Raking through the leaves of bad dramedy

Dramedy has killed comedy. Where once we made out-and-proud sitcoms which aimed for laughs (even if they didn’t always succeed at getting any), now we make dramedies where the potential for comedy is sacrificed to ensure there’s room for moving bits, or tense bits, or realistic bits, or, in the worst and most cynical examples of the genre, a bit where the writers can cover for the fact that they’re just plain crap at writing gags.

But dramedies don’t have to be like this. It is possible to create well-rounded, interesting, believable characters, put them into plots and situations full of twists and turns, and give them a healthy and balanced mix of comedic and dramatic things to do. Rake, which does all these things week-in-week-out, is now in its third, and sadly final, series. In years to come people will remember how much they enjoyed it and wish it would come back. Some of them will pay money to see it again on whatever the latest way to enjoy TV is (Netflix beamed in to our Google glasses, possibly). Will they remember Please Like Me or The Moodys with similar fondness?

Part of Rake’s brilliance is down to the main character. Cleaver Greene’s hardly the kind of guy you’d want to marry or be friends with, he’s probably not even someone you’d want to have a one night stand with or have defending you, even though he seems to be pretty good at having sex and being a lawyer, but he’s great television. In his circle of high-earning, well-educated, middle class, successful types, Cleaver’s both the most screwed-up and self-indulgent, and the only one with any sort of integrity. While everyone else’s number one priority is to maintain their position by covering their arses, Cleaver’s crazy enough to sacrifice his for the truth, justice and a good time. Dumb enough to stuff up frequently but smart enough to bounce back endlessly, he’s also the only one prepared to prick the establishment’s pomposity and mock their pretensions. He’s more than the textbook definition of a rake, he’s a social and political satirist, and an anti-hero who’s on the same side as us ordinary folk. And that’s always going to make an audience laugh with him no matter what he does.

The other key to the success of Rake is the way in which the dramatic and comedic elements of the show can exist in the same scene and even the same line of dialogue. Many contemporary dramedies do the opposite, going from funny to serious with gear changes so crunching and noticeable that the whole realism vibe they’re trying for crumbles to dust. In Rake you get reality because people in the worlds of the law and politics are like that, but you get comedy because the situation’s heightened just enough to make you laugh. It’s a perfect, natural combination.

It’s no surprise that the series’ writers have as much experience in comedy as they do in drama (meaning they can do both very well), and anyone who thinks you can skimp on good writing in this kind of comedy is talking out their arse. Watch the bonus mockumentary on the series 2 DVD. It’s Richard Roxburgh as Cleaver improvising answers to a journalist’s questions and it’s not funny. Improv or an improv feel isn’t always a disaster area, but it’s rarely as funny as a well-acted, well-scripted scene. Imagine if all of Rake had that still-oh-so-fashionable-for-some-reason mockumentary feel. We wouldn’t be writing this glowing tribute to the show, that’s for sure. Which makes us wonder why we’ve never really blogged about it before. We don’t quite know ourselves. Maybe we’re so busy watching the Australian shows that billed as comedy that we’re neglecting to watch the Australian shows that contain actual comedy? Mistake acknowledged, correction made, blog written.

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  • Urinal Cake says:

    Probably the best narrative drama dark comedy thing out of Australia in a while. It’s not perfect there’s too many zany moments that jar e.g. finding a blow up doll and some of the characters are lazy cliches e.g. foreign mother who is nice in English and acerbic in her native language. But unlike other programs it never pulls in punches, treats its characters with the contempt they deserve and and rarely falls into melodrama. Also if you’re from Sydney or lived in Sydney you get the pastiche of the thing which adds another layer.

    This third season looks like a fitting finale where they might even be a well deserved happy ending of sorts.

    The American series from the little I’ve seen have tried to make him redeemable and thus fails.

  • RexR says:

    It is excellent. So was Lowdown and Very Small Business. Aussies can do great comedy. Just not consistently

  • Big Shane says:

    You’re going to have to explain how Lowdown is great comedy. I sat through the whole thing waiting for just one instance that was actually funny.

  • BIlly C says:

    Very Small Business didn’t grab me but I appreciate a lot of people liked it. Lowdown? Did not even make me crack a smirk. It was like watching a straight man without a funny man.

  • Kit says:

    ” Improv or an improv feel isn’t always a disaster area, but it’s rarely as funny as a well-acted, well-scripted scene.”

    Surely this DVD feature isn’t funny is less because improv is lacking, and more because Roxburgh is not a skilled or experienced improv comedian? Are you guys expecting the Myles Barlow remake to be funnier than Andy Daly appearances on Comedy Bang Bang?

    (I’m sure we’re all expecting it to be funnier than Myles Barlow.)

  • er says:

    TV Tonight’s posted an article interviewing commissioners about Aus TV comedy –

  • Rutegar says:

    I thought that David Knox article sounded familiar …


  • er says:

    This new one is the sequel to his previous one, I guess you’d say.