Bad Education, S02E04
by Joshua Gaskell
By Jack Whitehall and Freddy Syborn
Tiger Aspect Productions for BBC Three
Tuesday, 24th September 2013
‘Valentine’s Day’ begins with Alfie (Jack Whitehall) experiencing the double sorrow of receiving a card from his mummy which is actually a forgery by his daddy; that’s Martin Wickers (Harry Enfield), the embarrassing dad who’s so down with the kids that he’s heard of that well-known drink, the ‘Jäguarbomb.’
Martin is driving history teacher Alfie in to Abbey Grove (which, like Big School’s Greybridge is apparently somewhere in Hertfordshire), and ends up following him in, calling ‘Smoocher! You forgot your lunchbox! I popped an extra Yakult in there to help settle your tummy. He’s got the squits.’ Ugh! Daad! There in the corridor he meets Professor Green (Samantha Spiro) who has taken over as deputy head from Isobel Pickwell (Michelle ‘Sue White’ Gomez). The new character is immediately dubbed Pro Green, continuing Bad Education’s fun with the ever(pro)green joke of silly teachers’ names (previous highlights being Mrs Gay Phistor, Mr Mark Skid, Mr Dick Brumhole, and Mrs Pat Fanny). For anyone unsure of the joke Alfie explains: Pro Green is only ‘the best British rapper since Brian Harvey, or maybe J from Five.’ However, the significance of Pro Green plotwise is that she’s met Martin before, nudge, nudge (wink, wink). They did teacher training together, and unfortunately for Alfie it’s quickly apparent that Pro Green is just as humourless and even more of a bitch than Auntie Liz, the character Spiro plays in Grandma’s House.* So, along with Alfie’s false claim that Miss Gulliver (Sarah Solemani) has agreed to go round to his for a dinner date, we’ve got two classic Valentine’s set-ups – an old flame and a fictional girlfriend – which precipitate the events that lead inexorably to an embarrassing double-date. It is left to Fraser (Matthew Horne) to provide the joke that concludes this establishing scene:
Pro Green: Well, well, well, Martin Stool.
Alfie: Wickers. He took my mum’s name, unsurprisingly.
Pro Green: [To Alfie] I can see you’ve got a whiff of the Stool about you.
Fraser: Probably the squits.
The set-up for that joke is fairly tortuous – remember the Yakult? – but in the performing it really works, and is one of so many lines that make Fraser the funniest thing in Bad Education, and Horne’s funniest (if not most significant) role to date.
In the next two scenes we’re reminded of a couple of fundamentals about Bad Education and sitcoms in general, the first about jokes, the second about character.
Firstly, all sitcoms rely to a certain extent on the repetition and variation of a set of jokes: the situation remains the same, so must the humour. Some programmes do this well (exploiting the pleasure of familiarity and layering) others badly (with groan-inducing catchphrases and too little variation). Bad Education, however, is well-placed to make even little-varied repetitions fall into the first category, because of the situ we’re in. A school is a good place to do the same old jokes about – in the case of this scene – pupils’ gayness, wheelchairosity and multiple stepdaditude, because that is what school humour is like (relentless), so it’s realistic. In fact, it would probably be more realistic if there was even less variation.
Secondly, Alfie reminds us of his sitcomedic essence when he tells Pro Green, outside in the corridor, that ‘Me and the kids are mates.’ This is the aspect of his character that all sitcom leads need: it is both endearing and pathetic, equally and simultaneously. In a later scene Alfie admits to his class that he’s planning to go on a Valentine’s dinner with his dad. Says Stephen (Layton Williams), ‘I can’t work out whether that’s really sweet or incredibly sad.’ Well, Stephen, it’s both, it has to be.
Alfie bowls into the challenge of convincing Miss Gulliver to come round like an optimistic puppy. He genuinely believes that she will and, by living as if (the Power of the Powerless), he makes it so. But that’s not before we’ve had some fun with her refusals. In one of the funniest scenes from any episode Miss Gulliver says firmly, ‘[Your dad’s] not gonna put his head in an oven if I don’t come for dinner,’ and walks away down the corridor. Alfie then bellows after her retreating back a counterproductively detailed rundown of the inadequacies of his flat, popping in and out of the classroom door, as indicated by the ellipses:
Obviously not, ’cause I don’t have an oven in my flat… he could use the microwave… actually, you couldn’t use a microwave, ’cause when you tried to shut it your head would stop the door… he could take it into the bath… SHOWER! MY FLAT ONLY HAS A SHOWER!!
From this point on plot becomes a little too jarringly prominent, with Chantelle the exhibitionist (Nikki Runeckles) claiming she’s pregnant. This ends up, through a series of events long to tell, with Fraser’s inappropriate staging of the Paddy McGuinness date-show vehicle Take Me Out, coming to a halt as a result of Pro Green mistakenly believing Alfie to be the father of Chantelle’s unborn child. ‘At least you’re not firing blanks,’ says Fraser, setting his banter before morality as per. For some reason Alfie is convinced by Stephen to respond to the situation by singing from Les Mis. As Jing (Kae Alexander) asks when he’s finished, ‘Why did you do that?’ The script-editor at the feast.
As in a foundling tale, the illegitimate child must be dealt with in order for the story to resolve. In this case it’s dealt with by being made-up in the first place: ‘I wanted you to notice me, sir,’ admits Chantelle. This leaves the path open to the double-date we were promised. Alfie and Pro Green reach a deal and of course Miss Gulliver comes round in the end. And the climax turns out to be exactly that: Alfie, Miss Gulliver, and Joe (Ethan Lawrence) must endure listening to Martin and Pro Green having noisy sex as a blancmange wobbles on the coffee-table. The final joke is fine gross-out stuff. Martin comes back into the room clutching Alfie’s duvet-cover:
Postman Pat’s fine. [In a whisper] Mrs Goggins took the brunt of it.
* We can only wonder whether they both ended up teaching in the private sector. We know from a previous episode that Martin sent his son to Middleton House, Abbey Grove’s posh rival, and we get a glimpse of this world when Alfie tells Mitchell (Charlie Wernham) about when ‘[He] and the lads were on a pub-crawl […] I was dressed as Sauron.’ (Did Alfie do Teach First, do we think?) Moreover, Pro Green is depicted as a stuffy snob when it comes to teaching standards, school uniform, sexual morality, punctuality, and Abbey Grove in general. Needless to say that this is not a programme in which the potential legitimacy of any of her concerns are addressed: as the theme-tune goes, ‘Yeah politics…’