Vale Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey

Tonight sees the final episode of Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey, and what have we learnt? For starters, it’s now impossible to put a show on television that doesn’t start off with a reminder about previous episodes. What was all that about? Sure, it’s a journey, but it’s not like each step built on the previous one, so… oh wait, the show didn’t actually have an opening credits sequence (just a title card), so these “previously, on…” moments clearly took their place. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

Tonight’s episode sees Lucy off to India in search of enlightenment, cheap plastic surgery (not really) and a footpath where she won’t be blocking some guy on a scooter. As with the series as a whole, the episode is split between Judith’s gag-heavy, somewhat distant voice-over and her actual experiences on the ground, which are much more immediate and affecting. She’s still a great interviewer, willing to listen to her subjects’ answers and then build on them: if nothing else, ABC radio should snatch her up for a regular gig pronto.

Lucy’s best-selling autobiography from a few years back The Lucy Family Alphabet either created or revealed a solid fanbase of people interested in Lucy’s quest for personal growth, so it’s hardly surprising that this series has pretty firmly gone down that path. It does mean though that those of us more interested in her comedy have been slightly… disappointed isn’t the right word, as the series as a whole has been far from disappointing. But there’s a lot of totally straight travelogue material in this episode as Lucy tours India and much of it, while interesting, isn’t funny.

Nor is it meant to be, of course, and much of the strength of this series has come from seeing someone whose first response to pretty much anything is to crack a gag push past that impulse and take things seriously. Seeing her authentically moved by giving an offering to the Ganges river isn’t exactly thigh-slapping stuff, but it is part of what makes Spiritual Journey worthwhile television.

Not that we care about any of that mystical touchy feely crap here. No, we’re all about the laffs. Which is why it’s only fair to point out that, unlike the fairly even balance of the preceding episodes, this one’s mostly on the serious side. Even Judith’s final summing-up (as she returns to the breakaway Catholic Church seen in episode one to deliver the homily) leans a little more on what all this exploring has meant to her and a little less on busting out the gags. She does get one “Zing!” (and accompanying trademark fist-pump) in there, so it’s hardly a dead loss though.

While Lucy never quite manages to integrate the comedy with her spiritual explorations – largely because she treats the spiritual side of things with actual respect, which makes her a much more likable person (by virtue of not going around making fun of people) but does cut off most of the obvious comedy angles – that’s not to say the series has been all sturm und drang. The funny stuff has, for the most part, been very funny (that commercial radio support group sketch is probably going to be the comedy highlight of Australian television in 2011) while the serious stuff has mostly only been serious in comparison to the sanitary pad gags.

While it’s part of the seemingly unending trend towards “let’s get comedians to explore issues” programming, Spiritual Journey has been a show that only Lucy* could have made. She’s interested enough in spirituality to have actual questions she wanted answered, and she’s level-headed enough to get in a bunch of jokes around the edges. If it’s turned out to be heavier on the spiritual side of things, it’s not like Lucy isn’t funny or endearing or intelligent enough to bring it all together into an interesting whole. Hell, she was pole-dancing in a nun’s costume; you’re not going to get that on Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year.

*Ok, and John Safran. Though Safran would have made it just as much about his ex-girlfriends as spirituality and had his exes on and then gone in a couple of mildly unsettling directions. Lucy may have slept with a prostitute and made it part of her act, but she’s always kept her personal relationships (aside from the one with her deceased step-parents) off-limits.

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