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.