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.