'Big School' Reviews
I severely wanted to like Big School, if only to celebrate on the BBC's behalf their having launched two successful comedies in a row, the other of course continuing to be the sublime Family Tree. If so, it would have represented an almost unique triumph (yes, yes, but I've consulted my inner pedant and he reluctantly allows this) after a couple of years of embarrassing twock. But I didn't. Despite a highly promising cast – Philip Glenister, showing he can "do" comedy; Daniel Rigby (the "annoying one" off the BT Broadband ads) showing he can actually "do" real acting, and rather good he is; the wonder that is Frances de la Tour, somehow growing increasingly sexy with age; Joanna Scanlon (the sublime Terri from The Thick of It) – it remained stubbornly written by and starring David Walliams, with all that entails. Which is to say: too occasional mini-smiles leavening a fast succession of stereotypes, interrupted by a lazy cliche or three, shot through with embarrassing pieces of slapstick, most cringeworthy of which was the ancient teacher Mr Hubble going into an occupied classroom and opening his flies ("the loos used to be here…"). That was the savage low point; the highs were any scene involving De la Tour as the humourless alcoholic headmistress. This cast – and did I mention Catherine Tate? – surely deserves more subtle writing. But Walliams seemingly can't think but in stereotypes – I'm sure you remember even though I'm trying to forget the vile Little Britain, written in and somehow encapsulating the dark, dying days of New Labour. Walliams has said it's "slightly subtler than Little Britain"; not the biggest of asks. So all the pupils – count them: all – are badly behaved, rude and street-smart. Mr Church, Walliams's character, drives an Austin Allegro, ho ho, and listens to Phil Collins, hoo ha. Alan Partridge it ain't. I might watch another episode, if only because openers are notoriously ham-fisted, and there's a sparrow-flicker of interest over the Glenister/Tate/Walliams love triangle. But at this rate Walliams is in danger of being remembered only for the 167th fastest crossing of the Channel. Which would be no bad thing.
There’s a new comedy series on the horizon! Big School is co-written by David Walliams who also stars in it alongside the brilliant Catherine Tate. Set in an urban secondary school, this comedy sitcom is about a group of very different and sometimes dysfunctional teachers. Walliams plays uptight Mr Church who becomes besotted with new French teacher Miss Postern (who has never actually been to France) played by Catherine Tate. Mr Church’s unrequited love for Miss Postern results in him putting his retirement plans on hold and he even resorts to asking a pupil for advice on how to succeed with women. With a great cast, which also includes Philip Glennister and Frances de la Tour, this series is sure to provide a lot of laughs and is well worth watching this Friday evening.
Launching a successful situation comedy is notoriously difficult and television's rotting boneheap of hope unfulfilled contained disproportionately more failed sitcoms that any other kind of show. BBC One's 'The Wright Way' and ITV's 'Vicious' were two very recent masterclasses in how not to strike a chord with the viewing public - despite the involvement of big name stars and writers. All praise to David Walliams then, for raising his much-feted head about the parapet by not only co-writing this new school-based sitcom but starring in it too. As a result some more really top class talent signed on, most notably Catherine Tate and Philip Glenister. In fact Tate turns out to be the runaway star of the show as flighty, flame-haired French teacher Miss Postern, who from the moment she sets foot in Greybridge School, has Walliams' kiss-curled buffoon of a chemistry teacher, Mr Church, desperate to win her heart. More interested in Miss Postern's other body parts is Glenister's thuggish gm teacher, Mr Gunn; a character who doesn't so much escape cliché as embrace it with a rare and transformative passion. No one could accuse the script of being especially original and it plumbs some dubious depths on occasion; but it is also winningly very silly and the enthusiasm of the supporting cast - among them Joanna Scanlan, Steve Speirs, and Frances de la Tour as the acidly no-nonsense headteacher - gives it an added veneer of charm.
Gerard O'Donovan, The Telegaph (transcribed)
Who can resist a comic line-up like this? Set in a secondary school, this new sitcom, written by David Walliams and the Dawson brothers, stars Frances de la Tour, as a chain smoking, alcohol loving headmistress; Walliams, as an awkward Chemistry teacher; Catherine Tate as a flirty French mistress who has never set foot in France; Philip Glenister, as an ignorant PE teacher; and Daniel Rigby as the music teacher who still thinks he might become a rock star. Some moments are cringeworthy but the series has potential.
Emma Perry, Sunday Times (transcribed)
New sitcoms on mainstream channels always stare directly into the jaws of darkness as purse-lipped audiences wait, arms crossed, to be entertained. Big School probably faces an even more hostile reception as it’s co-written (with the Dawson Brothers) by David Walliams, who also stars. I bet there are a few people waiting to take him down a peg or two.
So please give Big School a chance. It doesn’t ooze sophistication, in fact it’s pretty silly. But it has a great cast and I heard myself laughing out loud in a few places. Walliams is secondary school deputy head of science Mr Church, a shy man with a terrible perm who’s inexperienced with women and who listens to Phil Collins in his Austin Allegro. But he’s transfixed by the new French teacher, comely Miss Postern (Catherine Tate). Big School turns out to be rather sweetly old-fashioned – in a good way.
The public disembowelling of ‘The Wright Way’ will have put a few comic heavyweights on alert about upcoming projects, but David Walliams doesn’t have too much to fear where his new sitcom ‘Big School’ is concerned. It may be a little light on jokes, but it’s transparently good-natured, agreeably old-fashioned and with an adult cast so attention-grabbing that the pupils occasionally feel a little incidental to proceedings. Walliams is Mr Church, the sad-sack chemistry teacher who withdraws his proposed resignation when highly desirable maverick French teacher Miss Postern (Catherine Tate) arrives to shake up Greybridge secondary school. Frances de la Tour’s withering headmistress, Daniel Rigby’s clueless music tutor and Philip Glenister’s non-PC PE teacher all grapple over scenes to steal and prise some good laughs out of the sometimes slight material. It’s no Grade-A student, but ‘Big School’ isn’t expulsion fodder either – a decent achievement with so few new sitcoms worthy of a pass these days.
Major sitcoms have had a torrid time recently: any new comedy gets approximately 0.35 seconds chance before the world and his wife is taking to Twitter to give it a kicking. So 100 bravery points go to David Walliams, who has written this new comedy about a hopeless secondary school, in which he himself stars as the deputy head of science, Mr Church, a timid fellow with an awful permed hair-don’t. The arrival of the new French teacher, Miss Postern – played by Catherine Tate – sends Mr Church’s lonely heart a-flutter. Standing in his way is a love rival in the shape of Philip Glenister’s Mr Gunn, the PE teacher. It’s traditional, tittersome fare that harks back to a simpler age of comedy, but with three fine stars, and classy support from the likes of Frances de la Tour and ‘The Thick Of It’s’ Joanna Scanlan, it is none the worse for that.
The show was also a topic for discussion on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Review with Tom Sutcliffe. Generally, it got mixed reviews but the feedback on Philip's performance was universally positive. You can listen to the 'Big School' portion of the show below.
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