By the time you read this Laid will have vanished from our screens forever and we’re not really sure how we’re going to cope. Remember what life was like early in 2010, before Laid started on the ABC? Remember how – you’ll laugh to remember this – we all thought that a comedy was meant to be sunny and bright and full of characters you actually wanted to spend time with doing funny things you couldn’t wait to tell your friends about the next time you saw them?
And then Laid came along and said in a firm but sassy voice that no, comedy was all about grey people in gloomy surroundings committing sex crimes and then standing around being awkward and the whole thing felt like something you wouldn’t even want to confess to your therapist. If there’s one area in which it can be said that Laid has truly succeeded, it’s in making the act of watching a comedy feel like something you should be deeply ashamed of. Laid feels like a show made by someone who may have actually killed someone. It feels like a show made by someone who wants the joy in the world to die.
If that sounds over the top to you, go and watch an episode – I mean, really sit down and pay attention to one. Why is the sun never shining? Why does everyone have bad hair? Why are all the relationships messed up? Why does everyone look like they’re freezing? Why – and this is the big one for anyone over the age of consent – is it a show about a person who kills whoever they have sex with via mystically toxic genitals? What kind of person do you have to be to find that idea – not, let us stress, as a problem afflicting an already established comedy character, nor as a once-off joke about a supporting character, but as the very centre of your comedy show – something people would laugh at week in week out?
The big problem with the first series of Laid was that for the show to make even the slightest bit of sense the lead’s toxic genitals had to somehow take on some larger significance. They had to be a metaphor for something and if your deadly genitals are a metaphor, chances are it’s a metaphor for something that isn’t very good. But Laid was a show created and written (with Kirsty Fisher and the cast) by Marieke Hardy, a writer who to date has been incapable of writing anything that, at its core, isn’t about herself. She created a show about three men called Last Man Standing and managed to make it about her: pretty impressive feat that.
She has a blog (about her), at least one newspaper column (about her), she wrote a book titled You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead (about her), she writes regular newspaper articles (about her), appears on The First Tuesday Book Club (as herself) and has in every possible way built a career on being Marieke Hardy. So it’s safe to say that when the lead (Roo McVie, played by Alison Bell) in Laid dresses like Hardy, acts like Hardy and talks like Hardy, you can guess who she’s meant to remind us of.
There are people around the place who’ll tell you with a straight face that there’s nothing all that wrong with the Australian media being dominated by people who basically do nothing but be themselves – you know, the stand-up comedians and professional commentators who dominate the panel shows that dominate the tiny non-reality slice of television.
They’re wrong and here’s why: Hardy came up with a difficult and challenging idea for a show, then made the central character a carbon copy of herself. The only way for the difficult and challenging part of the show to be resolved in a fashion that was dramatically and emotionally satisfying to an audience was by – to be blunt – having the lead turn out to be a massive turd. Innocent people are dying because she had sex with them: it’s hard to turn that into a reflection of a positive character trait.
But because this is a show where the lead character is basically the creator of the show – and a creator who, if her blog and columns and book are any guide, has a fairly well-developed sense of her own worth – the lead character can’t be a turd because that would be saying the creator of the show may not be quite as awesome as the last decade of her writing has been designed to make us believe. So the first series of Laid wimped out with some pathetic “I was bad, but you dead guys were pretty shithouse too” crap that satisfied no-one except the commissioning editor at the ABC because no sooner had the credits rolled than Hardy was announcing a second series.
For those of you thinking she may have learnt something from the end to series one we’d laugh in your face but we’re too busy with this whole weary headshake thing we’ve got going on. While series two started off slightly interesting with the addition of a creepy sex pest (Marcus, played by Damon Herriman) whose magic genitals “healed” people – he’s the opposite of the lead character GEDDIT? – it then promptly proceeded to have nothing at all happen for the next five episodes apart from some moderately creepy attempted rape and everybody trying to pash on with everybody else.
