Captivating: Chris Lilley (right) plays Ja’mie King to sneering, preening, pouting, hair-tossing perfection.
ABC1, Wednesday, 8.30pm
Ja’mie King has always been a monster. From the time she burst on to our screens as one of a handful of unedifying candidates for the title of Australian of the Year in We Can Be Heroes (2005), she’s been a nasty, relentlessly self-absorbed and breathtakingly superficial piece of work who’s tried to mask her myriad offensive prejudices and practices beneath a halo of altruism.
Back then, she was sponsoring an assortment of under-privileged Third World children about whom she knew little and cared less. Now she’s the school captain at Hillford Girls Grammar and the ringleader of a gaggle of prefect acolytes whose role is to reassure her of her fabulousness.
She’s older than when we last saw her, but no wiser and her style remains the same: she bullies those younger, shyer, weaker or less privileged than she is and tries to manipulate everyone else. And she remains hideously captivating.
Chris Lilley (Summer Heights High, Angry Boys), who created Ja’mie among a gallery of indelible characters and who plays her to sneering, preening, pouting, hair-tossing perfection, has here chosen to focus solely on her, setting his six-part series during her final months of high school. Hillford is in the midst of centenary celebrations and the tyrannical school captain is taking a starring role in events while assuming that she will soon be awarded the prestigious school medal for being good at, like, everything.
She’s also planning a party, chasing a slightly bewildered year-10 boy from the neighbouring school, maintaining her dubious relationship with an African immigrant, performing dance solos and lording it over choir practice, all the while assiduously applying lip gloss, checking Facebook, tormenting her younger sister and sending a steady stream of “selfies” to an apparently waiting world.
Ja’mie’s busy and, by the second episode, Lilley’s vicious queen bee seems destined for a fall, or at least some serious stumbles: perhaps a rebellion of the prefect drones, or a failure to receive the medal that she blithely believes has her name on it; maybe one of the hated boarders will out-do her on the dance solo.
Lilley’s characters invite us to marvel at their delusions: we wait to see them punctured, even look forward to it. But when their fragile worlds do start to unravel, we start to worry about them. That’s part of his genius. Even with characters as contemptible as Ja’mie, he guides us to engage with their wrong-headed exploits.
Over the years and through an array of series, we’ve become accustomed to Lilley’s edgy creations and extraordinary transformations, and perhaps we’re no longer as dazzled by them. But we should be.