One of the stranger shows on our screens at the moment is Taboo (Ten, Thursday’s, around 8.30-ish depending on when Masterchef ends). It’s a show where basically a comedian takes a bunch of terminally ill people out to the Hunter Valley to do a bunch of wine tastings, ride around in a balloon, and talk about how they’re going to die.
It’s basically Australian Story only with jokes, which is not really a thing that anyone really thought Australian Story actually needed. But the jokes are the hook here; that out of a group of people’s extreme (and let’s be honest, somewhat grim, in week one at least) situations we’re going to get a bunch of comedy – well, host and stand-up comedian Harley Breen is going to get the comedy, the folks at home are the ones who’ll be laughing at it.
Only there’s not really all that much we’re meant to laugh at here: a large, large chunk of this show is all about hanging out with the various terminally ill people and checking out how they live their lives – lots of drugs, obviously, but also lots of sad music and people on the brink of tears as they come face to face with their mortality in a way many of us never quite get around to – which is perfectly valid for a TV show but again, where’s the comedy?
Obviously this is a show that’s going to be coming from a place of respect; there’s never the slightest chance that anyone will think this is a show that’s laughing at the subjects rather than with them. But that also means that a lot of the comedy is firmly coming down hard on the safe side of the street.
Of course, there are loads of mild quips about them dying: that’s the whole point of them being on the show. And realistically, the producers have found four people with fairly open attitudes to their illness; this is not a show where Harley Breen desperately tries to get a laugh out of someone in denial, or sobbing uncontrollably, or filled with rage at the world.
These are terminally ill people who aren’t going to kick a hole in the wall while shouting that it’s unfair that they have to die while you get to live. Which means that this is a largely sanitised view of what they’re going through, and as a result the comedy is sanitised too.
Obviously the real way to make this kind of show actually funny is to let the subjects tell jokes about themselves, and the moments where these guys do just that are pretty much the comedy high points here. But if Ten made a show that was just dying people making quality jokes about themselves there’s a chance that might be a little too much for mainstream Australia to cope with, so best to have a professional on hand to sand the rough edges off.
So the result is a comedy series with an edgy premise that spends pretty much the entire show reassuring audiences that it’s not going to be edgy at all. It’s clearly thoughtful and definitely informative, but funny? Seems like that’s the real taboo here.