Jonah From Tonga is the latest project from the wonderful comedic actor that is Chris Lilley (creator of Summer Heights High, Angry Boys and Ja’mie: Private School Girl). Jonah Takalua is one of the brilliant characters from Summer Heights High who, like Ja’mie, has earned his own spin-off series. He is a lovely but incredibly disruptive high school teenager who is more interested in break dancing and bullying ginger kids than learning anything most of the time.
The show is very heartfelt and endearing, and I found episode five in particular to actually be very emotional. Without giving to much away, Jonah and his gang wind up in prison for doing something really stupid and dangerous and Jonah, who has a criminal record, has to stay long after the other boys (including his little brother, Moses) are allowed to go home. Jonah, being the loveable kid that he is, quickly becomes very popular amongst the inmates and staff in the prison. He reads stories to the other kids at night before bed and tells them terrible jokes that always go down really well. The thing that upset me a bit about this episode is how evident it is that Jonah is a very vulnerable young man. He lost his mother at a young age and it is obvious he looks for a mother-figure everywhere he goes (he latches on to Therese, a woman working on duty at the prison within hours of his short stay there).
Lilley has received quite a few criticisms for this show: there have been accusations of the character of Jonah being an inaccurate display of Tongan people. Obviously, I do not understand the extent of offence as I am not on the receiving end of it but I don’t really think they are valid criticisms at all. Personally, after the initial impact of Jonah’s accent and family background (alluded to in episode one particularly), I don’t think Jonah’s Tongan heritage is actually relevant at all. There have been complaints that Jonah’s character portrays Tongans in a bad light, by implying all Tongan kids end up in prison (because Jonah and his friends do) but I didn’t see any malice throughout the programme. I feel that Jonah From Tonga is a programme about life values, about teenagers growing up and about family. After all, Jonah is a good kid. He is loving, charming and entertaining and I think only positive connotations about Tongan people can be deduced from that.
I recommend you watch Jonah From Tonga (available on iPlayer) and check out Chris Lilley’s other material if you haven’t already; he is a very talented man and I am excited to see what he has in store for us next.