If you’re a fan of Australian comedy, almost by definition you have to have broad tastes. If you’re only going to enjoy Australian sitcoms, you’re going to spend a lot of time watching Kingswood Country waiting for the next new one to come along; if you’re only really a fan of really funny Australian shows, you’ll have to borrow the Kingswood Country DVDs from that other guy. Often you’re going to find yourself watching something that isn’t really your cup of tea on the off chance you’ll find some gold, and sometimes you’ll find yourself watching Woodley.
Frank Woodley’s first solo series has him playing the bungling but endearing father to seven year-old Ollie (Alexandra Cashmere) and the ex husband to the somewhat exasperated Em (Justine Clarke). If you’re reading this you’ve probably already seen the first episode; next week’s installment starts off with Woodley turning up on his postie bike then pulling a range of faces while coughing in time to various cat noises that turn out to be actually happening rather than just comedy sound effects. Don’t worry, it’s funnier than the description. Well, a little.
Woodley is built almost entirely around slapstick and mime, and while Mr Bean is the obvious comparison Woodley is a slightly more grounded character, an almost believable bungler rather than an almost alien weirdo. As you might expect from a show with not a whole lot of dialogue, each episode’s story is fairly slight when it comes to plot. It does, however, make up for it somewhat by being packed with comedic set-pieces; making a cup of tea leads to a tea-bag being stuck on the ceiling and trying to get it down requires standing on a rocking chair and it’s not hard to figure out things are going to get worse from there.
The smaller notes are often funnier than the big moments – repeatedly being hit in the head with a lampshade isn’t quite as funny as the wary look Woodley gives it later on after he’s escaped its repeated blows – but the big moments are extremely inventive and each episode skilfully builds to the point where just seeing Woodley with a crowbar is enough to raise a smile.
Problem is, a smile is pretty much all this raises. It’s not exactly a children’s show – the failed romance is a little too bittersweet for that – but Ollie’s presence does suggest repeats could end up in a kid-friendly timeslot (if 8pm on a Wednesday isn’t kid-friendly already). After all, The Umbilical Brothers did a broader kind of slapstick & mime work on various 90s ABC comedy series and they’ve done very well with their more recent children’s shows. Adults, on the other hand, should keep in mind that there’s a reason why mime and clowning isn’t something many of us spend a lot of time watching.
This is a show that’s clear about what it’s trying to achieve and for the most part it does it well. But there’s a lack of variety to the material that – in our case at least – we quickly found wearying. We’re probably not the world’s biggest mime fans in the first place so a full half hour of it, no matter how well done, is almost certainly putting a lot more on our plate than we’re comfortable swallowing. It’s Woodley’s show and he’s playing to his strengths – and perhaps overseas sales, as a near-wordless comedy has to be a decent option when it comes to sales in Europe and Asia – but the occasional pun or wisecrack would have helped vary things up a little.
This is an extremely well made show starring a very funny man and it deserves all the success it can find; it just may not be something you want to watch half and hour of every single week.