Bad Education fails to make the grade

Comedian Jack Whitehall’s new but wearily predictable school comedy fails to live up to his previous efforts.

Ed Noel

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Following the success of Channel 4’s Fresh Meat, comedian Jack Whitehall was under a lot of pressure to succeed with Bad Education. But even with the help of a strong cast, and heavy borrowing from previous school-based television gems, halfway through the series it has become apparent that Bad Education just isn’t going to deliver.

Scheduled, no doubt, to coincide with secondary schools returning this week, at its best Bad Education delivers a hilarious caricature of initiatives like Teach First, mocking the assumption that what ‘yoofs’ need is Oxbridge-educated toffs to inspire them with demands for Berocca.

The plot, however, is thin: a recent graduate from a wealthy background (Jack Whitehall) takes up teaching history in an inner-city comprehensive. Green Wing-esque characters (and actors) populate the periphery with quirky dialogue and a half-baked romance simmers uneventfully in the background, with any hope of progression collapsing predictably at the end of every episode like a 14-year-old’s soufflé in an ambitious food-technology lesson.

And so the bumbling, toffish and dim Whitehall finds himself in a squalid education system surrounded by characters with which he, with his comically upper-class background, finds it difficult to connect – although he does gradually form meaningful relationships in unlikely places. The irony of building this show up on the success of Channel 4’s university-based comedy Fresh Meat is that all of the similarities to the show are to Bad Education’s detriment. Failing to break new ground, even the gags can be found in Whitehall’s stand-up show (remember the aggressive South African PE teacher with the creepy ‘when I fart I always follow through’ line?).

Given the heart-meltingly lovely way that reality TV show Educating Essex portrayed inner-city comps, the time was ripe to revive the education drama/comedy genre, which had reached a high point with Teachers in the early Noughties. Alas, Bad Education fails to add any of the depth or thought to characters or plot, leaving the students as vacuous crass stereotypes (the slutty 14-year-old, the camp adolescent, the aggressive working-class single-parent family spawn, the geeky fat kid) none of whom are granted any back story or interact in any interesting way.

This isn’t to say that Bad Education is all that short of laughs, it’s just that they all seem as though they’re part of an acted-out stand-up routine, with each punchline following the setup with predictable timing. But while the jokes may seem hackneyed, the acting is decent (ignoring the unsubtle resuscitation of Michelle Gomez’s Sue White character from Green Wing). Mathew Horne as Fraser is by far the most watchable character in the show – with his ridiculous down-with-the-kids slang and new-age teaching methods, he perfectly sends up the new generation of young headteachers fast tracked through the system so they can take over ailing comprehensives.

But even cameos from Phoenix Nights, Ted Foster and, err, Grime musician Lethal Bizzle couldn’t save Episode 4, which aired earlier this week. Up until Tuesday, I was under the impression that what the show could really do with was getting out of the classroom and finding out more about the character’s back stories. Alas, Whitehall’s ‘out-of-school’ clothes were velour and hiking boots, and the show was loaded with slapstick toilet and dogging humour.

At the end of the first episode in the series, Whitehall leans to his chubby 15-year-old companion and, with a crestfallen glance and the rhetorical finesse we’ve come to expect from Bad Education, mumbles: ‘It’s all so cringe. I’ve failed again.’ He could say the same about the whole series so far.

Ed Noel is London administrator for the Institute of Ideas Debating Matters Competition.

David Bowden is away.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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