HBO review: Hugh Jackman is Emmy-worthy in 'Bad Education'

Fred Hawson

Posted at May 31 2020 06:00 AM

Hugh Jackman in HBO's 'Bad Education'

Dr. Frank Tassone was a district superintendent of schools in Long Island, New York. Together with his able assistant of several years Pam Gluckin, Tassone had elevated Roslyn High School into becoming one of the top public schools in the country. One day in 2002, Gluckin's simpleton son Jimmy made suspicious purchases using his mom's credit card, which led to the exposure of her long history of embezzlement of school funds. 

High school junior Rachel Bhargava was only supposed to write a piece about the much-anticipated bridgeway project in the campus. Tassone idealistically encouraged her to make the story more than the fluff she initially thought it was. With her persistent and thorough investigation of school financial records, it soon became apparent that the multi-million dollar corruption did not stop at Gluckin's level alone. 

At the beginning of "Bad Education," Hugh Jackson imbued Dr. Tassone with so much respectability and popularity, as expected of him. However, the way director Cory Finley executed the script of Mike Makowsky, as based on the magazine article entitled "The Bad Superintendent" by Robert Kolker, the chipping away at Tassone's seemingly perfect character happened slowly and steadily. 

Though it was not technically part of the actual crime he committed, Tassone's sexual orientation was a scandalous side detail of his life which had Jackman doing kissing scenes his fans would not imagine him doing. Even if Jackman's big breakthough role was the gay lead character in the musical "The Boy from Oz" (2003) where he won a Tony Award for Best Actor, most people knew him best as the uber-masculine mutant, Wolverine. 

Alison Janney felt right at home with her role as Pam Gluckin. She has been a very consistent veteran actress ever since we first took notice of her in "The West Wing" where she won four Primetime Emmy awards starting 2001. After her Oscar-winning performance as Tonya Harding's mother-from-hell in "I, Tonya" (2017), this role as Pam may seem right up Janney's alley. Yet she still gave nuance to the role, it was never one-dimensional. 

The third main character in this tale is the student Rachel played by promising young half-Indian, half-Swiss Australian actress Geraldine Viswanathan. The black comedy aspect of the film originated from her character, as Rachel's unexpectedly serious financial record auditing was borne out of Tassone's earnest piece of teacher's advice. It was this angle that kept the crime story light, yet suspenseful and engaging to follow.

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Because of heroic roles he gets and his goodwill off-screen, we usually see Jackman as the good guy when he headlines a movie. This movie allowed Jackman to ever so subtly transform from the beloved ideal school official people thought he was into the despicable unscrupulous thief that he really was. He even got to delivers a message to parents that teachers deserve respect. 

Jackman is sure to bag a nomination for the Emmy for Best Actor in a TV movie or limited series, his biggest competition being Mark Ruffalo from another HBO production "I Know This Much is True."

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."