Still the One

“Did you miss me?”

“Like an STD.”

“I love those cars!”

Oh, comedy on Channel Nine, how we’ve missed you. Okay, maybe we’ve really just missed the idea of comedy on Channel Nine – the thrilling possibility of humour that’s as broad as the side of a bus and yet also somehow maybe mildly funny. So the news that Nine was going to put two new comedy shows on back-to-back was about as close to exciting as it gets in an area where the career moves of Tom Gleeson and Luke McGregor are eagerly examined by… well, us mostly.

Of course, this wasn’t as risky a move as it first seemed: one of those shows was the returning Here Comes the Habibs, which we’re able to report is pretty much unchanged from last year. Comedy fans who felt the work of Paul Fenech was on the right track but a little bit too crude to show to the oldies, rejoice: once again you have a show that’s not really racist (but certainly feels like it could be) to share with your loved ones.

Actually “kind of not racist but maybe” was a bit of a theme of this first night, as before Here Comes the Habibs we had the premiere episode of True Story with Hamish & Andy, a show that requires a little bit of explanation: each week H&A will sit down with a member of the general public who will proceed to tell a story about something that happened to them that was (hopefully) funny, like an in-person radio talkback segment.

That’s not enough to hang a television show on, so interspersed with the Hamish & Andy chat show scenes we get a re-enactment of their story, like an extended comedy sketch illustrating (and also at some points clearly making up) other details beyond the core story that’s being told. It’s a fairly complicated set-up (especially if you’re not familiar with shows like Drunk History) but it doesn’t take long to settle into, and Hamish & Andy have been doing this for close to a decade now so they know all the angles to bring up to wring extra laughs out of the tale.

This first episode involved a woman on a trip to Hong Kong with her family who ended up being invited to a dinner much fancier than they expected. Fifty dollar rotten eggs that they felt duty-bound to eat aren’t the half of it: this is the kind of rock-solid comedy anecdote you could dine out on (zing) for years, and it’s a great episode as far as establishing the concept goes.

That said, while this episode makes sure to make it clear that the stuff-ups are all on the Australian’s side and the re-enactment doubles down on this (see the “I’m a guest here” joke)… the over-arching joke is that foreigners aren’t like us, even when we’re the ones getting it all wrong. Culture clash comedy is increasingly tricky to get right, and while this manages it – vomit is the international language of comedy, after all, and these Australians really do disgrace themselves – there’s still a few moments where it feels like things could go the wrong way, which is not really a tone you want in a comedy in 2017.

But our prudish PC quams aside, this was… pretty good? Sure, this week was vomit jokes and next week looks like stiffy gags but the story-telling was strong (we’re guessing these are tales the owners have polished over years of re-telling), Hamish & Andy know which bits to build on and which parts to gloss over, and the re-enactment side of things was silly enough to give the story the spark it needed to work on television. If they keep making it, we’ll keep watching – and it looks like they’ll keep making it for some time yet:

As for Here Comes the Habibs season two, it pretty much picked up from where last season left off – obvious jokes, broad characters, middling storylines… oh right, the actual storylines: okay, the young couple going against their family’s wishes have graduated to secret pants-down action, the rich jerks are trying to buy back their house by selling all their unloved Anzaclava biscuits to the UN to feed refugees, and when the Lebanese family’s son returns home from his mountain-climbing pilgrimage he might as well be tugging on his collar to signal just how awkward his dad’s “now you are a man” speech is. No prizes for guessing how that pans out. Okay, the Ebola quarantine twist was kind of a surprise.

To be blunt, there’s no prizes for guessing the results of much of anything going on here. The idea of having everyone trapped together isn’t exactly subtle but at least it does generate a few half-arsed comedy scenarios (largely about having to go without water, mobile phones, electricity, etc) which it proceeds to drag out well past their use-by date. We’re guessing someone somewhere still finds the stale idea of “oh no, we have to loudly shout nonsense to make the people in the next room think we’re having awesome sex” hilarious, but even the liberal use of wizard metaphors didn’t do it for us.

In fact, the only interesting thing here was the way the writers have written themselves into a hole that’s damaging the show. The basic idea behind most sitcoms is “a bunch of people who don’t really like each other but are stuck with each other”, but here it’s clear that the method of keeping them stuck together (them being neighbours) just isn’t working – these days if you hate your neighbours (and live in a fucking massive mansion) you just ignore them, end of story. So this week it required an ebola quarantine to keep them together, next week they have to join forces against a common enemy, and so on – if your sitcom has to spend a chunk of time each week forcing everyone to be together, that’s time wasted. It’s like if, say, The Office had to spend three minutes each week coming up with a new pointless reason why all these people were in a building together when they clearly don’t get along.

No wonder this kind of thing is going on:

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