Okay, so this is a show where a comedian takes a bunch of terminally ill people out to the Hunter Valley to do a bunch of wine tastings, ride around in a balloon, and talk about how they’re going to die. Good times!
We’re not big fans of shows like Australian Story because we have enough sad stories of our own to tell – “remember the time we had to watch all of Angry Boys?” *breaks down in tears* – but we’re going to guess it’s pretty much this kind of thing where people talk about how they deal with their horrible situation for the “entertainment” of the viewers.
What we’re also guessing is that Australian Story doesn’t feature occasional cut-aways to Harley Breen delivering a stand-up comedy set based on what he’s learnt from hanging out with these terminally ill people. That’s the big hook with Taboo – that out of a group of people’s extreme (and let’s be honest, somewhat grim, in week one at least) situations we’re going to get a bunch of comedy.
So do we? Naaaaaah.
A large, large chunk of this show is all about hanging out with the various terminally ill people and checking out how they live their lives – lots of drugs, obviously, but also lots of sad music and people on the brink of tears as they come face to face with their mortality in a way many of us never quite get around to – which is perfectly valid for a TV show but again, where’s the comedy?
It’s not that there aren’t laughs to be had here – probably not with the mum who mentions her husband also has (a lesser) cancer, but each to their own. It’s more that because this show is coming from a place of respect (there’s never the slightest chance that anyone will think this is a show that’s laughing at the subjects rather than with them) the comedy is always going to be firmly on the safe side of the street.
Of course, there are loads of mild quips about them dying: that’s the whole point of them being on the show. And realistically, the producers have found four people with fairly open attitudes to their illness; this is not a show where Harley Breen desperately tries to get a laugh out of someone in denial, or sobbing uncontrollably, or filled with rage at the world. These are terminally ill people it’s safe to invite into your homes. They’re not going to kick a hole in the wall or piss on your kids while shouting that it’s unfair that they have to die while you get to live.
And this niceness seeps into what comedy there is on Taboo. When it turns out that one of the patients actually had botched lung surgery (the doctor fucked up and cut out a healthy chunk of lung by mistake), you’d think that might make for a good joke. But no: instead we get jokes about how she has “butthole cancer” because “it has a real ring to it”. Did you really need to spend a weekend with a dying cancer patient for that one?
(okay, the bit where one of the dying guys wants a plaster cast made of his dick so when his partner finds someone after he’s gone she can use it to fuck the new guy was pretty good)
Overall, this is too nice to really get down to the kind of nitty gritty that makes for good comedy. What’s left is yet another Australian television show where a wafer-thin pretext (hey, let’s do some painting! Or drive around to your old house!) is wheeled out so a “regular guy” host* can just hang out with some people with a story to tell. They seem like nice people; their stories are often moving. But where’s the laughs?
“Not everything in life is funny” says Breen towards the end of the first episode. No shit; it’d just be nice if more of this show was.
*obviously the real way to make this kind of show actually funny is to let the subjects tell jokes about themselves, and the moments where these guys do just that are pretty much the comedy high points here. But if Ten made a show that was just dying people making quality jokes about themselves there’s a chance that might be a little too much for mainstream Australia to cope with, so best to have a professional on hand to sand the rough edges well and truly off.