Two years ago, Jack Whitehall first showed us all that he could both act in a sitcom and author it when Bad Education made its debut on BBC3. Although I wasn’t totally won over by the first episode I enjoyed the energy that Whitehall put into his role as awful teacher Alfie Wickers. As the series progressed I noted that the stronger episodes were the ones that Whitehall had co-written leading me to believe that he’s a talented writer but one who needs another person to bounce ideas off. So I had high hopes for the opening episode of Bad Education’s third series which was written by Whitehall alongside Freddy Syborn.
The opening scene of the episode tries to indicate that everything has changed for the pupils at Abbey Grove School as they enter their summer term. Wheelchair-bound Rem Dog has now become an Emo whilst the studious Ying is quoting Jean-Paul Sartre and wearing all-black. Even the reliable Joe has been put on a vegan diet with the running joke of this episode being his constant hunger. Meanwhile Alfie’s personal life is on the up now that he and Miss Gulliver are happily living together even though it appears that their domestic bliss could soon be shattered. But even though Whitehall would like us to believe that the characters have changed the jokes in Bad Education remain very similar. Chantelle is still cracking inappropriate jokes, Stephen is still incredibly camp and Mitchell tries his bet to be the rebellious member of the group. More than anything though Alfie continues to be a rubbish teacher and this to me is a joke that only has a certain shelf-life. The fact that he’s set Game of Thrones as a reading text is too obvious a gag and the constant references to the fantasy franchise feel a little dated for me.
The bulk of this first episode sees the teachers of Abbey Grove go on strike after its revealed that budget cuts mean that one of their number will be fired. This news is delivered by Alfie’s father Martin who has been appointed as the school’s deputy head primarily to curb the bad ideas implemented by Fraser. Although Martin realises Alfie’s limitations he hopes his son will fight for his job however he soon realises that this may never be possible. In order to protect his relationship, Alfie agrees to go on strike with Rosie as his class get to work drumming up support for the teachers. It appears that Alfie’s main motivation for partaking in the strike is to get revenge against his father who has been putting him down his entire life. But he soon comes to the realisation that he is letting his kids down; especially after he reads a rather shocking interview that Stephen gives to the local paper. Realising that his pupils are the only ones who aren’t studying during the strike, Alfie decides to fall on his sword in order for the school to go back to work. However, by the end of the episode, everything has seemingly gone back to normal and I would hazard to guess that Alfie’s class wont’ be doing any more learning in the near future.
I do feel like I’m being terribly down on tonight’s episode but I did find that the plot sort of went round in a big circle. However there were some highlights; namely Matthew Horne who always seems to be having a whale of a time playing banter-loving head teacher Fraser. Horne’s delivery of his lines are always spot on and I find he’s definitely the best performer among the adult cast. Elsewhere the young actors are on form once again as they try their best to make their one-dimensional characters feel at least a little bit realistic. I personally felt that Layton Williams gave the best turn out of the all the pupils as all of Stephen’s quips added to the humour of the episode especially his small aside about The Daily Mail. Whitehall and Syborn’s script was well-paced even if the majority of the jokes related to the teacher’s strike were fairly obvious. The introduction of a new student to Alfie’s class, in the form of the feisty Cleopatra, does allow for a new running joke in which the incompetent teacher tries not to say anything that could be construed as racist. Cleopatra has also seemingly become the object of desire for Mitchell and his pursuit of her has given the character something new to do. I’m hoping that Mitchell’s longing for Cleo isn’t dropped after this episode as I feel it’s an interesting subplot as the audience wait to see if this mismatched couple eventually get together.
However, after two series, Bad Education is starting to feel a little stale as Whitehall and company try to tell the same joke in a number of different ways. For a moment I thought that Alfie would be stepping away from the classroom in order to let his pupils get a proper education, however this interesting plot twist was soon dropped in favour of more of the same. I’m still in two minds about Whitehall’s performance in Bad Education as I still don’t feel as if he gives as good a turn as he does in Fresh Meat. But the character of Alfie allows Whitehall to play to his strengths as the educator who is completely out of his depth. As much as I love Harry Enfield, I don’t think he’s at his best in Bad Education and I’ve never really warmed to his portrayal of Martin. Similarly I’m a big fan of Sarah Solemani but I feel that she’s wasted in the role of the idealistic Rosie Gulliver. Part of the reason for this may be that Rosie’s character hasn’t evolved since the first series and the fact that she is now romancing Alfie doesn’t ring true for me.
Jack Whitehall has recently claimed that this series of Bad Education will be the last and, after watching tonight’s episode, I feel that this is the right move. This first episode of Bad Education’s third series didn’t offer me anything new and I only laughed out loud during the scenes featuring Matthew Horne. Familiarity in a sitcom isn’t always a bad thing but I just get the impression that Whitehall isn’t trying as hard with the scripts as he was when Bad Education first started. I’m hoping that the third series of Bad Education does improve as it goes on as I would like the show to go out with a bang rather than with a tired whimper.
What did you think to the return of Bad Education? Did you find it funnier than I did?
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