And so we bid farewell to Outland, the long anticipated and much delayed ABC-1 sitcom about a gay science fiction group. We really enjoyed the first two episodes and encouraged you all to watch it, but it seems the public didn’t and we’re guessing that’s a bad sign as far as a second series goes. Maybe that theory we had about Outland benefiting from the In Gordon Street Tonight crowds was crap? Maybe we should have stuck to our other theory?:
What we will miss about Spicks & Specks is the way that it delivered around a million viewers week in week out to whatever comedy show the ABC decided to screen after it. Yes, this did mean that a lot of crap got a ratings boost it didn’t deserve – hello Gruen family of programs – but it also meant a lot of other comedy shows managed to rake in respectable viewing figures too, which helped create the impression that Australian comedy was actually popular out there amongst ABC viewers.
If we’re lucky, the ABC will come up with a new series to anchor Wednesday nights. Ah, who are we kidding: there’ll be a string of also-rans and not-quite-theres and series two of Laid and eventually Wednesday will become the night for docos or UK dramas or whatever the hell crap it is the ABC shows on Tuesdays or Thursdays. The passing of Spicks & Specks is the end of an era: we only wish it’d had been a show more deserving of its’ success.
On the other hand, it may have helped if the ABC hadn’t based its marketing strategy for Outland on the assumption that Australians are too homophobic, or too mainstream in their interests, or too in to realistic mockumentaries, to want to watch a sitcom with proper jokes in it which centres on five out and proud gays who like Doctor Who? A strategy which effectively saw them stick their heads in the sand at every possible opportunity. Then again, maybe ABC publicity might have been more proactive if Outland hadn’t started to tank badly around episode three?
We haven’t been the only ones wondering what the hell happened to the series at that point. Initially we thought that perhaps there’d been a decision to stick the dud shows in the middle, but as the weeks have gone by things have not improved. What started out as a series with a great mix of warmth and laughs that only homophobes could object to, has morphed in to a series which increasingly relied on obtuse science fiction references, invented gay stereotypes (what the hell was that “Coming Out Dance” thing in last week’s show?) and conceits which didn’t work – this week’s attempt to inject suspense and danger in to a plot where very little was at stake for any of the characters was just didn’t work for us (i.e. they were chased by a some teens who was threatening to bash them, but the teens weren’t remotely scary – also, did anyone seriously think the group was breaking up?).
Overall, it felt like a huge amount of effort had gone in to getting Outland to the point where it would be commissioned, and then the makers realised they had to make a whole stack more shows on top of that in a short space of time. It’s a great shame. If there’s a time when Australia should be ready to embrace five loveable gay nerds it’s at a time when gay marriage is a hot topic of conversation and when nerdism’s actually in fashion. Ah well, at least it was a proper sitcom with over-the-top characters and traditional gags, we almost never get those any more – especially ones that kind of work.