The International Brigade

The stand-out pilot in last year’s Comedy Showcase was undoubtedly Ronny Chieng International Student, in which first-year Malaysian law student Ronny falls in with a group of fellow Asian students and local girl Asher, and together they try to navigate their way through a minefield of crazy lecturers, equally crazy students, and Aussie traditions they know nothing about. Happily, the first two episodes have been as funny as the pilot was, and on this evidence, this will be a memorable and hilarious series.

Joining the established group of residents at International House is douchey-but-loveable American student Craig, who after almost destroying their shared accommodation with his mega party in episode 1 has quickly been assimilated into the group.

What we particularly like about this series is that every character, from relatively important ones like Craig to the aggressive guy in the IT shop or Professor Dale’s ex-wife Joy-Anne, have well-defined, laugh-generating personalities and dialogue. Even student administrator Mrs Ford, who could simply have been written as a stock standard, world-weary authority figure, is instead a hilarious creation, endlessly flipping through her folder containing the student rulebook, each page of which is encased in its own individual plastic pocket and annotated with a Post-It note.

Compare this to the supporting characters in many other recent ABC sitcoms, from Please Like Me to Chris Lilley’s various shows, who had almost no defining characteristics. Writing comedy is about getting the details right, and it’s no wonder this is a much funnier series.

This series, written as it is by a Malaysian and an Australia, also gives us the rare opportunity to laugh at both ourselves and other cultures in a way that doesn’t disrespect either. This isn’t like Jonah From Tonga, where the joke – whatever it was – seemed to be on non-white Australians. In Ronny Chieng International Student the joke is on everyone. And in a world where people are demanding both dignity and equal rights for all and the right to insult whoever they want, this is the only Australian sitcom that we can think of that’s achieved both. Which is a huge achievement.

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