Excellent foreign TV series on Netflix continue to arrive by way of Australia. The latest case in point, The Principal, is a tense murder mystery and drama that takes place in an all boys high school in a low income, working class area of Sydney. It happens that most of the students are Muslim, but the characters and events seem typical of almost any inner city school portrayed on airwaves or film. The Principal TV series takes us inside the lives of the students, offering a compassionate and realistic view of troubled teenagers while also keeping us in suspense.
The principal is Matt Bashir (Alex Dimitriades), newly arrived, and the latest in a series that have tried to rescue the sinking ship that is Boxdale Boys High. The difference is that Bashir is a former student of Boxdale and makes every effort to relate to and understand each individual student. While we have seen – too many times – stories of inspirational teachers making a difference in the lives of their students, the Australian locale, ethnicity of the students and the criminal events taking place move this TV series beyond the usual cliches.
Conditions are dire at the school; there are cliques, gangs, drugs and violence. It is hard to watch The Principal without making a comparison to Wentworth, the Australian TV series that takes place in an all female prison. The prison and the school are more similar than they should be. The question here is – after a student is found dead – does Bashir still have a chance of turning things around?
Though the focus may initially seem to be on the overall situation at the school, the murder story gradually moves to the forefront. It’s no surprise there are secrets and that initial impressions of the characters are not always accurate. Both the police liaison officer for the school, Kellie Norton (Mirrah Foulkes), and Detective Adam Bilic (Aden Young) play significant roles as the story moves forward.
With immigration, terrorism and the plight of refugees all prominent in current news cycles, there should be value in a TV series like The Principal airing on network television in the United States, where it would find a larger audience. We learn much of what the Muslim – and other – students endure on a daily basis; the assumptions that are made and the low expectations. Many of the families came to Australia to escape war and terrorism taking place in their home countries of Lebanon, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere. Hearing, even briefly, some of the individual stories puts a human face on what are, otherwise, events where it is convenient to go along with the version put forth by political pundits.
The Principal first aired on Australia’s SBS Television in October, 2015. There are only four episodes, each under an hour. The show arrived on Netflix with little fanfare, but is worth watching for fans of foreign TV series with drama and suspense. The Principal’s message of tolerance and understanding may seem a little heavy handed here, but it’s also one we could all listen to more often.
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