My favourite thing about Netflix is the fact that it allows you to try out various series that you might not have thought to take a look at when they were on TV, nor do you feel inclined to go and pick up a DVD or Blu-Ray of them, but which nonetheless intrigued you for one reason or another. Because you’re not paying for the series itself — it’s just part of your Netflix subscription — you can try things out, and if they’re shit, well, you just stop watching them; and if they’re good, you can enjoy them to your heart’s content on your own terms.
Such was the case with Bad Education, a show originally broadcast on BBC Three. Something being broadcast on BBC Three is more often than not an immediate signal that it’s going to be shit, but since I’ve always had a certain affinity for media of any kind — books, games, films, TV series, anime, visual novels — set in a school environment, I was very much curious about it. And I’ve been pleased to discover that it’s actually not shit. It’s actually some pretty solid — and unabashedly offensive — situation comedy, albeit almost totally divorced from the reality of working in education.
Jack Whitehall stars as Alfie Wickers, an incompetent History teacher who seems rather more concerned with being friends with his (unrealistically small!) form group than actually doing his job properly. Nonetheless, he does care about the kids’ education in his own way, with many of his escapades concluding in some sort of life lesson being learned by them — or, more frequently, by him.
Alfie’s class is probably the highlight of the show, because it’s the most believable, realistic part of it, miniscule size aside. Speaking from the perspective of a former teacher, I can say with confidence that they’re the very picture of the class that every school has who are a bit shit at everything — apart from one extremely clever student, whose very presence at a school as shit as that seems completely out of place — but you can’t help but like. They remind me very much of class 9VN that I taught in the first school I worked in; for the first few weeks, I thought they were complete shitheads and would never get anything done with them, so appalling was their behaviour and attitude towards Music lessons… and then we discovered that they had a curious affinity for singing songs from musicals. So that’s what we did. Or rather, that’s what most of them did, while I set the few kids who were actually interested in studying music at GCSE and beyond to some other assignments. The class as a whole ended up being one of the few I actually look back on with a certain degree of fondness.
As for the show itself, it’s very much a comedy with a certain degree of surrealism to it. In the second season in particular, it reminds me very much of the gloriously bizarre Green Wing, especially due to the presence of Michelle Gomez, who was also in Green Wing and plays pretty much the exact same character in Bad Education. Its seeming homage to Green Wing is emphasised through chaotic, time-distorted interstitial scenes with heavy visual filters on them to denote the passing of time or the simple division between story beats in the episode — though this only really becomes a thing in the second series, where the show as a whole seems to have a much stronger sense of its identity and what it’s trying to do.
The supporting cast is solid, too. Matthew Horne’s woefully terrible (and “banter”-obsessed) headmaster Fra$er [sic] is cringeworthy in the extreme in a sort of David Brent manner, but somehow just manages to stay the right side of believable within the context of the show. Harry Enfield is excellent as Alfie’s father. And Sarah Solemani’s portrayal of Wickers’ love interest Rosie Gulliver brings a much-needed “straight man” to the proceedings, though her characterisation is a bit meandering — in particular, her short-lived dalliance with a lesbian side-plot doesn’t really go anywhere, and the show subsequently returns to the admittedly solid foundation of the “will they, won’t they” relationship between her and Alfie that has been the basis of many a successful sitcom over the years.
Bad Education isn’t the best show on television by a long shot, but it’s laugh out loud funny, well cast and snappily written. For a BBC Three show, it’s god-tier. For something you just want to whack on while you veg out in front of the television, it’s solid. As a scathing critique of the modern educational system in the UK, you may want to look elsewhere!