Parody isn’t exactly the lowest form of comedy, but the law of diminishing returns kicks in pretty fast when your jokes are all about making fun of something else. And Danger 5 wasn’t even a parody of anything real; anyone trying to tell you otherwise wasn’t paying attention last time their local cinema put on a Matt Helm / Our Man Flint festival. Unlike Funky Squad, which was at least sending up something at least some of their audience knew first hand – 70s television in the 90s – Danger 5 was just riffing on a vague idea of 60s spy dramas and men’s adventure fiction with a whole bunch of extra stuff thrown in.
Other people have made the point that at its heart Danger 5 wasn’t really a comedy at all. Instead, it was basically a “straight” spy / action show, only for a value of “straight” that included a shitload of over-the-top elements. That’s probably why a show that really wasn’t all that funny has received a solid dose of praise: it’s easy to see what it’s trying to do, and what it’s trying to do is so out there it’s hard to tell if it’s failing. Nazis in shark costumes? Well, this show has them, so presumably that’s a tick in the Nazis in shark costumes column. Definitely more Nazis in shark costumes than Packed to the Rafters has presented us with to date.
Without some kind of grounding or point to the parody, non-stop wacky hijinks gets both boring and pointless pretty quickly. The original 60s spy spoofs – and there was a heck of a lot of them even before Bond himself turned into one – were playing around with something real (the success of the Bond films). Danger 5 doesn’t have that luxury; it’s riffing on something that’s fifty years old and a footnote in the history of pop culture. What it does have is a segment of the comedy audience willing to heap praise on what should be the backdrop to a successful comedy without noticing that the foreground isn’t there.
Danger 5 was made by talented people who did a solid job of realising their ambitions. It just would have been nice if their ambitions had stretched beyond making a wacky spy series and had touched on telling a few more decent jokes. There was enough decent material stretched across the series to make one really good episode, and that’s all this idea really deserved (especially as none of the running gags and repeated story elements actually built up to anything special).
So what have we learnt? Basically, Australia clearly needs some kind of regular comedy showcase – whether a series made up of one-offs or a weekly hour-long sketch show – where guys like the Danger 5 team can test out their ideas without having to go directly to series. As a regular five minute segment this would have survived being basically a one-joke idea: across six half hour episodes even Nazis can wear out their welcome.