Oh, and some guy thought he was Jesus and the last root of our lead (Charlie, played by Abe Forsythe) would sometimes be almost dead and other times seem to be okay depending on factors never explained in the script because presumably we were meant to be too busy laughing at someone trying to have sex with an unconscious man by making a splint for his flaccid penis using icey-pole sticks. You know, like Chaplin did that time. But then we got to the final episode, and let’s just run through it because otherwise a lot of the ranting to come may be hard to follow.
Roo has been trying to sleep with Marcus since episode one because she thinks his magic penis will cure her of her death crotch and bring Charlie back to full health. Marcus until now hasn’t wanted to do so because he thinks their powers will somehow swap and put him out of a job (he is so creepy according to the show no woman would sleep with him unless they knew it would cure an ailment, and he’s built a business around this even though they often insult him to his face about it). But now he’s fallen in love with Roo and says “okay, I’ll sleep with you, but only if it leads to an actual relationship”.
Roo doesn’t want a relationship but does want a root – cue “doesn’t everyone lie to have sex”, oh ho ho ho – and eventually, after much hand-wringing, decides to just lie to him. They have sex, she says “uh, this isn’t going to work out” and bails. Good news; Charlie is all better! Bad news: Charlie knows how he was cured and says he can’t forgive Roo for what she’s done. What, had meaningless grudge sex to save his life? Still, it does make sense that after all that they wouldn’t end up together. Meanwhile Marcus is so distraught-slash-angry he’s wrecking his house when a innocent and perfectly ordinary client arrives for a healing root. He says “I’m going out of business, but what the hell”. So they have sex AND SHE DIES.
Meanwhile Roo hears a knock at the door – it’s Charlie! And he’s decided to forgive her because he can’t live without her! And the final scene of this whole misbegotten split trashbag of a show is Roo in bed with her boyfriend looking about as happy as it’s possible for Alison Bell to look.
Lets spell it out: this show’s idea of a happy ending is one where the lead lies to a guy for sex which results in some other woman dying while she ends up curled up in bed with the man she loves. The only way this makes sense is if the lead is meant to be such an amazing person that we don’t give a shit about anything she does so long as she ends up happy.
So forget the earlier episode where she drugged Marcus and tried to rape him! Forget her lying to someone – someone who said “I’m in love with you” – to have sex with him! Forget that this led directly to someone actually being killed! Roo is so awesome her happiness is all that matters! It’s a good thing we’re not inclined to read things into television viewing because otherwise a show like this coming from someone who only ever writes about herself would seem like a pretty fucking creepy half hour of television.
But who knows? The show as a whole has been so consistently garbled and messy – drifting from subplot to subplot with no clear structure, padding some developments out for weeks while tossing others aside, having characters act completely out of character for the sake of a joke that never actually materialises – that accusing the writers of any kind of plan at all seems overly optimistic.
It was bad enough that after an utterly undistinguished first season it was given the go-ahead for a second straight away while a string of far better shows died – twentysomething, to name just one that was better in every single measurable way – but to have it return and somehow be even worse than the first series suggests that every single person at producer grade and above responsible for the second series of Laid should be held to account in a fashion that at the very least requires some form of public apology followed by repaying every cent of the costs and signing a document forbidding them from involvement in television production at any level until at least a decade after their deaths.
You wouldn’t want to say Laid was utterly incompetent, because clearly the cast and the director and the lighting guys and the people in wardrobe and everyone else who’ve been involved in even a single other television show are clearly capable of doing so much better than this. The best thing that can be said about Laid is that it’s over. The worst thing that can be said is that such a complete and total waste of time and money and human effort was made in the first place.
Spot on analysis. Thank heavens that is the end of this garbage. The ABC/Faifax group-think is out of control if any of them really believe MH is either funny or talented.
Another typically spiteful, ignorant blog entry. If Laid wasn’t to your taste, fine, but you look ridiculous attempting to argue that the show sets some kind of odd precedent for macabre, gloomy anti-comedy. You’ve only got to look at shows like Jam, Human Remains, 15 Stories High, Monkey Dust and Louie to see that Laid is entirely consistent with a growing trend for dark, uncomfortable comedy. Whether it was successful or not is another matter, but please don’t pretend it was an unwelcome pioneer.
