Well, Sam Simmons finally got to do a long riff about an animal, so clearly Squinters has run out of material with an episode and a half to go. Then again, this is a show that serves up pearlers like “Aah fuck, ya roses have punctured one of me sex dolls”, so Simmons delivering one of his trademark word salads about how his dog is like a pirate is a high water mark.
Five episodes in and this show couldn’t be more constrained if it was broadcast live from a coffin. We’re not just talking about the way close to nothing happened for the first four episodes then suddenly everyone had big important developments, because that’s just regular lazy sitcom writing. Guys, if we’ve watched five episodes, we don’t need shitty cliffhangers to get us back one final time.
Squinters might have “developed” from shows like No Activity and Car Share, but those were shows based on characters we’d spend the entire episode with. Turning the idea of car chat comedy into an ensemble show creates a very weird format if you think about it, which clearly producers Jungle didn’t: it’s a sketch show where all the sketches are basically the same, a character based comedy where the characters are barely two dimensional, a story-driven comedy where each story barely gets five minutes an episode and half of that has to be recap. Also: not all that funny.
Here’s a bet for you: we reckon if you showed up on the doorstep of the ABC Comedy Department with a script that featured extended discussions of dog’s balls, car air-conditioning, sex robots as “dildo’s with faces” and someone leaving a string of increasingly awkward answering machine messages in a joke that was only ever funny in the twenty year-old movie Swingers, you would not be given the green light to make a six episode half-hour sitcom. And yet, Squinters. Why?
The obvious answer – to the slightly more cynically minded at least – is that the short segment format allowed the producers to bring in some big crowd-pleasing names that otherwise wouldn’t commit to a more traditional (read: lengthy) sitcom filming schedule. Fair enough: who are these big names again? Sam Simmons and Tim Minchin aren’t exactly Hamish & Andy, let alone Hughsie & Kate or Kyle & Jackie O. If you’re going with a laugh-free format because it’s going to bring in the big names, you actually need to bring in the big names – not deliver a couple of comedy performers whose mainstream Australian appeal peaked five years ago.
What’s frustrating about Squinters isn’t that it’s not all that funny: that’s most Australian comedy and yes, we have seen the advertisements for Sando. It’s the feeling that whatever the producers were aiming for, “funny” wasn’t it. They went with an almost intentionally unfunny format so they could bring in the big names, then failed to bring in the big names. Why again was half of this filmed in LA? Oh that’s right: big names. Who were they again?
Obviously both Sam Simmons and Tim Minchin – plus Jacki Weaver in a brief cameo – are comedy performers people have heard of. But they’re not big enough names to carry a show when they’re only in the show for a combined total of seven or eight minutes an episode. It’s great that they’re on our screens, but when the format was designed almost entirely around them, we’re not exactly getting value for money here. And while everyone else here is good, they’d be better in a show that wasn’t this show, because this show was made so a couple of big names could film all their scenes in a day or two.
Presumably Squinters 2: Still Squinting will star Adam Hills and Jim Jefferies for 30 seconds each week. Good news: they’ll still be front and center on all the promo material.