Remember Life Support, SBS’s spoof lifestyle program from about a decade ago? It was never a ratings blockbuster, more a cult hit, but it’s currently getting a repeat run on Monday nights on SBS2 so we’ve been reacquainting ourselves with it.
Inspired by the plethora of early evening magazine shows on commercial TV in the ‘90s, Life Support was fronted by a small team of experts – “modern woman” Sigourney (Rachel Coopes), general practitioner and financial guru Dr Rudi (Simon Van Der Stap), tradie Todd (Brendan Cowell) and anarchist/rebel-type Penne (Abbie Cornish) – who between them gave advice on cooking, DIY, craft, pet care, finances, health and a variety of other topics.
Each segment was a detailed parody of the sort of story you’d see on the likes of Better Homes and Gardens, right down to the camera angles and the adult contemporary music stings, which was played perfectly straight by the cast. Rachel Coopes as Sigourney had a grim determination to cheerfully tackle whichever pointless craft project the producers threw at her, while Brendan Cowell’s Todd was an amalgam of every actor who’d ever picked up a hammer and tried to look appropriately blokey in front of a camera.
These perverted re-imaginings of Noni Hazelhurst and John Jarrett often presented the darker and more satirical segments, such as suggesting ways to exploit refugees or showing how you can cover up the black eye your partner has given you with make-up. Meanwhile Dr Rudi was giving advice to drug dealers on how to cut coke and keep your customers happy, and Penne was showing you how to knock off your neighbours’ telly and get away with it. Full Frontal this was not.
A few years later this sort of comedy would have caused OUTRAGE in the Murdoch tabloids, but in those mid-Howard era days of 2001-2003 no one really cared. Comedies like this were so obviously for an audience of annoyed youngsters who hated the government that it was largely left alone. Even John Safran’s 3AW ecstasy tablets prank, made around the same time and also aired on SBS, didn’t cause much concern (outside the confines of the 3AW studios).
Sure, it was the sort of comedy you could describe as “undergraduate”, but with a writer’s room populated by the likes of John Eastway (The Norman Gunston Show, Denton, Australian You’re Standing In It), Kevin Brumpton (CNNNN, The Jesters) and Angus Fitzsimmons (CNNNN, The Joy of Sets) there was a level of quality about this show. As we recall, Life Support did get a bit repetitive towards the end of its run – try as hard as you like, but there’s only so many ways you can parody a lifestyle show segment – but we were kinda surprised by how well this has stood the test of time.