Considering that Shaun Micallef is basically a one-man comedy factory, it’s at least slightly strange to realise that The Ex-PM – his new sitcom, in which he plays the titular Ex-PM – is only his second ever sitcom. Seriously, the only name that even comes close to Micallef’s output is Working Dog, and there’s five of them.
In a 20 year career he’s done three seasons of his own sketch show, three seasons of one news satire (Newstopia), five seasons of another news satire (Mad as Hell), hosted a game show for four seasons (Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation), had his own tonight show (Micallef Tonight) and his own murder mystery series (Mr & Mrs Murder), plus a number of various one-off specials including a New Year’s Eve variety show and a travel special – and that’s just television. He’s also written three books, put out a comedy CD, was a breakfast radio host and has appeared in a number (well, two) plays. So it’s fairly clear that the man likes to keep busy. And yet, he’s only done the one previous sitcom, the largely ignored Welcher & Welcher.
At first glance, it’s perhaps not all that hard to see why: coming off the back of his success with three series of his ABC sketch show The Micallef Program, Welcher & Welcher is a bit of a mixed bag, with a lot of left-field moments that make it hard to get a grasp on exactly what kind of show it’s trying to be. Well, obviously it’s a sitcom set in a struggling legal firm where Micallef plays Quentin Welcher, AKA his usual vaguely buffoonish character, and Robyn Butler is his long-suffering partner and wife. Though it’s not exactly a realistic look at legal troubles even with a steady stream of cases and law-related events taking place.
Making matters worse, there’s no laugh track, as was the style at the time and remains so to this day. Usually laugh tracks are seen as a negative, but this is a show with a lot of obvious gags (remember, it’s not exactly a realistic look at blah blah blah) and rather than a naturalistic style of talk there are often pauses for laughs after the jokes, which is a little jarring. None of these things are fatal flaws but they do take a little getting used to. Fortunately it’s totally worth the effort, as it’s one of the funniest Australian sitcoms of the last 15 years. But it’s a very Micallef-esque sitcom (one episode features the entire staff repeatedly marching up and down a stairwell; another has Micallef re-creating a famous scene from Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 film The Gold Rush), which back in 2003 was very much something of an acquired taste. A decade on and with repeated exposure to Micallef seems to have brought the nation around to his way of thinking. If you’ve never seen Welcher & Welcher tracking down the DVD (which is surprisingly still available considering it was released in 2012) is a very smart move indeed.
Written by Anthony Morris