It’s difficult to pin down exactly why season 2 of The Ex-PM didn’t explode like a comedy bouncing bomb, unleashing a tidal wave of comedy that swept away all before it. It really should have: Shaun Micallef is Shaun Micallef, the rest of the cast weren’t too shabby either, the set-up was a lot tighter after the wobbly wanderings of season one and the whole package was, as they say in wrestling, the total package. Concept-wise, it’s five stars from us.
The word that came to mind upon watching the finished product was “polished”. The final episode wrapped up all the mysteries nicely, gave everyone a few decent comedy moments, had a solid political point that we can all get behind and threw in a rousing speech from Dugdale that ended with him holding a V for Vendetta mask in a very funny, out of almost nowhere pop culture reference. Not to mention you can’t go wrong with the tried-and-true end credit “here’s where they all ended up” bit.
(plus putting “For John” in the credits did bring a tear to the eye. John Clarke wasn’t a huge part of this show, but it was always a joy to see him scheming away)
And yet while the end result was definitely good, it probably should have been better. It was hard not to come away feeling that while the show had a great cast, it never really took full advantage of them. For one thing, Micallef was usually playing it straight; why? Okay, because he looks like a leading man and the show was structured to have him as the seemingly rational center around which craziness revolved-
-well no; obviously the initial idea back in season one was to have his biographer as the sane one while Dugdale and family would all be off-kilter. But when you have Micallef facing off against an unknown actor who is good but not Micallef-level good, it’s not surprising that the focus swiftly shifted to making him the center of things.
But having him largely playing the straight man was a waste of one of the funniest performers on Australian television, while having him play a character somewhat out of the loop – he was surrounded by various schemers manipulating him even when he had his own agenda – meant that he wasn’t driving the plot. This kind of thing worked on Frontline because while Mike Moore was a dim bulb, he was the whole focus of the show: here while the aim was to get Dugdale elected, which often meant having him do and say as little as possible.
We’ve mentioned before that we’re big fans of Micallef’s previous sitcom, Welcher & Welcher, and in part that’s because there Micallef got the structure right: he played the central character whose schemes and scams drove the story, while his grounded wife (Robyn Butler) was the foil and his sidekick (Francis Greenslade) aided and abetted him. But in The Ex-PM he played a largely straight character at the mercy of others, a man who was funny but not stand-out funny in a story that had plenty of good lines and funny characters but not all that many classic situations.
Look, a Micallef-led sitcom is always going to be in the top three comedy events of the year simply because he’s a very funny man with great taste in collaborators. If the ABC announced that another three seasons of The Ex-PM had already been booked in, there’d be no complaints from us. But compared with Micallef’s other output, this was a solid B+. And there aren’t enough people capable of making A-grade material around for us to be fully happy with that.