Did we like it?
Despite too much time spent with the necessary introductions of the grotesques competing for Australian of the Year, we saw the same glimpses of wit and imagination as in Summer Heights High that make star Chris Lilley an outstanding new comedy talent.
What was good about it?
• The five main characters – all played by Lilley – were distinctive and strong with enough depth to elevate them above being mere ciphers.
• Phil Olivetti is a former Brisbane policeman who survived a runaway “Inflatable, jumpy castle”. Clambering from the remains, along with other survivors, he quipped: “Talk about a rough day at the office!” This has now become his clarion call, to which he affixes the fading few tendrils of fame left to him. He’s an unremarkable bloke who is trying to keep his fame buoyant; he represents the modern non-entity celebrity.
• We see him boast about how “some kid” will ride past on his bike and point in awe as Phil collects the post. In reality, he loiters near his front gate while the world walks ignorantly by – it’s an obvious visual gag, but Lilley pulls an empathetic expression that combines arrogance and denial.
• Ricky Wong is one of the two outright likeable protagonists. He has some of Summer Heights High’s Mr G’s love of musical theatre, but also an obsession with physics that is equally gauche and endearing: “How do you spell fun? Phun!”
• Ricky’s introduction lacks apparent humour, but a familiarity with Lilley’s other work – which will probably be confirmed in future episodes – means that you are scouring the dialogue for those subtle quips.
• Ja’mie was our least favourite in SHH. While the inane teenage girl banter was excruciatingly acute, it was only as malleable as the stereotypical teenage girl vernacular will allow. Here, the focus on Ja’mie is sharper, and we cringe as she arranges the 85 impoverished African children whom she is ‘sponsoring’ (she extorts the funds from her intimidated peers) on her wall. “I don’t really know any of their names,” she mused. “I think these two guys could be related or perhaps they’re the same guy?”
• As with Jonah in SHH, Daniel is the boisterous troubled teenage boy who lives with his deaf brother and family on a remote farm. Daniel has been nominated for the award because he is willing to donate an eardrum to his brother Nathan to help him regain his hearing. This is odd because Daniel is a selfish brat who likes nothing better than to persecute his more timid twin. And we imagine that this whole scenario could be part of a con as at one point Daniel calls out to Nathan, who clearly responds.
• Our favourite from the opener was Pat Mullins from Perth, who has one leg shorter than the other but who overcomes her disability through her love of rolling. ‘Rolling’ is a wonderful Lilley-ism; Pat’s battlecry is, “Yes, I’m disabled but I can roll!” And we are told Pat had “rolled 19km from Perth to Freemantle”.
• The whole escapade of “rolling” was done so well that we could almost believe that there really is a vibrant “rolling” society in Australia. “Pat’s friends nominated her for her pioneering spirit and her contribution to the sport of rolling.”
What was bad about it?
• Because it was an opener, the episode was solely dedicated to a rather mechanical introduction of each character. This will improve in later chapters, but it was slightly off-putting to be wrenched away from one character to go and visit another utterly separate one.