Laid would probably work if it was a movie. You wouldn’t pay to go see it, of course, but when it works it works in roughly the same way as a reasonably competent Australian independent film does – think The Rage in Placid Lake or The Illustrated Family Doctor (not that anyone paid to see them either). Even the plot would work better as a movie: 29 year-old market researcher Roo (Allison Bell) discovers that all her ex-lovers are dying… and that’s pretty much it for episode one.
[obviously, SPOILERS FROM HERE ON]
In a movie, a quirky concept like that is good enough: once you’ve got the audience’s money, you can take your sweet time getting around to having something happen. On television though, you need to give the viewer a reason to come back: for a comedy that’s as plot-driven as this one (it’s not like anyone seriously watched Kath & Kim or The Librarians wanting to see how things turned out), the plot’s pretty thin. Episode two: more ex’s die, Roo thinks about a guy she likes. Episode three: even more ex’s die, Roo goes on a half-arsed date with that guy she likes. Oooo-kay.
The crawling plot wouldn’t matter in the slightest if there was anything funny going on in the meantime. But Laid is too cool to want to make you laugh. The trouble with this whole “realistic’ shit in comedy is that in the real world people actually know when they’re trying to be funny and they sell the joke in all manner of ways: when your cast just says everything in a deadpan fashion, it doesn’t make already weak dialogue “more realistic” – it just makes it less funny. And trust us, less funny is not what this show needs.
Part of the trouble is that the show is built around a concept that really needs serious work to make funny. Let’s say it again: our average gal lead discovers that her ex-lovers are dying one by one. In a crazy, over-the-top cartoony sitcom this could work. Laid though, is deadpan realism. So when one ex gets hit by a car in episode one, his body lands on a windshield with a sickening thud and a spray of blood. A similar accident in the most recent season of Curb Your Enthusiasm was hilarious, because that show is basically a cartoon about a grumpy old man. Laid is an underplayed story about a seemingly decent young woman; this shit isn’t funny at all.
But let’s get down to specifics here: for those looking for a definition of “ham-fisted” when it comes to comedy, look no further than the first episode’s funeral scene, where Roo – who’s been cracking wise about what a dud root the first dead ex was – turns up only to discover he was obsessed with her as “the one who got away”.
Presumably all this is meant to be one of those Curb Your Enthusiasm-style awkward moments – she’s been making fun of him, he really cared about her, ooh, you’d really feel out of place there, right? No. No, you’d feel awesome. You’re at the funeral of someone you barely remembered and everyone there is telling you how amazing you were and what a massive impact you had on the dead guy. Isn’t that what you’d go to a funeral like that to hear? More importantly, how is being told you’re great funny?
It’s not like they’re telling her “after you dumped him he went insane / became a nazi / turned into a hippie – so we hate you”. That would actually be awkward – instead it’s “you were so amazing, he never stopped talking about you, you’re the one who got away” awkward, which is basically a bunch of flattery. Flattery can be funny, when it’s a douchebag character being flattered. Whatever her many, many flaws tho, Roo ain’t a douchebag.
And then we meet the dead guy’s most recent ex. And a character actually has to say “you two really look alike”, because the joke – that the dead guy only dated girls who looked like Roo – doesn’t work because a): Roo just looks average and b): they cast someone who doesn’t really look much like Alison Bell anyway.
See, this is why we’ve been taking a swing at all the positive reviews Laid’s been getting. Sure, the show has some good points – it’s well directed and looks polished, not that any of that makes a comedy funny – but when it’s praised for somehow being above cheap humour what they really mean is that it tries for cheap humour and fails. This is a show that features both the clumsy answering machine message (a staple of comedy since answering machines were invented) and then plays mournful tinkling piano music over the news of another death. That’s not a show taking comedy to the next level: that’s a show that only vaguely knows what comedy is.
Even the character of Roo doesn’t work. Despite the Ricky Gervais vocal stylings, she’s meant to be this decent, slightly befuddled character (which does mean that if you based a drinking game on every time Bell pulls her ‘rear back / blink rapidly’ face you’ll be unconscious at the 20 minute mark), but her actual actions are kind of harsh. Pretty much all she does in episode one is make fun of a dead guy and try to pick up his mate at the funeral, which in most people’s eyes would kind of make you a douchebag.
So the show then has two scenes where people call her out on her shitty actions: her workmates aren’t impressed by her jokes about the dead guy, and the mate she’s trying to pick up tells her to back off. But wait – her workmates are unfunny tools, and the mate ends up calling her a “fucking slut”. So clearly only nasty idiots think that she’s been acting badly, right? And you don’t want to be one of those, do you?
Let’s spell it out for those thinking this is some kind of “next level” comedy: Roo’s meant to be a quiet, slightly awkward, smart hipster chick. Then she tries to pick up a guy at a funeral. You know who does that? The Charlie Sheen character on Two & A Half Men. Guess what she does in episode two? Gets drunk and sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend – who’s camped out the front trying to win the best friend back. You know who does that? The Charlie Sheen character on Two & A Half Men.
Having her act like Charlie Sheen would actually make this into a better show if it would just own it and make her someone who consciously casually uses men for sex. Imagine, if you will, a gender-reversed version – let’s call it “Dead Root”, about a guy who discovers all his old girlfriends were dying. You wouldn’t make the guy a sweet, nerdy type because that’d be kind of lame and creepy in a comedy– you’d make him at least a little bit of a sexist jerk. That’s because then the story would have a point – at the end he’d have learnt to value his sexual relationships a little bit more. You’d even maybe say the whole thing was a metaphor for how, after he slept with a woman and got what he wanted, she was “dead to him”. It’d actually be a bit of a feminist tale really, showing a guy waking up to the fact that women are people too. And he could even try to get a root at a funeral.
So why not do it here? It’s not like women don’t like casual sex, or that they don’t hump’n dump people on occasion. And this is meant to be a comedy – the one genre in Australia where you can have an unlikable female lead (look at Kath & Kim and The Librarians). But we don’t get that. We get a woman who we’re supposed to like and identify with whose big dramatic problem only affects her ability to get a boyfriend – every other aspect of her life is completely unaffected (or even improved – a job as an untraceable hit-woman awaits!) .
You know the Bechdel test, where the gauge of an artistic works’ level of objectification of women is whether it features two women having a conversation with each other that isn’t about men? Every single scene in this show fails that test. The entire show is entirely about her ability to get a man. Sure, she says and does other things. But they’re secondary to the point of the show, which is about a woman who’s exes are dying one by one – and if she doesn’t figure out why, she’ll never be able to have a safe relationship again. Oh dear God no.
No doubt Laid will be praised by many – oh hang on, it already has been – largely on the basis that it’s not in your face about trying to be funny. Those people presumably think that random pop culture references, realistic art direction and a surreal central concept make a lightweight drama series “comedy”. For those who think a comedy should make you laugh, however, may we suggest… well, pretty much anything else.