Thursday, February 26, 2009

TV: Review- Britannia High

Back in January, I made reference to the British Fame remake called Britannia High. In a year where there's actually a Fame, The Movie remake coming out and who knows how many dancing and singing shows to watch, I think Britannia High makes for an interesting watch. And a listen.

Two of the Britannia High songs, the theme song "Start of Something," and "Wake Up," are infectious to the point of being slightly over-used in the show. They are so good, you don't mind. Both feature Matthew Thomas, who is very good as the gay student, Jez.

Jez is one of six featured students in first year at the London equivalent of New York's famed School for the Performing Arts. All six have to master singing, dancing, acting and performing weekly for teachers and viewers at home. Nine weekly episodes with the first six allowing each of the main characters one hour in the solo spotlight. Then, all heck breaks loose.

I was troubled by some real writing slip-ups in those three extra episodes. In the seventh, Lola, played with winning charm by Rana Roy, gets into a one-sided relationship with a dance teacher. It becomes all too real, but gets broken off properly before anybody does anything untoward. It was a real good episode, much better than the Lola-focused episode earlier in the series. But all that good work gets undone, disturbingly, in the last episode, the fittingly-titled Finale. Not that anything gets consummated, but you just can't have students and teachers running off to Australia. Sorry, that won't do.

The last two episodes also took a shot at having good girl Lauren (Georgina Hagen) and bad girl Claudine (Sapphire Elia) fight over Danny (Mitch Hewer), the illiterate BMO. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Danny had to be brighter than the average kid to hide his illiteracy for as long as he did. For Danny then to turn into the village idiot dumping Lauren for Claudine in unbelievable fashion and then becoming a bone to be fought over by Lauren and Claudine was just laughably bad writing. I won't go into the analysis of who wins or loses the epic girl-fight, but suffice it to say, it isn't the viewer.

Marquelle Ward plays BB, the sixth student. Does a good job at it, too. But the similarities between his character and Gene Anthony Ray's Leroy Johnson in the original Fame are striking. Facially, there's little resemblance. But Ward effects the same attitude and hairdo as the late Ray, who passed away five years ago of a stroke at the too-young age of 41. Back in my newspaper days, I once wrote in a newspaper column about what constitutes sport that just being a great athlete didn't make it a sport. "Afterall," I wrote, "If that was true, then we'd be covering competitive ballet. Gene Anthony Ray would be a superstar" Funny how time makes you an idiot at times.

At any rate, writing aside, the performing on the show is pretty well all first rate. Elia almosts seems like a Posh Spice clone, with little in the way of singing talent. But she's plays the resident witch of the group with gleeful malevolence and deserves her spot accordingly. The rest are solid entertainers, although dancing prodigy R0y plays ditzy with glorious innocence. Delightful in small doses.

The teachers, except for school Principal Nugent, played by Mark Benton, and Adam Garcia as Lola's teaching object of obsession, are strictly background. And that's what separates this from the original. Without working hard, I can still name three teachers all these years later: Debbie Allen's Ms. Grant, Carol Mayo Jenkins' Miss Sherwood and of course, Albert Hague's Mr. Shorofsky.

Britannia High has caught the wave and if it appears on TV screens in America, it will be successful. The musical soundtrack will also score well with the kind of people who spend time on telephones phoning into American Idol competitions.

But, it wouldn't hurt to seek out the original Fame. If only to compare.

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