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This Mean Girl is a Guy
November 24, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 3 comments

Jamie King, leader of the pack at a prestigious Australian girls school, has decided her name isn't chic enough, and has started using an apostrophe in the middle, as in "Ja'mie," telling the camera it's pronounced "Je-MAY." She's the queen bee of her elite private girls school, and she's full of ingratiating compliments for the headmaster and a ton of foul-mouthed insults for anyone who crosses her.

That isn't the most noticeable thing about this dislikable mean girl. It's that the character is written and played by Australian Chris Lilley, veteran of last year's HBO import Angry Boys. Lilley's a transfixing chameleon, with his obvious male frame and jaw remarkably disappearing beneath Ja'mie's hair-flipping and girlish hand-waving.

And it's Lilley's jaw-dropping channeling of all things inappropriate and girly adolescent that is the main draw here as the series, Ja'mie: Private School Girl, premieres Sunday, Nov. 24, on HBO (10:30 p.m. ET).

That's because Ja'mie herself is generally a sad and uninteresting back-stabbing manipulator. She treats her sister badly, throws around gay insults, uses her parents' credit card to order an iPad they forbade her to use, and revels in her own mean girl self-absorption.

Ja'mie's schtick is especially reprehensible for her bullying style. But what's captivating is Lilley's full commitment to the drag costumes and the character study, similar to his approach with several wildly disparate characters in Angry Boys (which included teen farm boys and a reform school matron). Lilley is pitch-perfect in presenting Ja'mie's everyday self-importance -- and her insecurity.

Ja'mie is a character Lilley has recycled from his 2007-08 Australian mockumentary Summer Heights High, which ran on Comedy Central and HBO in this country. His usual strong suit is the multiple personas he plays, as he did in that comedy series and in Angry Boys.

He's sticking to the singular Ja'mie character here for this short series of six episodes, and that's likely to his benefit, delving brutally deep into an unctuous character and all her sharp facets. Just when you think Lilley might run out of material (he writes and produces here), he surprises with more squirmy smart turns that uncover the pecking order of social groups, and why we submit ourselves to their leaders.

There are some especially awkward moments when Ja'mie tries to get boys to notice her, and a particularly hilarious scene when she goes into an interpretive dance routine about her plan to go to Africa and do charity work. Of course, she admits, in an aside, that the main draw of Africa for her is that food will be scarce and that she will lose weight, helping her attain her real dream: being skinny enough to be a fashion model.

Another bonus is the supporting cast, which never reacts to Lilley as anything other than an annoying teenage girl.

Even if you don't care for the main character (and really, how could you?), Ja'mie: Private School Girl is worthwhile for seeing a performer investing himself completely to find nuance and vulnerability in the most comically revealing ways.

And "she's" a guy.
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Based on the 'brown face' skits that Chris Lilley did in the past I believe that he is a racist.
Dec 6, 2013   |  Reply
I have to point out that Lilley's first show "We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year," also features Ja'mie. The show didn't air in the US (to my knowledge) and is always overlooked but well worth watching if you can find it.
Nov 24, 2013   |  Reply
denise dempsey
it ran on the Sundance Channel some years ago under the title The Nominees.
Nov 25, 2013
As a teacher, I loved "Summer Heights High." I KNOW students like the ones he portrayed. And I also really liked "Angry Boys," so I'm looking forward to this one. Should be fun.
Nov 24, 2013   |  Reply
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