Devil With a Blue Dress On

In these days of a thousand digital channel flowers blooming, repeating your programs as often as possible during the week of release is a sign of commitment. “This is a show we’re standing behind,” a repeat says, “this is a show we want to be seen by as many people as possible”. Whether it’s a Sunday night repeat of Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year, Ten’s short-lived late night repeats of The 7pm Project and 6.30 With George Negus or pretty much the entire ABC1 Wednesday night comedy line-up being repeated Thursdays on ABC2, coming back for more shows that a network really cares.

Which is probably why A Home With Julia isn’t being repeated. At all. One and its done.

At Home with Julia has been a bit of a rush job from the start, and while the stated reason is obvious – Julia Gillard might not be PM next week! We’ve got to get this on the air NOWWW!! – once you stop listening to the various political pundits doing their best impressions of a late 80s hip-hop act’s hype man, the likelihood of Julia getting the arse any time soon is fairly low. Ten’s running promos for Pre-Teen Masterchef (or whatever it’s called) featuring Gillard – they seem to be confident that she’ll be around for a few weeks yet.

So on the realistic side of the street, the ABC is probably rushing this “satire” to air now to cover a problem not in Parliament House, but in their own back yard: while a decade of Howard rule saw Auntie giving the Liberals a flogging with a wet lettuce leaf via The Glasshouse and The Chaser’s War on Everything, four years of Labor rule has seen… perhaps Laid was a savage indictment of left-wing sexual politics? Okay, perhaps not.

Having done bugger-all in terms of actual political “comedy” since Labor came to power, and with Labor power looking extremely shaky in the medium term, the ABC’s dilemma is obvious: the Liberals are going to be mighty pissed when they move back into the Lodge en masse to discover the ABC hasn’t spent the last 5-odd years throwing shit at the windows like they did when Howard was swanning around.

Enter At Home with Julia, AKA the second ABC series to debut this week about a feisty female redhead. And if the surprising – to us at least – level of vitriol aimed at Jess (Jess Harris) from Twentysomething is any guide to community attitudes, Julia Gillard’s struggle in the polls makes a lot more sense. Okay, sure, Jess is pushy and annoying and painful and insensitive, but isn’t that par for the course with comedy characters these days? She’s hardly breaking new ground considering Hamish Blake’s entire comedy persona is basically a slightly less pushy version of the same character, only with David Brent’s vocal stylings.

Could it be that doing “that voice” is the secret to making this kind of jerk funny? That without sounding like the star of The Office (UK) people actually take bitchy comments and blunt orders seriously? Answers on the back of a postcard…

[SIDEBAR: If only Australian television had created a sitcom with a arsehole male lead in the last few years we could compare Jess to. Hello Angry Boys. But while we’ve had three series of The Librarians, Laid, Twentysomething and now At Home With Julia – and before that, Kath & Kim – where women were rude & bossy and meant to be laughed at for it, Angry Boys so nakedly wanted you to love its cast of idiots its’ not a fair comparison.

So while we can point out the fairly obvious dislike out there directed towards aggressive female comedy characters, without recent equally aggro male counterparts gathering a similar (or wildly different) audience response for our scientific survey, all we’re left with is “hey, people sure don’t seem to like Julia Gillard… or Jess from Twentysomething.” Or red-haired people in comedy in general, considering Chris Lilley’s “ranga” jokes, Tim Minchin’s “Ginger” song, and the work of one-time redhead Tom “Ginger Ninja” Gleeson.]

As far as At Home with Julia goes – because we might as well get around to something like an proper review here eventually – it’s a little telling that while the political satire is simultaneously limp and heavy-handed (Wayne Swan needs help with his math! Rob Oakeshott goes on and on and on!), the actual relationship humour as Julia’s partner Tim (Phil Lloyd from Review with Myles Barlow) struggled with dodgy meat and schoolkids calling him a derro wasn’t all that bad. A lot of the jokes were cheap and obvious, but at least they were jokes, and Lloyd is rapidly becoming one of this country’s more impressive comedy actors.

[if you though we were drawing a long bow with our Twentysomething comparisons before, let’s point out that this is a sitcom where the only real chuckles came from seeing a nice guy being emasculated by his powerful redhead partner. Again.]

