinsale.

"I'm a grown-up," Mr Wickers protests at one point. "I use coasters. I put my posters into frames. I've got a Bag for Life."

Although each episode does have something resembling a plot, the point of the first two episodes is, primarily, to set up the classroom dynamics. So we see Mr Wickers attempt - excruciatingly - to woo well-meaning Miss Gulliver during a discussion about sex education. Getting to know his own "phallus", she tells him, will be much more effective than any book-based study. "What, you mean trace it?" he responds.

And we meet deputy head Miss Pickwell, played by the marvellous Michelle Gomez, who has framed photographs of Stalin and Idi Amin on her classroom walls. "Has anybody ever told you that you'd make a wonderful SS officer?" Mr Wickers asks. "Yes," she says.

Each episode, essentially, is an excuse for Mr Wickers to demonstrate his pedagogical incompetence while pupils recite jokes around him. On the whole, these are well-conceived: there is a nice running gag, for example, which the Chinese-origin pupil repeatedly insults him in Mandarin. And I suspect there will be an increasingly good role for hapless Joe, Mr Wickers' pubescent stooge.

Admittedly, not all the jokes work. When Miss Pickwell says, "The problem with you, Mr Wickers, is that you're all fart and no poo," I wanted to reach for my red pen and start subtracting marks from the script. But the classroom moments deftly manage the fine line between cringeworthy-funny and cringeworthy-I-need-to-turn-the-television-off-now.

And teachers looking for easy classroom tips could do worse than Mr Wickers' snappy one-liners. When Joe accidentally says "Yes, Dad" at registration, the other boys start teasing him. "Shut up, Mitchell," says Mr Wickers. "At least he knows who his dad is."

Bad Education began on Tuesday at 10pm on BBC Three.

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