The reviews are in, and the verdict is clear: Chris Lilley ain’t funny. But don’t take our word for it:
“…as we delve further and further into the life of Gran and her distant grandchildren, the hick yobs Daniel and Nathan Sims from We Can Be Heroes who also take up much of tonight’s episode, two things happen: the laugh-out-loud moments become fewer and farther between and the parallel stories of unfulfilled, short-changed lives begin to entwine”
[Paul Kalina, The Age Green Guide, Thursday May 5th]
“Summer Heights High is remembered chiefly for Ja’ime’s manifold outrages, but it was the heartbreaking fate of Jonah that raised it from comedy to something so much more. Those same elements are playing out here”
[Melinda Huston, The Sunday Age M Magazine, May 8th]
“Though his comedic talents loom large, he also has the capacity to weave seamlessly into his work plot lines that are confrontational or heart-wrenching”
[Darren Devlyn, Herald-Sun Switched On supplement, May 4th]
“Ricky Gervais does The Castle“, which means shithouse.
[A reviewer known to Team Tumbleweeds, quoted over the weekend]
“So what,” you might ask – presumably because you’d much rather talk about what the hell Huston means about raising something to be “so much more” than comedy (what, there’s an actual ranking scale of quality? A shithouse drama still means “so much more” than an excellent comedy?) – haven’t you ever heard of “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry”? And yeah, good point. You’re still wrong though.
Australian television critics are not subtle creatures. Their reviews, especially of locally-made shows, aren’t nuanced. If a show is not described along the lines of “hands down the most impressive debut /return of the year”, it’s almost certainly fatally flawed. So the trick is to focus on the negatives; if they rate the tiniest mention in the review, they’re certain to be glaring in the actual show.
So it’s good to see that our initial opinion of Angry Boys – that it’s Lilley basically disappearing even further up his own arse, indulging his penchant for trite drama and heavy-handed character moments over, you know, being funny – has largely been confirmed by the first wave of reviews. Of course, they haven’t actually dared to say it’s no damn good. But when you’re describing a comedy series and you actually say “laugh-out-loud moments become fewer and farther between”, what other conclusion could you draw?
Chris Lilley seems to have managed to create a wondrous new category for his work: unfunny comedy. Not for him the burden of having to make the audience laugh on anything like a regular basis; in fact, his inability / lack of interest in doing so is magically now a plus. Instead of being asked “where’s the jokes” by critics, he gets the thumbs up for creating a kak-handed soap opera featuring the kind of “drama” that’d be laughed off Neighbours, all the praise seemingly solely because he’s the one playing all the roles. So there are no 60 year old female actors in the country? No teenage male actors? No-one could play these characters as well as Lilley does?
Of course they could. Lilley is an extremely talented performer, but if he wants to make straight drama – and after the end of the very first episode Angry Boys is already going harder for the tears than all but the sappiest moments of Summer Heights High – maybe he should make room for some other cast members occasionally. After all, on the one hand he wants us to take his characters completely seriously, while on the other… well, one’s him in a dress bunging on an accent.
The problem with all the reviews praising Lilley’s serious character work is that he doesn’t bring anything at all to the table by playing all the characters himself. There’s never even the most obvious “we’re all the same under the skin” kind of justification for why he is the only person who can play these now largely serious characters. Did anyone watch, say, the recent Hawke telemovie thinking “this’d be much better if the same actor played all the lead roles”?
These reviews are simply pointing out what’s obvious: Lilley, and Angry Boys as a whole, simply isn’t that funny. Just because it’s a path he’s consciously chosen to go down doesn’t mean he’s automatically a success for doing so. The ABC must have their fingers crossed very tightly indeed hoping that audiences will stay interested in an unfunny comedy for three whole months…
Meanwhile, here at Tumbleweed central we’re more interested in how Lilley’s producer Laura Waters told the Green Guide with a straight face that “I marvel at anybody sitting down by themselves and writing a 12-part series” when a): all the initial publicity said Angry Boys was 10 parts and b): Lilley’s writing largely consists of him improv’ing scene after scene in front of the cameras. After all, it wasn’t exactly hard to spot the two episodes of 6-expanded-to-8-part-series Summer Heights High patched together from scenes the improv-crazy Lilley simply couldn’t bear to lose…