His stand-up comedy is flavourless and mechanical, but I enjoyed Jack Whitehall's acting debut in Channel 4's Fresh Meat recently, so didn't approach BBC3's Bad Education with the trepidation I'd have had beforehand. Whitehall has written this sitcom for himself, playing posh and immature teacher Alfie, but he forgot to make anything halfway original. And why cast yourself as a posh teacher, when you're currently known for playing a posh student in another sitcom? What next, a posh caretaker?
Gavin & Stacey's Mathew Horne co-stars as Mr Fraser (the kind of embarrassingly uncool adult we've seen done countless times); Him & Her's Sarah Solemani is better as attractive biology teacher Miss Gulliver, in that she's believable and personable; and there's comic potential in vinegary Miss Pickwell (Green Wing's Michelle Gomez), but only because the actress always brings a sense of danger to every role. She struggles with the weak script, but at least Gomez can command your attention with a flare of her nostrils.
It's just unfortunate that nothing about Bad Education works that well. It feels like it's been created from a ready-made template, so lacks a sense of vibrancy, and even as a cock-eyed version of reality it struggles. Why play the Jaws theme over a scene where a teacher is in the process of being mugged? Where are the older teachers in their fifties who are more familiar to anyone who went to school? Actually, a better question would be "are there more than four teachers at this school?" The children also didn't feel plausible to me, while most of the punchlines drifted into your head seconds before they were spoken.
There's an art and a skill to writing sitcoms, and Whitehall doesn't excel in this area. Bad Education felt exactly like what it was: a comedy built around the puzzling popularity of a young comedian, who's keen to apply his comic skills to a format he's nowhere near mastering. This premiere's handful of chuckles came from epigrams and one-liners, which are closer to what a stand-up comedian's used to writing. But factor in the need to create an exciting concept, weave a good story over thirty minutes, and craft convincing characters you want to spend time with, and Whitehall could only muster worn-out ideas, predictable gags, and lacklustre stereotypes. Remedial classes are called for.
written by Jack Whitehall / directed by Ben Gosling Fuller / 14 August 2012 / BBC Three