Coolum Bananas

The Strange Calls (starting tomorrow on ABC2, but already available on iView) is so good it’s already picked up for a US pilot. Well, maybe. In this new sitcom gormless city policeman Toby Banks (Toby Truslove) is demoted by his father, the Deputy Commissioner, and sent to work the night shift in Coolum Beach. Arriving without his shoes and not having said goodbye to his girlfriend, Toby at least seems to have caught the eye of local caterer Kath, but then the underbelly of odd goings on in Coolum starts to become clear.

Toby’s first case is a mysterious break-in at local fried chicken joint Frequent Fryers, where no money has stolen. Then his new boss (Patrick Brammall) tells him he has to live and work from an old caravan on the edge of town, with only a bike for transportation. The caravan has a working phone line but the only people who call seem to be wasting his time, then he opens the door to Gregor (Barry Crocker), a believer in the paranormal who has his own theory on the Frequent Fryers break-in.

A reluctant partnership forms (reluctant on Toby’s part) and the pair end up catching the man responsible for the break-in, well, kinda, and so the stage is set for more episodes along the same lines. If the makers of Psychoville had written a SeaChange-inspired police procedural set in Queensland you’d probably end up with something like this. Indeed Psychoville must have been some sort of inspiration as this is also a comedy/drama with a paranormal theme and multi-platform content (The Strange Calls website includes blogs, tweets and videos from Gregor).

References to Gregor’s online life generate some of the best laughs in the show itself, but disappointingly (for us) The Strange Calls isn’t going hell for leather in the comedy department. The drama and paranormal elements are probably more important here, but as they work pretty well and there are some good comedy moments we think it’s a show worth sticking with. Although if ABC casting directors could give Toby Truslove a different character to play at some point, that’d be nice.

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  • The Doogster says:

    Just watched this on iView.

    The premise is intriguing (in fact, a couple of years ago I toyed with the very same idea, after a relative of mine regaled me with tales of answering phone calls from cranks while working the night shift as a guard at ASIO), but it’s the same old ABC problem of a good idea which doesn’t go anywhere. Maybe things will change in future episodes.

    It’s basically not funny. There are no obvious attempts at humour (unless you consider it funny to have someone taste what appears to be chicken blood on a wall, but it turns out to be BBQ sauce). The characters aren’t funny. Neither are the plots. There are no characters whose job it is to inject levity into the proceedings. No witty dialog either. Yet another example of post-modern comedy where the humour is supposed to come from the ironic fact that there is no humour.

    Like I said, maybe it will change. Here’s hoping.

  • simbo says:

    Yeah, I can understand the US pilot thing as a “this is an interesting idea, not always executed the best”. It isn’t entirely their fault that Toby Truslove’s exasperated flailing about has got exposure so repeatedly this year (between Outland, Laid, Randling and Unbelievable Truth, he’s been a busy fella), but when this aired last night it was preceded by a Tropfest short, and this looks like a longer version of a Tropfest short – good idea, nicely shot but only really the one idea.

    Later episodes may help a bit – certainly, it’s good to have Crocker back in a nicely insane vehicle for him (now there’s a comic talent that’s been buried for decades – the guy was Bazza McKenzie, he’s not just the pop-culture joke people sometimes take him for). And having now set up the idea, the series may find interesting ways to play with it
    (after all, setting up the format means the “case of the week” has to be particularly simple for the first episode). Hopefully cases better than “man turns into chicken”