After months, when it felt like comedy and Australian television wanted nothing to do with each other, suddenly the dam has broken and we’re awash with (potentially) funny viewing. How’s this for an all-new line-up: while the ABC is offering Sammy J’s Democratic Party and Ronnie Chieng: International Student, SBS has just started up with a new series of The Family Law and – in something of a shock twist – Channel Nine is also showing new episodes of Here Come the Habibs and Hamish & Andy’s True Story. It’s a new Golden Age of Australian comedy! Or it would be, if all these shows were any good.
To be fair, the shows that aren’t at the top of the pile are the ones coming back, so they can at the very least claim their audience really did want “more of the same” from them. And The Family Law is actually kind of sweet – not all that funny, but it does do a decent job of creating a mildly amusing backdrop for a family dramedy, which is kind of the point with these shows. Here Come the Habibs is… less good at it, but as an extremely broad and fairly basic sitcom where every character is barely one note and the situation is so vaguely outlined the series has to come up with new ways to push everyone together each week, it’s… less good.
Of the three sitcoms, it’s the new-comer that really stands out – Ronnie Chieng – International Student is a spot-on take on student life that exaggerates things just enough for laughs without going over the top (unless it’s some of the wackier supporting characters). It’s not exactly re-inventing the wheel with a set-up that combines fish-out-of-water with snobs-vs-the-slobs, but on this solid foundation Chieng piles on a lot of decent jokes and solid characterization to make this the rare local sitcom that’s more than just a bland warm bath of an experience.
Over on the sketch side of things, Sammy J’s Democratic Party follows on from his successful election series with a pacey (ten minutes each week) collection of random gags, swipes at our political system and occasional appearances by real politicians to remind us that there’s more to political comedy than whatever it is The Weekly does each week. It helps that Sammy J really is funny: in less skilled hands a lot of the random wackiness would be painful rather than painfully funny. Hamish & Andy also do a decent job of making what could have been an average premise work in True Story, a show where a regular Joe sits down and tells a hopefully funny “true story” (geddit) that really did happen to them.
The wacky re-enactments that fill out most of the episodes make this a lot like Drunk History without the booze, but it’s hardly a ground-breaking format; there’s surprisingly little Hamish & Andy on screen too, with them largely filling the host role and occasionally riffing with the story-teller to get an extra laugh or two. But it’s a fun package overall, with a touch just light enough to get the maximum laughs out of what is really a pretty thin idea for a show. It’s an entertaining half hour: there’s not a lot of Australian shows you can say that about.
Writtten by Anthony Morris.
Image sourced via ABC Television.