Back to school for another sharp learning curve

By Frances Grant, Reviewed by Frances Grant

The smack of discipline resounded down the corridors last night as we came to atten-shun! and headed back to school for another Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby (TV One, Mondays, 10.05pm).

The local sitcom (with no laugh track and its predilection for the poignant moment, it’s actually more of a dramedy) made a welcome return as the moustachioed man with the martial bearing once more moulds the feckless youth of Te Papawai College into better citizens with his own special brand of no-nonsense values.

National’s Political Correctness Eradicator Wayne Mapp need look no further for a role model than the spare-no-sensitivities enemy of all "namby pamby, mumbo-lesie-jumbo", as Gormsby so memorably put it.

Last night’s Heads Will Roll episode delivered a clever twist on Gormsby’s usual liberal-whacking mode.

Returning as fill-in guidance counsellor, the old codger was all too ready to adopt the despised therapy-speak and turn it against his enemies.

"I sense a lot of hostility," he said smugly to Steve, who was outraged that Gormsby had taken over his job. "Would you like to talk about it? Pull up a bean-bag."

Almost as tasty was the return of Principal Dasent, cast out of the asylum and back into the school community because of cuts in mental health funding.

His deranged hair-do and first words to the staff - "This is the first metal knife I’ve seen for months" - were worth the ticket price alone.

Geraldine Brophy deserves an excellence grading for her marvellously oily school board chief Marion Patterson, a character who can outslick the school’s resident slimeball, Mudgway, without even getting on her verruca-plagued feet.

The show’s strength is its piss-take of the more earnest excesses of the teaching profession - the pedagogical fashion sense comes in for particularly searing treatment.

One of last night’s funniest scenes was Maori teacher Hone’s attempted translation of the school’s te reo mission statement: "Um, the canoe is the sacred treasure on top of the cloaky thingy?" Well no, it was "Only together can we paddle our waka to excellence," actually.

It is also admirable for the ghastly realism of its setting - it fairly oozes a thick miasma of wet woolly socks and old lunch wrappers out of the telly. If anything could make you feel more than unusually grateful that those so-called "best years of your life" are far, far behind you, this is it.

Some of the gags are a bit obvious, such as the full rugby scrum being unable to shift bulky lesbian PE teacher Lesley. But others, such as Gormby’s failsafe homosexuality test, were wonderfully silly.

The show’s weakness is that as a creation, Gormsby often feels a bit forced, and almost a generation too late, as if a 70s Britcom character like Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring has come through a time-warp to land in a 21st-century Kiwi schoolyard.

This cartoonish side does provide much of the humour, with lines such as this reaction to Dasent throwing up in his car. "That’s not a mess. Being showered with entrails when the soldier next to you steps on a land mine - that’s a mess."

But there’s always the suspicion the old bugger’s in danger of going soft on us and turning out an old codger with a heart of gold.

TV One has programmed the show in the kind of slot which suggest it’s not much interested in supporting this appealing local comedy.

But with 5F all in detention, and the school in the grip of gambling and porn epidemics, there are plenty of tempting reasons to stay up and see who Gormsby’s going to lock horns with next.

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