Chris Lilley Channels His Inner Private School Girl
Ja'mie King is on top of the world. At least, she thinks she is.
The vapid, self-obsessed teenager who was introduced in Chris Lilley's mockumentary series We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High is now getting her own show: Ja'mie: Private School Girl, which premieres Sunday on HBO.
"The idea was to do a show about one character, which was a new thing for me, because I've done so many shows with multiple characters," Lilley, who stars as the title character, writes and directs the show, tells TVGuide.com. "So it was like, who could I pick that would suit that style? ... I just like [Ja'mie's] world and I just enjoy writing for her and expanding on her world."
Viewers who are familiar with Ja'mie (pronounced "juh-MAY") from Summer Heights High will see a more fleshed-out version of the character on Private School Girl. Lilley mines aspects of Ja'mie's home life - especially her rivalry with her younger sister, and her hilarious yet borderline creepy relationship with her father - for their comedic value.
"I wanted to take it up a notch," Lilley explains. "She's sort of a little more full-on, because she's in Year 12. She's in her final year of school, she's on top of the world. ... I wanted to make sure it was at another level than the last time we'd seen her."
Lilley said he conducted "research" for Ja'mie's character by observing his teenage niece and her friends. "Once I've written a story, I like to check up on some details," Lilley says. "I feel like she doesn't realize how similar she is to the character. ... She's certainly a lot nicer than Ja'mie."
A recent Sweet 16 birthday party he attended was especially informative for a plotline that factors prominently in one of the Private School Girl episodes. "They just dominated the dance floor the whole night and barely spoke to anyone," Lilley recalls. "I thought that was a funny idea for Ja'mie."
Though the show - as all of Lilley's shows - is developed and based in Australia, American viewers will notice an uncanny similarity between Ja'mie and the stars of certain States-based reality shows - a comparison that's not lost on Lilley.
"[Jam'ie] is a perfect subject for that kind of a show because she's so open and just willing to say outrageous things. ... As a teenage girl, she's just so volatile. Her emotions are so up and down," he explains. "I guess it's changed over the last five or more years, where the subjects of these shows are very aware of how to manipulate [their image] and how to behave in front of the cameras. ... They're really self-conscious of what they're saying and it's like they think they can manipulate the show by how they deliver their interviews. And then what they forget is that the cameras are around them all the time, capturing every little moment. It just takes a clever editor to put that contrast together, have her say one thing and then you see another thing."
As is often the case with Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Ja'mie's antics are so uncomfortable that even 30-minute doses of her character can be a little much. Some of her more wince-worthy moments in Private School Girl include snapping a photograph of her Asian classmates "because YOLO" and her interactions with ("my African") student Kwami. Also, look for the word "quiche" (used to describe someone who's "more than hot") to catch on among fans of the show.
"In Australia, I get girls coming up to me saying that they think they're Ja'mie," a baffled Lilley explains. "They're like, 'I'm the Ja'mie of my school!' And they're so proud to be that character. And I'm like, why would you want to be her?"
Lilley says it's up in the air whether the show will continue past its original six episodes. "I didn't want to feel committed to years and years of something, so I've just done the six and we'll see how it goes," he says. "But it's got a pretty shocking conclusion at the end. She changes by the end of it. It would be an interesting first episode of the next series for her to start off as she leaves this one."
And while there are no concrete plans for Lilley to resurrect his other characters fromSummer Heights High and Angry Boys, the option remains open. "I'd like to have them all come back eventually," he says. "They're all just lined up and ready to go."
Private School Girl premieres Sunday at 10:30/9:30c on HBO. Check out the trailer below:
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