10 October 2014

TV: Big School - Series 2

Big School is a 'comedy' series set in a secondary school. It stars David Walliams, Catherine Tate and Philip Glenister in the lead roles of three teachers and is co-written by the first.

I have to say, overall, I'm not a huge fan of Big School. When playing characters or giving performances, I've never found Walliams or Tate especially amusing and I'm afraid the same is true here. Much of the series is based around these two which is a shame because I always find myself wanting to skip their scenes. When being themselves, I do find both of these actors naturally engaging, funny and likeable. I don't know what it is, but once they step on set I just don't find them funny or relatable. Even as Donna in Doctor Who, who most fans adored, I wasn't keen on Tate at all. The writing, as here, was good, but the performance just rubbed me up the wrong way.

On the other hand is the superb Philip Glenister - pretty much the sole reason I kept watching this mostly disappointing second series. Glenister, and his character Trevor Gunn, had me in stitches with every line. I didn't expect this from him at all, with his reputation for playing 'tougher' roles. Gunn is unintelligent, larger than life and extremely competitive and simply a delight to behold. The episode where he thinks he has a son is a highlight for me, simply because it affords Glenister more screen time. The last episode of the series is also a good one for this reason, although I won't reveal the circumstances leading to it.

Also brilliant is Steve Speirs as Mr Barber. He's instantly likeable and steals every scene he's in - unless it's with Philip Glenister of course. Following his divorce, Mr Barber has something of a mental breakdown and ends up living at the school, working as the caretaker. He's just so funny, in every one of his appearances and my second favourite thing about this programme. Equally brilliant is his catchphrase: "Bugger."

Sadly, not many other characters did work for me. Mr Hubble (James Greene), an elderly head of chemistry, is good but he snuffs it midway through the series. The headmistress (Frances de la Tour) is well written but it always feels to me that there's something lacking in the performance. Jo, the lab technician, is similarly well conceived but justice isn't really done to her in the final production, through no fault of Cheryl Fergison, who plays her.

I found the direction to be mostly flat and unremarkable throughout Series 2, with the exception of Glenister's scenes, where it always feels like a special effort is being made. There's more interesting angles, techniques and structure to the show when Gunn's onscreen.

There are many glorious moments throughout these six half-hour episodes, but they are outweighed by the quagmire of Walliams and Tate and their characters' insufferable manners and relations. I couldn't recommend the entire series just for Philip Glenister (although he does justify sitting through the almost mind-numbing tedium surrounding him) but he is excellent. One of the best comedy performances I've seen for a long time and a real revelation for me. If there's a third series I'll watch but only for Gunn and Barber.

In a Nutshell: Well written but poorly executed - with two notable exceptions.

Philip Glenister:
Big School -  Series 2:

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