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When I was waxing rhapsodically about Mr. Robot a few weeks ago I praised it for being a show that didn’t feel done revealing its range. By that standard at least, Class is a rousing success. The downside of this is that it also doesn’t quite feel like it knows what it wants to be, but that’s not inherently a bad thing for a show about teenagers. It’s smart and full of ideas, at least, and if these first two episodes don’t contain any moments of outright genius they at least clearly belong to a show that could deliver some.
It’s also a show that’s acutely aware of the expectations that are going to be put on it. Its opening gag is a Bechdel test joke, it namechecks Buffy with aplomb, it’s got the obligatory Peter Capaldi sequences, it’s given ostentatious levels of thought to its notions of diversity, and there’s almost a conscious sense of “OK, what’s the exact halfway point between Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures?” In the first episode this all gets a bit oppressive, and the show can fairly be accused of trying too hard, but even there it’s got some real charm.
The second episode, meanwhile… I mean, there’s just so much potential in that cut from a Hannibal pastiche to the (one fears over-)aggressively youth-friendly credit sequence. And the episode mostly aims to pay that off. Its denouement is genuinely ballsy, underplaying the way in which it subverts a genre standard into something much smarter about masculinity and abuse. And this is typical of the comparison. Where the first episode seems at pains to make sure it lampshades all the moments where it’s being derivative and struts at all the moments where it’s not, the second is much smarter about what it overplays and underplays. The moment where it kills Mr. Armitage does some varied heavy-lifting, both from Buffy and in terms of ostentatiously establishing the show’s “anything can happen” cred. But what’s interesting is how the show revels in the transgressive glee of ripping apart the sympathetic headmaster inherited from the parent show but then undersells the degree to which doing so genuinely alters where things are going.
Which feeds into the most interesting card the show plays, Miss Quill. Like everything in it she’s cut from existing and well-defined cloth, but putting what we might describe as the “Moffatrix” trope in the Sarah Jane role is an inspired choice. She’s consistently the thing that most enlivens the first episode, at times managing to make even Greg Austin’s character (basically the Luke Smith role, only actually gay not Dumbledore gay) seem interesting. I don’t think Jack’s watching this, and he’s probably happier that way, but I admit that I wondered what he’d think of the ex-revolutionary who openly and not without reason accuses her situation of being slavery. And the use of her in the second episode, where she basically hangs out in a minor subplot that ends in a tease for whatever the season plot is, is clever given the degree to which she’s nominally the “adult,” a status that’s only increased by the end of the episode with Armitage dead. So that’s all very interesting and full of possibility.
As for the other characters… well, as mentioned Charlie is deeply uninteresting. April risks being a bit one-note as well - her melodrama at the prom in the first episode was probably its most severely misjudged moment. But Sophie Hopkins has a level of charm - she’s delightful in her reactions to having the plot explained to her, and I have more hope that her character will develop. Tanya’s delightful, although less needs to be made of her restrictive Nigerian mother going forward. And Ram is fucking fascinating, if only for the sheer level of horror that’s been heaped upon the guy’s character. The show relishes its leeway for gore and commits to using it stylishly, but an astonishingly large amount of it has happened to one character, and it’s being dealt with pretty head-on and honestly in terms of the amount it’s fucking him up.
So all told, promising but not yet extraordinary. As a piece of Doctor Who methadone it does the job better than Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures did. It’s got an ambition and swagger the latter almost studiously eschewed, and its understanding of its transgressiveness is much, much smarter than the former. When Capaldi wanders off after ostentatiously using his status as the guest star to decree that a team shall form it’s painfully clear that everyone would prefer to see more of him than more of this. But we don’t get more of him til Christmas, and this ain’t half bad. Certainly I think I’m going to enjoy reviewing it.
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