PS. Roo McVie dresses nothing like Marieke Hardy
You’re drawing a very long bow comparing it to Louie. Perhaps if it was Hardy making short or episode-long sketches about her life that’d fly, but Laid is a situation-based comedy. Actually, if it’d been a Louie-type sketch it’d be a lot funnier (if Hardy was to turn her recent memoir into a television show that’d be a lot more interesting).
The other, much better (well, maybe not Monkey Dust) shows you cite are all around a decade old, which backs up your point – except that we never said Laid was a pioneer or precedent-setting. It’s just not any good.
PS. It’s all in the hair.
“Remember how… we all thought that a comedy was meant to be sunny and bright and full of characters you actually wanted to spend time with… And then Laid came along.”
Without using the word “precedent”, the above sentence amounts to much the same thing. I’m no great defender of Laid (though I actually think its craft and performance levels are hugely superior to Twentysomething and Outland), but I do think it’s a tad peculiar to criticise it for being dark and twisted and deliberately gag-free, when so many other recent shows have taken that exact route, admittedly with better results. I think Hardy’s aspiring for a kind of Todd Solondz level of awkwardness and discomfort, as I believe Louis CK does in many of his vignettes on Louie. The drawn bow’s not that long I believe. In fact, if you take-out the stand up components of Louie, the show is sometimes entirely laugh-free. And that’s no bad thing. It’s just a new kind of way of looking at sitcom.
PS. Point taken.
Semantic sidebar – can something deliberately gag-free be classified as a sitcom?
Or are we talking about that wonderfully vague, cop-out category of “narrative comedy”, where dramatic tension counts as jokes?
‘(Hardy) appears on the The First Tuesday Book Club (as herself)’. What would you prefer?
That she impersonates Weary Dunlop?
Actually, yes. Unless it was being used as an example of how all her media appearances are built around the promotion of herself, in which case probably not. But it would at least have the potential to be funny.
Louie has developed into something pretty much laugh-free, true, but Louie CK earned it – he introduced his world view via comedy then took it down paths that interested him, trusting people who liked what they saw would follow. Hardy, on the other hand, has yet to display a view of the world beyond “look at me”, which – as we pointed out – goes firmly against the grain of the kind of show she’s trying to make with Laid.
Around here we’re not fans of the “dark and twisted and deliberately gag-free” approach to comedy – we like our comedy to feature jokes and laughs and if you don’t want to make audiences laugh then perhaps you should be calling your efforts something else. Oh, but then you’d be compared with drama and you might not come off the better for it.
We’re tired of “comedy” being taken as code for “doesn’t have to be that good”, and while saying that a “new kind of way of looking at the sitcom” should mean it doesn’t have to actually be funny is a perfectly decent argument, it’s also wrong.
As for that opening sentence: we do like our sarcasm here.
I guess this is the end result of giving a television show to someone whose primary talent appears to be self promotion.
As with all things, I guess it’s a matter of personal taste. But it’s an interesting debate. People who say they like their comedy “to feature jokes and laughs” remind me slightly of Radiohead fans who say they much prefer The Bends compared to the more experimental later albums like Kid A or In Rainbows. I feel comedy writers have been trying to reinvent the sitcom by removing all the jokes, just as Radiohead has been determined to reinvent pop music by removing all the melodies. In television it’s been a gradually evolving process, kick-started by Gary Shandling, although arguably there were traces of it in M*A*S*H. Ricky Gervais took it mainstream, and now we’re witnessing the logical conclusion of it with shows like Louie and Girls. I don’t necessarily prefer these new “unfunny” comedies, but nor would I ever dismiss them out of hand. To watch great minds like Shandling and Louis CK deconstruct the traditional funny sitcom is, to me at least, as interesting as watching Stewart Lee deconstruct traditional stand-up. Do I laugh? Seldom. Do I love the audacity? Absolutely.
