Secrets and lies are often fabulous fodder for a real-life tale of supposedly upstanding people who are hypocritically pulling the wool over the eyes of their colleagues who not just trust them, but admire them. In the case of HBO’s telefilm “Bad Education” the bamboozlers bilk a high school out of millions of dollars to keep up their standard of living. That is the case with HBO’s “Bad Education,” a film starring Hugh Jackman in a rare anti-hero role and Allison Janney at her most callous and manipulative best that premieres on Saturday, April 25.
But unlike his co-star Janney, who has won seven Emmys for her work on such series as “The West Wing,” “Masters of Sex” and “Mom,'” Jackman doesn’t have much of a history of TV roles. An Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner for his role as Jean Valjean in the 2012 movie musical “Les Miserables,” he is far more comfortable on the big screen and on the stage, given his song-and-dance background.
The Australian actor achieved much fame and acclaim for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men franchise and other appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Meanwhile, Jackman’s best known role on the small screen is as a host of such showbiz award shows as the Tonys and a one-time stint emceeing the Academy Awards in 2009. His only Emmy win was for overseeing the 2005 Tony Awards. He also earned two other nominations for hosting Broadway’s biggest night in 2006 and 2015 as well as being in charge of the Oscars.
But Jackman just might have cracked the code on how to get an Emmy nomination — and a possible win — by using his acting skills. Namely, being a bad guy who is used to being the most charismatic man in the room. The biggest embezzlement scandal in the history of our country’s school system begins to unfold and eventually unravel in a well-off Long Island suburban high school in 2002. At first all seems rosy at Roslyn High, with its robust record of college early-admission rates, especially at Ivy League schools. The community also being rated the No. 4 school district in America also leads to rising real-estate prices for the area’s McMansions.
In the middle of all this winning is Jackman as Superintendent Frank Tassone, who is treated like an academic rock star with his just-so slicked-back hair and well-pressed designer suits. He is a booster supreme, a seemingly thoughtful and kind man who never forgets the name of students he runs into both current and former. He is as at home while at all-mothers book club chatting about Dickens as he is at giving extra time for a youngster to take a test because he has a weak bladder.
But along with his accomplice, Janney’s caustic assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin who doesn’t suffer fools or anyone else, the pair are actual partners in crime as well as in education. They may be improving minds and providing bright futures, but the school’s funds are also paying for their plush — and in Frank’s case, deceptive — lifestyles by bamboozling those around them with their air of competence.
Janney knows her way around humorous sarcasm like nobody’s business and the scene in the trailer above when she tempts Jackman’s carb-free educator with a pastrami on rye is terrific. Eventually they both become complacent — she with her dolt of a son and he with a sort of Nancy Drew-like reporter for the school paper, one that Frank convinces to dig deeper into the need for an expensive for a pricey skybridge for the grounds. That innocent suggestion will lead to his eventual undoing.
No spoilers here, but Jackman’s alternative lifestyle is far different than his image of a widower who still wears his wedding ring. He could have puffed up his considerable chest and simply be a villain in over-priced designer clothing while making us hiss at him. But the actor revels in his character’s all-too-human traits — especially his flaws. He pulls off this dichotomy of emotions beautifully and makes his shyster seem all too human.
“Bad Education” is currently available now on HBO. There are no Tiger Kings prowling around, just good old-fashioned storytelling and acting.
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