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Summer Heights High
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this Australian mockumentary series focuses on school life, it's definitely intended for mature viewers. It offers strong commentary about prevalent social issues in Australia -- including private vs. public education, class, race, and juvenile delinquency. The students (and occasionally some teachers) use lots of curse words (including "f--k," "s--t," and "p---y"), utter racial slurs, and make frequent derogatory references to homosexuality. While a few of these comments are consistent with Australian social norms, they create some iffy content for young viewers here at home. Also expect some sexual imagery, drug references, physical confrontations, and heavy issues like rape, anorexia, molestation, and more.
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What's the story?
Mockumentary series SUMMER HEIGHTS HIGH follows the day-to-day high school activities of troubled eighth-year student Jonah Takalua, conceited eleventh-year exchange student Ja'ime King, and rather self-important drama teacher Mr. G (all are played by Australian writer/actor/producer Chris Lilley). For one school term, these over-the-top characters open up about the daily pressures they face while trying to cope with life in a public high school, whether they're learning how to read, planning a formal, or directing the term's stage spectacular. Meanwhile, viewers get to see how each of them is part of the fabric of the Australian public high school system.
Is it any good?
Shot at an actual Aussie high school, the series' unconventional-but-clever mix of actors and real school students and staffers makes it both funny and genuine. In fact, all three of Lilley's performances are so convincing that it's sometimes hard to forget that they're not real. But as funny as it is, the show also taps into some very serious issues about Australian public school, including teachers' inability to cope with difficult behavioral issues, racial prejudice, class distinctions, and the quality of education offered at public vs. private schools.
While Summer Heights High offers plenty of hilarious moments, it also has some poignant scenes, especially when teachers express true concern over their students and when prejudice leads to some unfortunate misunderstandings. And the whole package comes wrapped in some very mature content, including constant strong language, racial slurs, and homophobic references (all used to make a point, but still). While they're not treated as positive things, references to drug use and some disturbing sexual behavior are also major themes of the series. In short, it's not meant for kids -- but for mature teens and adults, it's definitely quality entertainment from Down Under.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about using satire as a way to address social issues. Are racial slurs and/or comments about class ever appropriate, even when they're used to make a point? When do TV writers cross the line from being funny to inappropriate? Compared to the United States, how do other cultures look at race and class? Families can also discuss the differences between high schools in other countries, like Australia, and those here at home. Do schools and students all around the world deal with the same kinds of problems?