Spoonhead – I’m intrigued by this evolution of comedy of which you speak.
I think you’re kinda right, there’s certainly something going on, but I’m not sure “evolution” is the right word; it suggests we can’t go back.
And while you can admire shows for on their audacity, does that make them more successful comedies?
We ARE talking about comedies.
Surely, as this blog has pointed out many times, the ultimate measure of comedies are laughs, subjective as it may be.
Does that make Friends a better comedy than Louie? Maybe.
Does it make it a better show? Maybe not. Depends on what you want.
But as a comedy, “narrative” or “cringe” or otherwise, Laid just didn’t work too well.
For a lot of people.
But eh, who wants to please the masses?
Is a personal, “visionary” failure like Laid better for TV than a soulless, focus-grouped failure like, say, Ben Elton?
Obviously in comedy, as in music, it’s not an industry-wide “evolution”. People are, and will always be, making traditionally amusing comedy, just as there’ll always be music artists making traditionally catchy pop. A show like Louie doesn’t preclude or render obsolete a show like The Big Bang Theory; both can happily co-exist at different ends of the sitcom spectrum. But I think to measure a comedy by its laughs alone isn’t necessarily the truest test of its quality. For instance, I think The Thick Of It is by far the best thing currently on tv, but I probably get more actual laughs from a show like Modern Family or Mid Morning Matters. Does that make them better comedies? I’m not sure that it does.
Any mention of Laid automatically cheapens the discussion, since it’s clearly not in the league of the other shows we’re talking about, but I would argue that it was a far more worthwhile and successful show than Ben Elton’s, not only because it got closer to fulfilling what it set out to do, but also because it attempted to show Australia that in 2011/2012 there’s more to the comedy palette than farting chefs and bad Amy Winehouse impersonations.
I think the misinterpretation here is that Laid is deliberately light on jokes.
I agree that it’s not that funny – but it’s very kind to assume that’s on purpose.
Let’s put it this way: The Larry Sanders Show – which, despite being perhaps the best sitcom ever, is in a lot of ways to blame for a lot of what’s being discussed here – is a show that featured rapid-fire behind-the-scenes comedy, more traditional talk show material during the talk show segments (made even funnier by our knowledge of the behind-the-scenes stuff), and – very occasionally – a moment or two of serious character stuff that largely served to make the comedy even funnier. The comedy always came first – because it was a comedy.
Anyone game to try and claim “Hank’s Sex Tape” is in any way comparable to an episode of Laid is a very gutsy individual. As for Louie, whether you laugh or not it’s a show made by an individual exploring what’s interesting (and yes, at times funny) to him: Laid is a 9th generation photocopy where the only originality on display comes from whoever decided to claim it was a “comedy”.
Yep, it’s a show full of lines that in a completely different context could actually get laughs. They’d still be the worst lines on this much better show, but it’s hard to deny they’re trying to be jokes. They’re just expressed in a context intentionally designed for reasons of style and fashion to be as unfunny as possible.
What’s with everyone saying Louie is an un-jokey or unfunny comedy? Every episode I’ve seen has tonnes of jokes in it and I laugh heaps.
Exactly. Louie is very very funny. Dark jokes are still jokes (for instance, I’ll still giggle at the “giant bag of dicks” scene)
Although just being “dark” without an actual joke in it means you’re not a comedy.
Spot on. Louie goes down its’ own path in season two with less obvious laughs, but it’s still Louis CK’s sensibility behind it all and he’s a very funny man.
The real problem with all the Office (UK)-inspired “dark” comedies we’ve seen over the last decade is that the Office made it look like you could make a comedy without having to bother with jokes. Just have someone say something awkward, drag out the pause afterwards to uncomfortable lengths, and half the show’s written for you. Anyone can do it!
Here’s what we’d like to see: series three of Laid, only with Hardy replaced as head writer by Russell Gilbert.