If you wanted to make an Australian television drama, or a soap opera, or a current affairs program, or a reality series about car repairs – basically, pretty much anything that isn’t a comedy – you probably wouldn’t go out and make a short film first. Somewhere down the line you’d shoot a pilot or three, but that’d come later: making a short film right at the start as part of your pitch would be kind of pointless because for any kind of on-going program it doesn’t really tell you anything particularly useful. “Ok, that works,” says your producer, “what do you do next episode?”
And yet, while no-one was paying attention, making a short film first has become pretty much the only way to get new scripted comedy up and running in Australia. Beached Az, Wilfred, and now Review with Myles Barlow: all started life as one-offs (though in Review’s case, a series was always the dream).
There’s an obvious upside for the networks: a short film or series of webisodes is a solid way to prove a concept works without sinking big money into production costs. It’s also a good way for newcomers to prove they can actually make something akin to a television show.
But almost by definition, what works as a short film is going to feel a little thin when stretched out over a six- or eight- hour television series. When you get to series two, that ten minute’s worth of concept is going to look seriously frayed at the edges.
Which brings us to Review. The concept is a good one, if slight: Myles Barlow (Phil Lloyd) is a reviewer who reviews the unreviewable – emotions, dangerous situations, life in general. As a running sketch on a show like Full Frontal it’d work fine. Across six half hour episodes though, the first series felt a bit hit and miss (especially as the show tends towards the “dark” side of the comedy street: things rarely work out for Myles). Now there’s a second series, and the concept has well and truly been run into the ground.
As is usually the way, technically the second series is a step up. A bigger budget means overseas locations, a bunch of b-list cameos (often sending themselves up, which is fun) and a generally bigger feel to Barlow’s adventures as he roadtests things like “Imitation”, “Celebrity” and “Cult”. The segments themselves stand up well in comparison to the ones in the first series, with no noticeable drop-off in quality as far as writing or performances go. But it’s the same joke. We get it. We got it the first time.
There’s the occasional moment where the creative team (Lloyd and co-writer / director Trent O’Donnell) try to break out of the format’s confines. There’s a tiny bit more continuity for one thing (though the swapping of episodes three and four suggests viewers shouldn’t look closely for any kind of character arc here). But changing Myles or the format in any major way would ruin the joke, so don’t expect anything surprising or new.
What’s really disappointing is that O’Donnell and Lloyd, much like Wilfred’s Adam Zwar and Jason Gann, clearly are capable of doing something different – something bigger, something more challenging, something funnier – instead of just repeating themselves with a second season of their first effort. Yeah, there’s plenty of reasons why bringing back a name series makes sense. Maybe even the creators themselves felt they had more stuff they wanted to say. But returning to a format that was looking worn the first time around doesn’t make good television, and all their good work here can’t help but fall a little flat.