The big problem is that Amanda Bishop’s Gillard impersonation is not much chop – the voice, which you’d think would be the easiest part, only occasionally overlaps with the real Gillard – resulting in a show where seeing less of the nominal lead could only be an improvement. In a perfect comedy world this would almost entirely be about a man overshadowed by his powerful off-camera wife. Of course, if it did that it wouldn’t be sinking the boot into Labor…

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  • Porker says:

    It’s spelt Labor. Sheesh…..

  • Will says:

    Considering how often you stick it to comedy writing, you’d think your writing would be a little more succinct. Seriously.
    Also: it’s “Labor”

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    References to Labour amended as per your requests.

  • Kurtb says:

    Sorry to start all this up again, but yeah…there’s no problem with having characters who are insensitive and pushy etc etc, but if they don’t have weaknesses, if they aren’t seen as making fools of themselves and looking pathetic and vulnerable, then they aren’t funny. It has nothing to do with putting on a silly voice and to be fair Hamish bloody Blake isn’t funny either.
    It also has nothing to do with being male or female for it to work. Twentysonething isn’t funny, neither is laid and neither is the Librarians. They’re all examples of terrible comedies written by people who aren’t particularly funny. If you want to see this style work, watch alan partridge or curb your enthusiasm or Julia davis’ stuff.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    My bad – this one was a bit of a rush job (hence the length). That said, isn’t it more likely that, considering how often we complain about the dearth of Australian comedy, we should write more and at even greater length?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Julia Davis’s stuff? Really? We’ll have to disagree there.

    Jess is revealed to be both pathetic and possessing weaknesses later on in the series, but again, this is the kind of thing that probably should have been revealed earlier on in the run. We may very well have a post further down the pike talking about the differences between shows that have a guaranteed run & DVD release (most ABC 6ep shows, for example) and how that affects the product – for one, when you know you have six hours to play with, there seems to be no rush to establish everything in the first episode and build from there. They’re seen as three hour movies (or, because there’s no audience feedback to tell them when people are getting bored, the same thing six times), and the week-to-week experience is less impressive because of it.

    Actually, that’s pretty much all we had to say on the topic. As you were.

  • James says:

    Looking forward to reading that post – the three hour movie comment really struck a chord.

  • kurt says:

    So you’re suggesting that the funniest shows are the ones written that may get canned at any minute? When has that ever been true?

    Anyway, I’d be amazed if this show gets better. We’ll come back to that one I guess…and yes we absolutely disagree on julia davis. You can keep your Twentysomething and I’ll have my Human Remains thank you very much.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Human Remains is fine – Nighty Night is where things go seriously off the rails. Her work with Chris Morris is excellent, mind you.

    We’re not suggesting funny shows are the ones with the threat of death hanging over them. We’re saying that when a show can respond to the audience – whether going out live or being a long run of a sitcom so that episodes are airing while it’s still in production – it’s usually better than one done in isolation. Sadly, ratings pressures and much shorter runs means this hardly ever happens now.

    Thinking about it, this probably explains why pretty much everything on the ABC gets a second series – they’re hoping it’ll improve second time around.

  • Anonymous says:

    I’ve never been to this pathetic blog before, and I never will again, I googled to see if At Home With Julia would be repeated on ABC2. And this rubbish came up. Your prolix and pathetic ‘review’ skills need to be rolled into the sea.

    I hate this blog, I’ll never be coming back, you should quit. You completely suck.

  • Rani says:

    Mmm, something tells me he won’t be coming back. I thought I was the only one who didn’t find Nighty Night funny.

  • kurt says:

    first season was awesome.

  • evilcommiedictator says:

    I hope you read the angry boys review(s) on your way out, and got someone to tell you what the big words mean

  • Billy C says:

    Any ratings for Twenty Something? Does not appear to have made the top 100 for digitals for Tuesday so I assume under 75,000. Could that be right? It got a fair amount of press.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Tuesday night is an extremely tough night – as The Joy of Sets will no doubt discover when it starts in the exact same timeslot – and ABC2 isn’t exactly many people’s first stop. So (very) low ratings wouldn’t be much of a surprise, but the current crop of comedy on ABC2 seem to be more about branching out and rebranding the network than ratings success (that’s what ABC1 is for).