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.