Does Bad Education still work without Jack Whitehall?
Alfie's gone and his former students Stephen and Mitchell are in charge. But does Jack Whitehall's sitcom work without Jack Whitehall?
Revivals can be tricky at the best of times. For every Doctor Who there's a Heroes: Reborn, and it's always even trickier when you lose your leading man.
In truth, Bad Education never lost Jack Whitehall. This switch-up was always the plan as soon as a revival was mooted, with Whitehall returning for one last hurrah in December's reunion special before passing on the baton.
Still, there's no denying that, for many fans, Jack Whitehall is Bad Education. Not only did the star create the show himself back in 2012, but his Alfie Wickers was a beloved comedy character, helping to launch Whitehall's acting career to new heights after Fresh Meat.
The reunion special was a smart move. It gave fans the chance to re-acclimatise themselves to this world and say goodbye to Alfie, but also to get to know Layton Williams' Stephen and Charlie Wernham's Mitchell again as supporting characters before they took over as leads.
Regardless, many fans will enter this new season with trepidation. So, the big question is – does it work?
Thankfully, the answer is yes. This new season of Bad Education is a joyful, quick-witted and comforting reminder of the old show, while still marking out its own territory with some smart casting decisions and structural shake-ups.
As seen in the special, Williams and Wernham work well as a double-act, and Stephen and Mitchell are both funny enough and rounded enough to stand on their own (even if it is as a duo).
There's no denying that Williams is hamming it up big time, with a performance that is far bigger and more flamboyant than his character was in his student days. But for the most part it works, because it immediately marks him as a dramatically different teacher than Alfie (although just as terrible) and he has Wernham's wheeler-dealer geezer-type Mitchell to play against.
Wernham meanwhile has toned down his performance somewhat from the original show, but his character's natural charm and excellent comic timing remain one of the show's greatest assets.
Don't get me wrong, Whitehall's absence is still felt – it was always going to be. His character's popularity and Whitehall's sheer star power made him a big presence in this little BBC Three series that could. But the fact that from the outset, the show still feels whole and doesn't appear in the least bit lost without him is a testament to both the writing and the central stars.
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Of course, it's not just down to Williams and Wernham. The only reason this type of a reboot was conceived in the first place was because they were so memorable as students, so it's important this bunch work just as well as Stephen, Chantelle and Joe did back in the day.
Unsurprisingly, some of the stereotypes the new season plays with may be slightly less near the knuckle, but the show still manages to have fun with broad, clashing personalities and its own brand of less-than-subtle social commentary.
Particular highlights include clueless wannabe activist Jinx and eccentric suck-up Warren, but in truth the whole group are terrifically well-drawn and well-cast. There's also no doubt that they will go on to be further fleshed out and utilised if the show gets a fifth season, just as the original Class K were in later outings.
Meanwhile, the usage of Mathew Horne's Fraser has been a stroke of genius. Demoted from Headteacher to kitchen staff, his character continues to provide some of the show's most outrageously funny gags and is a welcome reminder of its past.
His side-plots and ridiculous escapades, including a storyline in the first episode where he accidentally prints the entire internet, are particular highlights across the season, just as they were in the original series.
Williams told RadioTimes.com in a recent interview that it wouldn't have worked "dynamics-wise" to keep Fraser in his old role, and he's completely right.
Not only does the switch-up work to give Horne new avenues down which to take the character, but the boys needed a foil, just as Alfie had Michelle Gomez's Pickwell and Samantha Spiro's Professor Green.
As already witnessed in the reunion, Vicki Pepperdine's Hoburn fits the bill nicely. Her blunt demeanour, her mannerisms, her social ineptitude – all of these make her immediately distinct from the show's previous authority figures, while still playing into the same ballpark.
She's also allowed to have proper comedy moments, something the series has always, to its strength, given to its more straight-laced characters.
In truth, the biggest worry coming into this new season was that the tone would be off. Even more-so than the cast refresh, the change in the writing team could have meant that the comedy went in a different direction, the heart was lost or the plots became needlessly convoluted or experimental.
But everyone here clearly gets what the show was – silly, unpretentious fun which isn't afraid to go for the obvious joke but always does so with style.
Will it win new fans? I imagine so, from those who were too young or missed the original series the first time around. But I can't see it gaining many converts – those who saw the original show and decided it wasn't for them. This isn't a reinvention; it's a welcome continuation.
Of course it will take some fans a bit of time to get used to the changes and warm to the new characters. That's the same with any substantial new series, reboot or revival, and it was the same when Bad Education first aired over 10 years ago.
But for now, they can breathe a sigh of relief. Bad Education is back – and it's just as much ridiculous fun as ever.
Bad Education season 4 will be available in full on BBC iPlayer from Sunday 15th January. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide for more to watch.
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