It’s a truism amongst writers that the first episode of a sitcom or drama series will be the worst. So much time is spent on set-pieces introducing the characters that little time is left for a decent story or jokes. The second episode is usually a lot better, partly because it’s quite possibly the story the writer wanted to tell in the first place. Mind Your Language does nothing to buck this trend – the second episode is markedly superior to the first. It’s still not great, but at least it has a proper storyline, better jokes and the cardboard characters are being fleshed out a bit more. The plot of the episode even seems to be poking fun at the premise, with the one-shot character being a black school inspector, predictably mistaken for a student “from Africa.” The episode still has many problems, of course, with many jokes still based on sub-Allo-Allo mispronunciations, but it’s at least watchable this time.
The improvement made me think about how, in a sense, it was good to have representations of immigrant communities on TV at all, even if they were stereotypes. You could even view MYL as a stage on the way to progressive attitudes and acceptance of different cultures. albeit an often buttock-clenchingly embarassing one now. The series appears to still be popular around the world, especially in commonwealth countries. Perhaps this is because it’s a rare chance for people to see some kind of representation of their nation on an easy to understand sitcom. Does this make it ok to engage in stereotyping? Perhaps not. One thing China has taught me is that people from monocultural societies tend to have stereotypical ideas about others anyway.
Once again effective teaching is hampered by poor support from the school principle, who actively dislikes anyone who isn’t English and continually disrupts the class.
This is no excuse for poor teaching elsewhere though. Brown still makes no attempt to engage with the students’ problems, and seems frustrated with them simply for not being able to speak English. He is still not grading his language at all, and there is no way half the class can understand him.
At the end of the episode he makes a little speech about his methods where he espouses ‘practical English’ instead of teaching grammar. This is nothing like what he’s actually been doing, and would be useless for the advanced students in the class, but it’s a step in the right direction at least. The inspector, hilariously, says his teaching methods “may be revolutionary but they do appear to work” – on no grounds whatsoever. The writer having been an ESL teacher, this seems to be nothing short of onanistic – self-flattery of the most blatant and undisguised kind. But if they let you write a sitcom about yourself, who wouldn’t be tempted?