There are a lot of potential laughs to be had in a family sitcom. Shows like Upper Middle Bogan and Arrested Development got it right by creating families full of distinctive, rounded characters and putting them in situations where they’d, say, get in to conflict or need to work together against an outside foe. Add in some funny lines and the odd believable yet bizarre situation and you’ve got a good comedy.
The Moodys (which premiered tonight on ABC1) is sort of in that tradition, and sort of not. It takes the Moody family from 2012’s A Moody Christmas, the comedy drama which followed an average suburban family over six consecutive Christmas, and looks at the clan’s get-togethers over a year, starting with their annual Australia Day barbeque at the beach.
Many members of the family aren’t just at the start of a new year but at the start of a new life. Maree and Kevin (mum and dad) have just retired and sold the family home, much to the annoyance of dodgy son Sean because it means he’s lost his home at a time when he’s struggling to start his business. Other son Dan is back from London for good and living with Cora, but struggling to find a good job and impress her father. Uncle Terry continues to have a series of inappropriate and slightly odd relationships with colleagues (in episode two you’ll see lots of his new girlfriend), while daughter Bridget seems to be the one with the most stable life, even if her gay ex-husband Roger still seems to hanging around for some reason.
As always the fireworks go off when the Moodys get together, and things get pretty tense at the barbeque. Cora’s parents have been invited but they’re less than impressed with Sean’s Australia flag cape and beer-swilling antics, and Roger’s turned-up too, even though Bridget didn’t invite him. Meanwhile an Aboriginal family (father Fred, mother Sue, and daughters Lucy and Ruby) claim they reserved the barbeque spot earlier in the day, which sees several of the Moody men getting in to an argument with Fred. Things calm down after a bit and the family eventually join the Moodys’ celebrations, but the situation deteriorates when Terry accidentally sets fire to Fred’s Aboriginal flag.
With all that going on, the stage seems well set for laughs galore but very few arrive. The plot about the Moodys taking Fred, Sue, Lucy and Ruby’s picnic spot is a laboured satire on land rights (see BabaKiueria if you want a better one) and trying too hard to ape the cringe comedy of Ricky Gervais et al, while the disgust towards Sean from Cora’s father can be seen coming a mile off. As for Roger’s presence at the barbeque…what the hell was he doing there? His divorce from Bridget should have been the end of his involvement with the Moodys but he’s still hanging around. The reasons will no doubt become clearer as this series progresses but in this episode he seemed crowbarred in to the show rather than a natural part of it.
Inconsistencies like this are a key problem in The Moodys, while the stock characters and over-the-top situations might work if the show wasn’t also trying to be a realistically-shot dramedy. And perhaps because of those dramedy ambitions the show contains a number of bland characters who seem unnecessary. In A Moody Christmas Dan’s everyman persona made him perfect as a temporary observer of some of the weirder members of his family, but now that he’s back fulltime his character’s not only struggling to find a place in Australia but as a character worth being in this series.
The Moodys has rightly chosen to focus more on the characters who’ll get laughs, cause conflict and drive action (Sean, Terry, Roger and bit players like Cora’s father), yet more than half of the main players (Dan, Maree, and to a certain extent Kevin, Cora and Bridget) don’t seem to do much of interest at all. If The Moodys wants to be funny and/or dramatic it will need to find a role for the (currently) less interesting characters, which in the first couple of episodes it struggles to do.
The Moodys suffers from a classic case of Passive Character Syndrome. Most of the characters just sit around waiting for something to happen. Then when something does happen, only some of them actually react to it. If you have passive characters then by definition you don’t have conflict, and it’s conflict that drives comedy.
Since when did Upper Middle Bogan get elevated to the heights of Arrested Development? It’s as guilty of lapsing into the ‘suspend-all-jokes’, dramedy mindset of every other ABC comedy that you bag out on this site. I know your MO here is to be grateful for small triumphs where they occur, but let’s resist the urge to paint Local Shows That Don’t Completely Suck as benchmark masterpieces.
As for Moodys, I agree with your comments about Dan. Even Michael Bluth was given jokes.
Pointing out similarities between two family sitcoms is not equating their comedic value. I’d add modern family to that mix as well.
We have had several ‘dramedy’ type shows coming out of the ABC. I wonder if they are being script edited too much. i.e Make sure the characters are consistent, have proper arcs, have understandable motivations.. which is all great but some of the best comedy comedy from characters acting completely out of character.
Look at 30 rock and Parks and Recreation, arguably two of the better broad narrative comedies of recent years. The characters are often broad and stupid. Smart people act dumb, dumb people act smart. The act and behave in a way that people in their positions never would in real life. Because it’s a comedy. I think we had that in the Librarians to a point.
Trent O’Donnell did an excellent job directing New Girl a few episodes ago. Not much of that pace and pop came across here.
For good or bad, the first season felt vaguely arty (by comparison), but this one feels more like a sitcom about a whacky family. The whole gang is back!
The Australia/Invasion Day jokes were surprisingly one-level. The flag burning was very reminiscent of The Simpsons in the Lisa’s Wedding episode et al.
The previously on had a reference to Terry’s “in the dark” story. I can’t remember if that came up in the episode? It’s all very Uncle Bryn from Gavin & Stacey.
I thought Spicks & Specks pretty much nailed it – in so far as it felt just like the old show.
For the sake of Australian comedy’s primo lead-in, I hope it’s not too little too late. And My Kitchen Rules is pretty much unstoppable.
Does anyone know why the ABC started making dramedies? Is it they’re easier to shoehorn to meet guidelines\charters? Is it because they ‘sell’ better overseas? Or that the creatives involved want to move onto film ala Woody Allen?
Don’t they know Allen started out making straight comedy?
I know the reason Urinal Cake …
but I ain’t sayin’ on a public blog !
Eh it won’t matter soon enough- Abbott will crush the ABC.
I have several theories. The first is that comedy is subjective, so it’s easier to just not tell any jokes. Hey presto – no-one is offended by the jokes that aren’t there.
The second theory I have is that the whole of Australian TV is just basically a show-reel for Hollywood, where traditional sitcoms have taken a back seat to dramedy in recent years. It’s well known that Hollywood no longer has any original ideas. If they see that something – anything – has been put into production anywhere else in the world, then that constitutes a success, and they are interested. Look at the number of Aussie shows that have been picked up and Americanized by Hollywood. Lots of Aussies have done well out of this arrangement. But you have to wonder how much of a return the taxpayer is ever going to see from their investment.
There’s another theory that I have – the ABC is full of nimrods who don’t actually know anything about comedy. I’ve had personal dealings with ABC commissioning staff, and the results were uninspiring. Note that this was pre-Kalowski, so things might have changed. There’s also a view in the industry that dramedy is cheaper to produce than traditional multi-cams (which I don’t think is actually the case).