Husbanding Your Resources

House Husbands might not be a comedy, but it’s certainly the future of comedy. This wildly uneven, supposedly ‘heartwarming” look at four men who for various reasons are the primary caregivers to the children in their households is, like pretty much every single prime-time drama series that’s premiered on commercial television since the ABC invented Seachange, trying to be all things to all people. “All people”, in case you were wondering, means rich white people. Welcome to Australian television!

Race-baiting aside, this is the format that ate situation comedy in this country: a bunch of mildly quirky people, either in the one family, a group of oddly age-diverse friends, or twentysomethings who still spend an awful lot of time with their parents (gotta tap all the age demographics), get in all manner of strife – only with added comedy to remind you that we’ve come such a long way since A Country Practice. Look, that one from Underbelly‘s meant to be Lebanese! That other one from Underbelly is playing a gay who sells pies! Gary Sweet is, well, the only one who actually feels like he should have a media career! Babies!

In our version of an ideal world this would be two completely separate shows. The one with the Lebanese ex-footballer fighting to gain custody of his kid from his ex and her douchebag new partner would be a semi-serious drama we could safely ignore, while everyone else would be off in a wacky comedy because that’s basically what they’re already doing here – only because this isn’t a straight-up comedy their wacky antics don’t have to be actually funny. Which explains why the main plot for the three wacky guys involved “losing” a school principal and the shock revelation that the pie seller doesn’t actually make his own pies. Oh ho ho ho ho.

The idea behind this blend of wacky and touching – as seen in everything from Offspring to Winners & Losers oh wait aren’t they basically the same show? – is that the more bases you can cover with the one show the more likely you are to have a show that rates well. We’d argue the exact opposite: the more bases you cover with the one show the more likely you are to create a bland mess that does nothing right. If this was pure drama, the pressure’d be on for it to be actually dramatic; if it was pure comedy, people would expect to actually laugh at something more than its inept struggle to make “oh no, my girl has left me for a douchebag” anything more than a whinge from a somewhat douchey guy down the pub.

Comedy is the big loser in this world of blended families, because while crap drama is still drama albeit crap, crap comedy is nothing. Anything that dilutes comedy makes comedy worse because anything that dilutes comedy makes it less funny. If this was two separate shows, fans of “quality drama” could enjoy the sight of an actor sitting on the floor looking at bills while his baby cries in the background and sad music plays (THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED), while comedy fans could play the drinking game where you take a shot every time there’s a shot of a tram because all the comedy here is crap.

This is a show where a male character washes dishes in a wading pool with a hose and it’s played as serious drama; this is a show where five year olds steal a school bus and it’s played for laughs. This is a show that doesn’t have to focus on being one thing because it’s trying to be everything. We just wish it was trying to be good. At anything.

 

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5 Comments

  • Billy C says:

    I haven’t seen it but what do you mean by “meant to be Lebanese”? Are you suggesting that it’s not right for someone with an Armenian background to play a Lebanese person? That the writing has insufficient’y addressed his Lebanese background in the first episode? That his race is inconsequential to the show (surely a good thing in many ways?). I don’t know if saying the show is aimed at rich white people is a particularly fair call as I’ve not seen it but that comment just baffled me. I think ‘dramedy’ or whatever you want to call it could actually end up being good for comedy. The more Australian product that rates the more likely the networks are to commission more Australian content. To be fair to them they have to make a certain amount of drama under the content requirements. They don’t have to make any comedy that can’t be classified as drama.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    “Meant to be Lebanese” should be read as “token nod to multiculturalism” more than anything else. To be fair, we should be grateful he’s not a cliche like Carbo on Rafters. Having his race be inconsequential to the show would definitely be a good thing if so many other elements weren’t already inconsequential to the show – and if it was really inconsequential it wouldn’t even be mentioned.

    The problem we have with “The more Australian product that rates the more likely the networks are to commission more Australian content” is that we like comedy and want to see more comedy. If Big Brother rates, it’s more likely we’ll see more Big Brother. If crappy not-really comedy rates then we’ll get more of that, and as neither time or money is in unlimited supply when it comes to Australian television, that will crowd out the thing we’d like to see: comedy. Especially as commissioning comedy is already way, way down everybody’s to-do list.

  • Billy C says:

    Ah I see your point. Not having seen it I can’t comment on how it’s actually portrayed in the series but the constant whiteness of channel nine is one of the reasons I don’t generally watch it. It just doesn’t reflect my reality…. and I’m white. You’re probably right that we’ll get more of the same if something is successful. The ‘problem’ with comedy is that in my opinion it needs development and the networks generally don’t want to pay for development. Also audiences are more forgiving of mediocre drama than they are of mediocre comedy.

  • The Doogster says:

    At least they didn’t have a dwarf or an Aboriginal lesbian in a wheelchair.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    The problem comedy faces is that, as you point out, audiences will forgive a mediocre drama but if a comedy doesn’t make them laugh that’s it. The up side is that the reverse is also true: a lot of the shows people love years after they’re gone are comedies. But at this risk-adverse time, comedy is just seen as too much of a gamble.

    From episode one the Lebanese character’s backstory is that he’s a kid from the bush who was brought to the big city by his manager to be a footy star. Which sounds a little like they decided to make him Lebanese after Firass Dirani was cast not during the initial writing, which might explain why it felt a little tacked on.