Jonah from Tonga, BBC3, TV review - much funnier than Ja’mie: Private School Girl


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The Independent Culture

Is Jonah from Tonga, BBC3’s new comedy series, another meditation on the cultural contribution of immigrant communities?

It features Australian character comedian Chris Lilley as Jonah, a 14-year-old tearaway who’s back at school in Sydney after a period living with his extended family on the Polynesian island  of Tonga. Having heard Jonah’s trademark dick jokes, however, you might feel “cultural contribution” is a bit much.

The good news is, this was much funnier than Ja’mie: Private School Girl, the disappointing first spin-off from Lilley’s cult mockumentary Summer Heights High, which aired on BBC3 back in February. It’s not that 39-year-old Lilley is more convincing as 14-year-old schoolboy Jonah than as 17-year-old schoolgirl Ja’mie – both are disturbingly accurate – it’s that Jonah from Tonga appears to have found a format that better suits the material.

We’re used to seeing Lilley switch between several different characters in one episode of Summer Heights High, so when he concentrates his efforts on just one of his creations, it can become monotonous. Jonah from Tonga solves this problem by introducing a few more supporting characters. There is Jonah’s gruff non-English speaking uncle (Tevita Manu) and new teacher, Mr Joseph (Doug Bowles), a specialist in teaching children with behavioural problems who has some behavioural problems of his own.

If you’re also watching the Channel 4 documentary Mr Drew’s School for Boys at the moment, Mr Joseph’s counter-example of disciplinary techniques for wayward teens makes for a cathartic double bill.