When was the last time the ABC commissioned a sitcom directed at old people? Oh God, was it Mother & Son in the 1980s? Yet here we stand, only midway into 2013, and already we’ve had a pair of sitcoms fired directly at the strongly beating hearts of da yoof: First was Please Like Me, followed by the long-time-a’coming second series of Twentysomething. It’s almost as if the ABC is suddenly worried the kids are thinking about shunting it off into a home.
Historically, sitcoms usually require two elements: comedy characters and a comedic situation. Australian television clearly can’t handle two distinct comedy elements at the one time, so recent shows have placed their emphasis on just one. Please Like Me certainly had a situation – Josh Thomas realised he was gay, changing his life and that of his chums – but it didn’t features characters that were in any way memorable. Even after watching all six episodes it’s close to impossible to nail-down any of the characters’ without using the word “bland”; insipid yet somehow powerfully sexually attractive man-children may very well exist in the real world, but as the heart of a comedy they’re not exactly side-splitters.
Twentysomething has the reverse problem, which is really much less of a problem because the show as a whole is much better than Please Like Me: it really does have a strong comedy character placed front and center in the form of the very self-centered Jess (Jess Harris). She’s only nearly a complete monster – her interaction with her ex (Hamish Blake) prove that she can make a real connection with someone – but she uses her fake husband / real sidekick Josh (Josh Schmidt) shamelessly (he has just enough air-time to reveal they share a general contempt for humanity, but friend-wise he’s clearly doing most of the heavy lifting) and events in general have to focus on her or she tunes out.
It’s when it comes to finding situations to put her in that Twentysomething struggles. Based on our viewing of the first episode, this second series seems to be repeating the first situation-wise – that is, Jess and Josh try out a variety of jobs – but as set-ups go it wasn’t all that great the last time they did it. Changing the location every episode (they started the show with their homecoming then they checked out uni; week two has Jess building site working for her father, Glenn Robbins) doesn’t allow the show to really dig into a setting, and the writing isn’t pointed enough to breathe life into a setting given only a few scenes to work with.
So once again we have a show almost completely reliant on one element. If you don’t find Jess funny, there’s next to nothing else in this show for you. Fortunately for us, we do; your mileage may vary. But while there’s a bunch of semi-regular supporting characters in this series, none of them make much of an impression. Even Josh’s character could almost work if he never spoke at all and was just constantly run over by Jess’ self-obsessions.
Again, Jess is a great comedy character and we laughed a number of times (okay, it was a single digit number, but still) at the skilful way she made everything around her all about her. But one really strong character does not a successful sitcom make, unless it’s a five minute interstitial like Audrey’s Kitchen. Still, the second episode certainly looks promising, in that Robbins should make a decent comic foil for her and putting her on a building site seems like a situation with comic potential. So, you know, fingers crossed.
It’s arguable that a little less of Jess would work a whole lot better. Giving her a cast of equally well-defined supporting characters to play off against would hardly be a bad thing; even sitcoms generally remembered as being built around one character usually had a strong supporting cast for context. But that might have to wait for Harris’ next TV series (yeah, we know, in Australia you get one series and you run it into the ground, but we’re dreamers over here): for now, at least Twentysomething is a sitcom about da yoof that doesn’t portray everyone under 35 as spineless ineffectual sadsacks whose main skill in life is gazing off into the middle distance looking slightly miffed while an awkward pause drags on. And on. And on.