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Customer Review

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jonabulous! - This has outrageous characters, depth, and an amazing theme tune!, 13 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Jonah From Tonga [DVD] (DVD)
Each time comedian Chris Lilley builds on his back-catalogue of mockumentaries, the more he divides his audience. This is his fifth creation after last year's "Ja'mie: Private School Girl". Reading countless reviews, as my journalist-geek-self likes to do, it seems opinion is conflicted on "Jonah From Tonga". Many love its real-life school setting and hyper-active teenage star. But others are outraged at offensive jokes, or the feeling the show negatively stereotypes Tongans.

I don't believe this is the case at all - Jonah is certainly annoying (described by his straight-talking teacher as "probably the most f***ed-up child I have ever taught"). But the attention-to-detail in his adventures, back-story, and friendships shows that he is far far beyond stereotype. This is Chris Lilley's most interesting character yet.

In 2007's "Summer Heights High" Jonah was an attention deficit annoyance of a 13-year old, cussing, semi-illiterate, disruptive in class. In between break-dancing he would graffiti the toilets and teachers' cars. He was eventually expelled from the school, but his exit was tearful. Without Jonah - that series wouldn't have been as good. He just had -this innocence about him, and great charm! Teachers and students- admit it; you all know a Jonah!

In this series, he is now 14 and living on the island of Tongatapu with his Uncle and Cousins. The humour is strong from the start as we see him throw coconuts at children, and graffiti his Uncle's truck with the word "H*mo". His naughtiness is so bad he is sent back to Australia. 6 months on at Holy Cross Catholic High School, he is hanging out with his homeboys called "Fobalicious" Now more of a despicable teen than you could imagine -shoving Year 7s in lockers, swearing homophobic, racist and confrontational slurs - but this time there are darker elements - making friends with gangster guys who drive around outside the school gates. You have to keep watching to see where this relentless misbehaviour leads Jonah, but like Lilley's other shows - this feels and stays incredibly real. I don't think I've ever seen a TV show with more swearing than this one. Yet anyone who teachers or knows lots of teenagers - this might be a mirror of truth.

Chris Lilley nails the child-like not-quite-articulate speaking, guffawing laughter at his own bad jokes, and the way Jonah strut-dances when he walks.

School life is portrayed more realistic than ever. I've been a teacher in a multicultural London school, and so I enjoyed seeing such a school in Australia brought to life. People who see negative stereotyping of Islanders probably didn't complain about his portrayal of villainous Asian "Tiger Mum" Jen Okazaki or Chinese student Ricky Wong - so the actor plays multiple races, so what? Jonah is one distinct character who just happens to be Tongan. It is made clear by many Tongans in the show he has deep behavioural issues, and if you want to see Tongans represented in a good light just see the youth worker or Aunty Grace.

There is even more satire - ex-Army teacher Mr Joseph (Doug Bowles) is a frank talking leader of the behaviour unit where Jonah now does most of his lessons. He's more aggressive than the kids, swearing, smashing a chair against the wall to get silence - and putting Jonah in a headlock. He contrasts well with youth worker Kool Kris (Uli Latukefu) a bible-loving do-gooder who almost cries at his quest to "help Jonah find his way". These two are not just funny - they are also wonderfully real in their imperfections. It is great how this show explores different strategies for dealing with problem children from adults with different personalities. The kind, loving approach, the hard-line sanctions approach; the violent approach. It will make you think - which is the right way to help Jonah? Will any of them work - will Jonah avoid a dangerous path? It made me think that in education there is no correct way to teach, lead or inspire children; that every child is different, and some people cannot be fixed.

Great moment when Mr Joseph gets observed by the inspectors - Michael Gove haters will love this little insight into education bureaucracy!

Jonah's problems are redeemed by his love for people in his life, that make you root for his character - he is unselfish in his dream to get his younger brother Moses (Tama Tauali'i) a singing record deal in LA, and likewise Moses looks up to him like no-one else. Jonah also loves and respects the women who give him a chance - like sweet Nun Sister Monica who is always kind when Jonah visits her in reception.

If you're looking for problems with the series, it might come down to whether you can handle a 3 hours of Jonah's relentless juvenile humour. His offensiveness is not challenged enough. Unlike Nathan Sims in Angry Boys who changes his opinion of gay people after spending time with a gay school-mate, Jonah is not opposed at all for the anti-gay insults, (but he is for racist ones). I would have thought with such a big youth following, Chris Lilley is missing a trick here by not promoting a lesson of tolerance - I've already seen a "Pussy-cat" graffiti in my home village, I worry teenagers are going to slur "you're a h*mo" in the schoolyard even more as a reference to the show.

Ultimately, like Ja'mie, Jonah is compelling to watch because he is a confident and a survivor, - it is not the most laugh-out-loud series, but there are huge doses of reality and pathos here, so I highly recommend everyone watches this series.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Jun 2014 12:51:10 BDT
This is an excellent review. Spot on.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jun 2014 17:26:50 BDT
Thanks very much:)

Posted on 11 Dec 2015 08:53:11 GMT
Great review, thanks.
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