I started writing this post in November 2008, when Britannia High, a musical drama about a high school for the performing arts, which ran for nine episodes on ITV, was more than half way through its run. Here, after the jump, with pictures, is what I wrote then, and more recent thoughts.
One thing I've heard from people who bemoan the state of American television programming is that "British TV is so much better than ours." This may have been a statement one could defend back in the pre-internet, pre-800-TV-channel days when the only UK programming we saw in America was on PBS, or an occasional something awesome like The Avengers that managed to slip through the cracks. Nowadays, with people in North America having more and more access to the rest of the world's TV shows, it is easy to see that many UK shows have more in common with Benny Hill than Upstairs/Downstairs, and the reason we think their TV is so good is because we only see the good stuff, and never see the vast majority of their programming, which is just as bad as our own bad TV.
Which brings us to Mitch Hewer's new TV series, Britannia High, which has been airing on ITV for the past six Sundays and is a perfect example of talented people giving their all, only to have it go horribly wrong.
That's were I left off. Unfortunately, before I got any farther, Britannia High, which had launched in October '08 with a huge amount of hype and great expectations, had ended it's run, and due poor ratings (it was consistently trounced by BBC airings of Antiques Roadshow), didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of being recommissioned for a second series. So, I didn't really see the point of going on.
There were a few things that went "horribly wrong" with Britannia High. It was promoted as being something terribly new and original, but it was really only a slavish copy of the Fame TV series of the 1980s. It tried to be cutting edge, but almost always hedged its bets, and ended up being about as edgy as an Afterschool Special. OK, we get it: drug dealing is bad, reading is fundamental, gay people have feelings too. It talked down to its audience. On the plus side, it admirably used two or three original songs in every episode, but most of the songs were bland pop, instantly forgettable, and even more over-produced than the songs on Glee.
And then there was the Mitch Hewer problem. Mitch Hewer made a name for himself, and a lot of devoted fans, playing Maxxie, "the gay one", on Skins. In Britannia High, he was not "the gay one." He was the "straight and don't you dare forget it one", and just about everything that we loved about Maxxie was completely wiped away. Mitch clearly didn't have the acting chops to pull off the ladies' man role he was asked to play, and instead of coming off as a charming bounder, he seemed like a self-absorbed little shit. And oddly (was it just because of the unflattering hair style he was sporting?) he seemed less physically attractive as well. It's not as if he was hideous. Of course not. By any standard he was still a fine looking specimen. But he was... I don't know... diminished somehow. I hate to say it, but by the end of the series I was kind of over Mitch Hewer.
On the other hand, I came away very smitten with Matthew James Thomas, who played Jez, Britannia High's "gay one." He was kind of funny looking: tall, pale, gangly, prone to acne, which was ineptly covered with tons of Max Factor. But also: shiny flaxen hair, sparkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks (when they weren't slathered with makeup) and an adorable smile. And on top of that, he could dance, he could act, and he was the best singer on the show.
Since Britannia High went off the air, Mitch has been absent from the screen. The last I heard, he had auditioned, unsuccessfully for a role on Glee. Matthew has done some episodic TV, played the lead in a small-scale musical version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and is now Reeve Carney's alternate in the storied Broadway production of Spiderman, Turn Off The Dark, playing Peter Parker in the matinees, and whenever Reeve can't.
|Reeve Carney, Ba Ba Wa Wa, and Matthew James Thomas, backstage at Spiderman, Turn Off The Dark|
|Do you remember the queeny, little blond kid in Billy Elliot who tried to comfort Billy at the dance audition, only to get socked in the jaw for his trouble? That was Matthew James Thomas. Here's Matthew, reunited with Jamie Bell.|