Wednesday, May 23, 2007

South Park, South London

If you’ve ever thought the English educational system was a laughing stock, now you’ve been proved right, thanks to the producers of Bromwell High. It’s a cartoon set in possibly the worst and most hilarious inner city comp you can imagine: it’s South Park in south London.

Frankly, it’s been a long time coming: the halcyon, Grange Hill-view of education should not have been left to stand this long. In its do-gooder place there is now a run-down school populated by rioting kids, moronic teachers and a deputy head who may well be a servant of Satan. It’s everything you already believe, and more. Judging by what my teacher friends say, it’s also disturbingly accurate (baby-swapping and rabid monkeys excluded).

The characters are as endearingly repulsive as South Park, but instead of a quartet of foul-mouthed slacker pre-teenage boys, we have a trio of foul-mouthed slacker pre-teenage girls, called Keisha, Natella and Latrina. Stereotypes serve for characters: Latrina is white trash, Keisha the lazy but cunning black girl, and Natella the over-eager Asian and always-ignored conscience of the group.

Iqbal, the headmaster, claims to have won the school in a game of poker, which his shady past – there’s a suggestion of an African gun-running career – would support. His tenuous control of the school is secured by the ever-plotting Mr. Bibby, a true éminence grise brilliantly voiced by Graeme Garden; Bibby is always willing to bury Iqbal’s corpses (not in fact a metaphor). The menagerie of teachers includes the desperate-for-a-baby Carol, her weakling husband Martin, and the sluttish Australian Melanie, who puts the ‘ho’ into school.

Keisha gets the better lines (“Why is I have to study English? I speaks the bitch!”), although when someone remarks that Keisha’s sale of illegal, head-exploding sweets (don’t ask) was an allegory for drugs, Iqbal lays down the law, sublimely declaring that the selling has to stop because “the council has now got a zero-tolerance anti-allegory policy.”

It’s a shame that Bromwell High didn’t do well in ratings when it started on Channel 4 in 2005; now it’s only available on DVD. It may well end up being a sleeper hit, though, and if the return of Family Guy to Fox after shifting countless DVDs is anything to judge by, sufficient sales might even resuscitate its chances.

In a post-South Park world, Bromwell High is perhaps a bit obvious, a template too easily removed from America and planted on Britain’s failing schools. Its pupils’ adventures are equally foul, outrageous and unlikely, although no sign as yet of a mechanical Barbra Streisand. That does not, however, stop it from being hilarious.

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