With Wilfred drawing to a close on SBS, and Lowdown just started on the ABC, Adam Zwar seems to be the dominant force in sitcoms right now. But at least with Lowdown he’s produced something which isn’t too bad; this is not like Wilfred – all atmosphere, no laughs – but a more conventional sitcom, with running jokes, over-the-top performances and farcical situations.
None of these features sound like positives, particularly in the current climate, but they are. A sitcom’s main purpose is to make you laugh, it can also satirise, make you cry, or be entertaining in other ways, but making you laugh should be its main purpose. So it’s kinda interesting to see a more traditional, gags-based, approach in Lowdown.
Not that there aren’t plenty of problems with the show. Judging by episode 2, which was slipped my way recently, every episode will be kinda the same: Alex has to interview an arrogant celeb who won’t talk about any of the topics that would make really great copy, meanwhile, he thinks he’s developed a medical condition and needs to see Dr James, and he’s just walked in on his girlfriend rooting someone famous (although, to be fair, there’s a bit of a twist on this in episode 2) – so any hope you had of Lowdown satirising lots of different aspects of tabloid celebrity journalism, in the way that Frontline did with TV current affairs, you can forget.
But then again, are there really that many aspects of tabloid celebrity journalism apart from interviews and appearances heavily stage-managed by publicists, pants-down gotchas, and ex-lovers or prostitutes telling “their story”? And aren’t people pretty cynical about them anyway? In that context, those comparing this to Frontline weren’t really being fair. Lowdown isn’t a satire, it’s not trying to be and the all the marketing stated very clearly that it wasn’t. “Our goal has always been to make this show very sympathetic towards journalists, instead of a cliche. We’re on their side”, Zwar told TV Tonight recently. This is not like tuning in to the The Hollowmen and sitting stony-faced in front of half an hour of observations you’d already observed, or tuning in to the The Jesters expecting that it really would be a “satire about satirists”. Lowdown is a depiction, not a satire. (It’s also not a “celebration”, for which we can also be extremely grateful.)
Also coming in for much criticism was the use of a narrator. As in Arrested Development, the narration in Lowdown acts as both a framing device and a way of driving the plot forward; it’s used fairly sparingly throughout the show, and is an efficient way of cramming in more set-ups and gags. What was the problem with it, again?
Don’t get me wrong, Lowdown isn’t a great sitcom and I’m only prepared to defend it up to a point. In an ideal world, a show at this level of competence would be one of the worst you’d get in an Australian sitcom. It’s a bit limited in terms of the subjects it can cover and for a gags-based show there weren’t enough gags, but on the plus side Lowdown wasn’t one of those shows that was trying desperately to be trendy or edgy or arty, and there were enough laughs and good performances to make this an entertaining and watchable show. So, I’m going to keep watching.