Pop Culture #671

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

Pop Culture #671

Matt Okine has a new sitcom on Stan titled The Other Guy and as more than one reviewer has pointed out, it’s not all that good. Okine himself is fine as AJ, mostly because AJ is basically Matt Okine: he’s a breakfast radio DJ who just dumped his girlfriend after she cheated on him, and now he’s out there trying to put his life back together by sleeping around and hanging out with dodgy mates. Which sounds funnier than it is, because it’s not really very funny at all – it thinks it is, what with a lot of talk about drugs and piss and orgies with off-putting strangers and so on, but it doesn’t seem to realise that it’s not enough simply to mention funny subjects.

But that’s not really the show’s fault, because… well, the problem with making a sitcom in Australia is that a lot of the television in Australia isn’t made for audiences.

On commercial networks, the programs are made for advertisers, but as the advertisers want to advertise on shows that are popular, that generally ends up meaning we get shows for audiences (eventually). The ABC is designed to fill the gaps – that is, make shows for the people advertisers don’t care about – which makes it tricky to do a regular sitcom because sitcoms are still seen as “popular”: for the last decade or so when the ABC has coughed up a sitcom it’s usually been overtly satirical (The Hollowmen, Utopia), overly quirky (Woodley, that Sammy J and Randy show) or too cool for school (Laid).

That leaves streaming services like Stan trying to tread a middle path because their business model requires them to attract viewers – they can’t go too niche like the ABC because not enough people want the kind of thing the ABC offers, and they can’t go too broad because then they’re just offering people more of what the commercial networks are offering.

It’s no surprise then that they’ve focused on comedy (it’s popular but the commercial networks don’t make much of it) but it has to be relatively classy otherwise they’re back competing with Here Come the Habibs on the commercial networks. Which brings us back to The Other Guy, which suffers from a problem that afflicts pretty much every “classy” Australian comedy: it doesn’t want to be funny.

Please Like Me set the stage for this kind of thing with its attempt to capture the comedy and drama of real life by not actually having anything comedic or dramatic happen. The idea is to have a show that feels like real life (you know, fairly bland most of the time) and then somehow simply by just hanging out living their lives the characters will be both funny and real enough for us to care about their lives.

The problem is that when you only have half an hour to tell a story, you kind of have to force things along if you want them to feel funny or dramatic. And if you’re worried that forcing things will make the show seem cheap and obvious, then you end up making something like The Other Guy.

By Anthony Morris