Making its TV debut on SBS last Monday was Danger 5, the cheesy 1960s action series send-up that pits five international spies against the Nazis. Oh, and they have to kill Hitler too. Sounds like a hoot, right?
Let’s start with the positives. Genre comedy, or even comedy that involves sets and costumes, is something we see less and less of these days, so it’s a minor cause for celebration when anything like this gets made in this country. Similarly, it’s hard to think of a comedy show that’s been made in South Australia since the 1985 series News Free Zone, so it’s great that funny people from that state got a go. And let’s not forget that Danger 5 is made by some guys off the internet who managed to get funded on their strength of the web series Italian Spiderman, which was a hit on YouTube a few years back, so it’s nice to know that online comedy is good for something.
But all that feel good stuff aside, let’s get to the point: is it any good or not? For us the answer is “not really”. While Danger 5 gets a lot of things right – the colourful but cheap-looking sets and costumes, the cheesy dialogue, the bad dubbing, the Nazis getting killed all over the place – the makers seem to have spent most of their time crafting an authentically shithouse look for the series, and not enough time on putting some actual jokes in the script. And as we’ve seen with a lot of sitcoms over the past decade, making it “real” doesn’t necessarily make it funny. You also need performers who can deliver lines well, and particularly in the case of over-the-top parodies, lots and lots of silly gags.
Take Shaun Micallef’s “Roger Explosion” sketches, where lame dialogue was ten times funnier thanks to some great performances; The Late Show’s “The Pissweak Kids”, which perfectly captured the spirit of kiddie crime solving adventures through clever scripted gags, earnest-but-awful acting and purposely-bad work from the props department; or even Funky Squad, which managed to both look like an early 1970s cop show and get laughs from it, largely through the superior comic timing of its comedy performer stars. Now contrast those comedies with Danger 5, where the focus of the script is the absurd adventure, and the performers seem to be a mix of straight actors, people who look the part and production personnel. You could argue that it doesn’t matter how great the comic timing of the performers is because what they say will be badly dubbed. On the other hand, the bad dubbing gag works for maybe a couple of seconds yet it’ll still be there – becoming increasingly boring – in episode 7, whereas great comic timing will deliver new laugh after new laugh throughout the series. Again, it’s down to that realism thing; realism seems like an asset in a comedy, but in this case it’s preventing a lot of potential laughs from being had.
Overall with Danger 5, we like the fact that some guys from South Australia have taken their internet hit to the small screen, and we like the idea of absurd genre comedy being on TV, we just think there needs to be more to the joke than “it’s a hunt for the Nazis set in an authentic 1960s action series”.