Big School David Walliams and Catherine Tate

Big School David Walliams and Catherine Tate

Big School is BBC TV‘s latest comedy offering , so I took the opportunity of watching last night’s first episode, followed by a random episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Big School is set in a comprehensive school which, presumably due to Government cutbacks, has a teaching staff of seven and about 200 pupils.(Personally, I prefer “pupils”, but, if they had done their research, they would have known that these days even 5 year-olds qualify for the soubriquet of “student”).

The show opened with chemistry teacher Mr Church (David Walliams) trying to enthuse a group of bored, unambitious, underachieving 14 year-olds. Given that the average class size seems to be about 10, the presence of all these underachievers is a bit of a mystery since, in the real world, every sharp-elbowed middle class parent south of the Watford Gap would be mortgaging their cats and plotting murder for a place at a school with that kind of pupil-teacher student-teacher ratio.

The plot revolves around the competition between Mr Church and Phys. Ed. teacher Mr Gunn (Philip Glenister) trying to get new French teacher (“I’ve never actually been to France – ha, ha”) Miss Postern (Catherine Tate) into bed. It could be worse – with the show’s penchant* for anachronistic language, she could have been the new French mistress.

With the honourable exception of Frances de la Tour’s masterclass in crabby alcoholic headmistress-ship, this was a dreary, unfunny, unimaginative and, quite honestly, a touch nasty piece of work.

Mrs BrownWhat a contrast to Mrs Brown’s Boys, which had me crying with laughter. It ought to be everything I hate about comedy – man dressed as woman, son dressed as screw driver, unmarried son who’s camper than a boy scout jamboree, a running gag about hypnotizing people into thinking that they’re chickens or Alsatians and jokes about Australia that are so old they could have been written by Captain Cook.

Why is Mrs Brown’s Boys funny? Perhaps it’s because the cast manages to make us accept their world at face value. It’s not the real world, more the kind of exaggerated reality that you get in cartoons, punctured by shafts of sharply crafted truth – “the only thing that never worked in this kitchen was your father”. Perhaps it’s because the comedy is never far from pathos as in the scene between Mrs B. and her young grandson when he confides in her about not wanting to emigrate to Australia. Whatever it is, it’s comedy magic.

*”penchant” is French for penchant

Images: Screen shots are included on the basis of fair comment (and the fact that I’ve paid my TV licence)