Back in Very Small Business should get back to Very Small Business

Three episodes in and we’re increasingly unsure about Back in Very Small Business, the reimagining of the brilliant 2008 sitcom Very Small Business.

The original, largely a two-hander between Don Angel (Wayne Hope) and Ray Leonard Leonard (Kim Gyngell), was an “odd couple” comedy, in which insensitive, boorish, “Howard battler” Angel owned and operated a number of dodgy small businesses from a suburban business park, with the assistance of Leonard.

Very Small Business

A former political journalist for The Australian, Leonard takes a job with Don because he needs the money after six years on sick leave following a breakdown. Within minutes, he finds himself writing advertorial copy for Don’s stable of niche publications – Railway Union Monthly, Footy Inquest, Lower Croydon News, Feelin’ Great and Music Music Music Music (it was supposed to be Music Music Music but the printer added one too many musics) – and despite being better than this as a writer, he throws himself into churning out 250-word “stories” about brass instruments, vanity units and adult products. Leonard reading out these flowery and often over-intellectual pieces, deadpan, was often the highlight of each episode.

If only there were scenes as funny as those in Back in Very Small Business because somehow it feels a less hilarious show. Partly it’s the introduction of a large cast of regular characters, who haven’t yet established their comic persona, and partly it’s because Angel’s World Wide Business Group seems reasonably successful in 2018, at least compared to 2008 when Angel personally worked the phones for all his magazines, as well as operating some vending machines and a chicken and chip shop.

In Very Small Business, the laughs often came from Don’s desperation to make a sale by any means (often very bullshit means), whereas in Back in Very Small Business Don seems to have (mostly) worked it out. His copycat furniture and novelty products sell well, people are buying franchises of Don’s Dirty Dog Wash (a business he was inspired to start in Very Small Business), his team have developed a hit new fashion belt and his daughter Sam (Molly Daniels) has just signed-up a high-profile Instagram celebrity to their online influencer company.

There have been some problems, children have been eating Don’s novelty pineapple-scented rubbers (prompting an ACCC investigation and legal action from the parents) and a footballer pulled out of an Instagram deal, but mostly it’s smooth sailing for the WWBG in 2018. Instead of the hatchback and rented flat of ten years ago, Don’s got a McMansion, he’s riding around in a top-of-the-range four-wheel drive, buying expensive (if awful) leather jackets and has a hot girlfriend. No wonder he’s not so funny anymore. Successful people aren’t funny…unless they stuff up in a funny way, which hopefully Don will do really soon.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, Back in Very Small Business is more a wacky dramedy than the laugh-packed sitcom it was a decade ago. And as an audience, we’re being asked to root for the characters rather than laugh at their stupidity. It’s perhaps more the kind of show that TV executives and mainstream audiences want, but it’s not what lovers of comedy want. We want scenes like the one in Very Small Business were Don gets off the phone, having sold a small ad in Footy Inquest, and says to Ray “God, I love small business, that is better than a root, better than the last one I had, anyway” with a look on his face like he’s achieved some kind of nirvana.

Sure, that sort of self-aggrandisement and business cliché-spouting is still a part of the show, but it seems to work less well, and be less the point of the show. Back in Very Small Business is more about plot than dialogue and character these days. So, if you’re looking for laughs, go find a copy of Very Small Business on DVD or watch this playlist on YouTube for some highlights from the series.

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6 Comments

  • Chris says:

    I agree in being disappointed in the revival. One of the great parts of the satire is that Don is this small timer who thinks he’s going to come out on top and it’s tall poppy syndrome those who try to stop his dodgy dealings because he thinks he’s this salt of the Earth businessman who are the backbone of the country. You can’t really go back and have a second series straight after the first because it sadly didn’t happen but part of me misses seeing this ten years of development between Don and Ray. You sort of see it in the new series where Ray has become more like Don and resigned to his life in the Worldwide Business Group but what was great in the first series was seeing that play out slowly. Now they’ve revived it ten years later they can’t start exactly where they left off which is more what I wanted to see.

  • andrew says:

    I don’t remember Very Small Business very well other than I remember that I enjoyed it. This show: not so much. Just seems to be much reliance on shouting swear words at each other which to me isn’t really that funny.

  • […] Good sitcoms can get laughs from their characters that aren’t “this person is an idiot due to their quirk/ethnicity”. And good sitcoms have plots that make sense, which occur or are enhanced by the characters. Back in Very Small Business was disappointing because it had neither of these. It felt like something that was made quickly without the makers thinking it through properly first. Like we said a few weeks back: go watch the original, it was heaps better. […]

  • Con Costa says:

    Read the above comments and ‘wow’have they missed the point. Angel finally finds the pathway to legitimacy. To have rehashed s1 is pointless. The business is maturing and so must the comedy interlaced with contemporary issues of the day. Everyone can identify with something and be gently introduced to unfamiliar territory. Great writing and insight. So many didn’t understand the depth of Mother and Son…. BIVSB has that potential to entertain and educate…. ABC don’t waste this opportunity.

  • Greg Gamble says:

    I agree with Con Costa. I thoroughly enjoyed BIVSB and was a fan of the first series a few years back. I think the second series shows that Don Angel has not changed much but he has broadened his business base and diversified. There are also some interesting characters in his employ, a geeky tax accountant and Ray’s transsexual son. Rachel Gordon is always delightful too. The sleaziness is still there in spades, Don’s questionable practices passed off as astute business acumen is ever present and there is some real creativity in the business names and how they play out. Like series one, some hilarious one liners and Don’s use of analogies in venting his exasperation at how red tape and bureaucracy thwarts his ability to make a buck as a small business owner at every turn. I was not disappointed at all with this second series. It retained the feel of the original but introduced some new characters. Admittedly, some are common stereotypes and a bit of a stretch but to make good comedy you must afford its creator a bit of creative licence. You know what, I would much prefer to watch these types of shows than the narcissistic, nasty, homogenised preponderance of reality shows on the mainstream commercial networks. Dog eat dog wannabees that we invite into our loungeroom. BIVSB was an entertaining way to spend 30 minutes each week. I was not necessarily rooting for Don to triumph; he is not the most likeable bloke. However, the rant he gave when his dirty dog wash vans were to be taken off the road and his rebranding was rejected was priceless. He even took a well intentioned swipe at Sir David Attenborough. As an aside, I was hugely disappointed with the dreary one-dimensional Squinters last year and have never been a massive fan of Upper Middle Bogan. It is ok but not essential. So I don’t support the negative reviews of BIVSB. It worked for mine

  • anthony says:

    i don,t know why so many reviewers were disapointed with back in a very small business. it,s a great comedy and portray businesses and families in a way that is rarely seen. (disfunctional and barely holding together). alot better than upper middle bogans and the librarians

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