Passing Grade

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

HBO mined New Zealand and came up with the spectacular, unique Flight of the Conchords, so I was all too curious to see what they dug up in nearby Australia.

Summer Heights High isn't a comedy mother lode - it's not as funny or original as the musical exploits of Bret and Jemaine - but it's worth a look, especially for fans of The Office and Christopher Guest.

Series creator Chris Lilley is a careful student of the well-trod mockumentary format. His previous series, We Can Be Heroes, tracked six characters vying for the title "Australian of the Year," all of them portrayed by Lilley himself.

Lilley took the same approach for Summer Heights High, which originally aired last fall on Australian TV. The comedian plays each of the show's three main characters.

Flamboyant drama teacher Mr. G cooks up ambitious productions like Downloadin' and IKEA: The Musical. Troubled Tongan immigrant Jonah disrupts class and break dances at lunch. Self-important overachiever Ja'mie transferred from a snooty private school as part of an exchange program.

Lilley is so good at disappearing into these roles that at first I didn't notice they were the same person. His feat would be more worthwhile, though, if the characters were more consistently rewarding. Only Mr. G wrings laughs with regularity. But his bizarre plotline is entertaining enough to wait for the other characters' amusing moments.

"Summer Heights High"

10:30 p.m. Sundays, HBO

Grade: B