REVIEW: Australian Comedy ’13

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ABC has introduced a slew of original comedies this year. Some hits and some misses. With only one true standout in the mix, I thought I’d take a look at what’s not working.

Late last year, ABC released the family comedy, A Moody Christmas and the series did something that I hadn’t considered in a while…Australian comedies could still be funny!

I was looking forward to a fresh bunch of scripted comedies hitting our screen this year and the only place I could seem to find them was ABC. I heard of Josh Thomas’ new comedy was heading to our screens. Last minute it was moved from ABC1 to ABC2. Apparently the content was more suited to the demographic on the channel, at least that was the spin attached to the channel move.

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Lucky for viewers, this didn’t end up effecting the quality or hilarity of the series. I was skeptical of Josh Thomas as an actor at first but slowly came around to his performance. The series had a lot of appealing aspects, we weren’t looking at some coming-out story of a twenty-something, it was a show that had stakes, that revolved around life, and didn’t need gimmicks to attract the audience. The series dealt with mental health, sexuality, relationships (both family and romantic), and death. It wasn’t your average comedy, it felt raw and awkward, and that’s what made it feel kind of real in the end.

After such a satisfying series it was hard to meet those standards once again. But there were glimmers of hope amongst the crowd as the year went on. Sadly, the team behind the entertaining, A Moody Christmas, returned to ABC screens with The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, a sketch show that never seemed to hit its mark. It came in quietly and left the same, it didn’t have the magic it’s predecessor showcased.

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I caught up on the first series of TwentySomething before the second series began in June and was pleasantly surprised by how consistent the first series played out. It unfortunately stuck to the same formula for the most part, but then it payed off in its finale when Jess and Josh married each other to get themselves visas to go travelling and leaving behind potential love interests. The second series started off promising with the idea that the love interest Jess so leisurely sacrificed last season, had now become an object of desire and a goal. The disappointing part to this storyline is that Jess and her beau united by mid-season and then the rest of the season played out as ‘The Wacky Adventures of Jess and Josh’ and lost a bit of the charm as well as any stakes the series had created along the way.

The most recent endeavour from ABC saw the network launch two brand new comedies on Thursday nights back-to-back. It was a fun concept, I felt like Australia was getting their own pint-sized version of NBC‘s comedy Thursdays in the States. The new titles included Peter Helliar‘s, It’s a Date and bogan-dramedy, Upper Middle Bogan.

It’s a Date failed primarily from its format. The concept was fairly strong and I was intially interested by the trailer for the series, the end result played out like a poorly constructed web series. It felt like disparate stories only linked by the fact it was a date and a random title card thrown up at the beginning to thread the problems these couples were facing together. Despite strong guest stars, the concept fell flat and it was hard to invest in characters we only got to experience for fifteen minutes before they were never seen or heard from again.

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Upper Middle Bogan displayed a little more promise than the Helliar-helmed series but still managed to struggle finding its feet. Annie Maynard‘s Bess shone in the premiere and continued to be a hilarious source of physical comedy for the entire series. It was a let down that Maynard was almost always the source of entertainment, despite the strong cast, Glenn Robbins and Robyn Malcolm being two members who were never given enough to do. The show was saturated with colourful characters that the writing tried to visit every episode, when it wasn’t necessary.

The storyline for Upper Middle Bogan, a middle class doctor, raised by the upper class, reuniting with her bogan family, was a rich concept for the writers. Both worlds colliding lent itself to a lot of material. The writing took the show down more of a sitcom route with the ridiculous situations the families found themselves in, yet it never reached that quotable or memorable state of comedy. It was stuck in some weird limbo between a dramedy and a sitcom. It wanted to still have a heart which damaged it from becoming something ridiculously entertaning as Kath & Kim, but then it never found the heart that Please Like Me and A Moody Christmas achieved by the viewer having an emotional stake in the characters.

The main critique I could give for the scripted comedy being produced is that either the writing and performances need to push themselves into the sitcom area where the unbelievable becomes the hilarious or take the route of exposing us to something that feels a little real so that we actually care about what happens for these characters. The middle ground area quite a few of these comedies end up in isn’t doing the series any favours.

I have to say I’m proud of ABC for actually tackling comedy and creating new content. The major networks stick to what they think works and beat that till it’s dead. We need more scripted comedy, it shouldn’t be up to only the ABC and SBS to be producing it.

Writer’s Note: I have yet to have a chance to watch Legally Brown on SBS, hence why it was not included in this article. I will be catching up soon.

Words by Dan

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