For whatever reason, one of the big, big fears Australian comedy has had over the last decade or so is that of going big. Not for the wide brown land any broad stereotypes or exaggerated characteristics, oh no: we like our comedy restrained to the point where it’s almost impossible to tell that it actually is a comedy. And nowhere is this more plain to see than The Moodys, a series that takes a collection of characters that would struggle to make it to the final cut in a below-par Australian movie and says “hey, lets hang out with these guys for three hours and see what happens”.
To be fair, taken in isolation The Moodys has… well, not “much to recommend it”, but it’s hardly a dead loss either. Some of the cast are strong and the Jungleboys team know how to give a show that “commercial-fresh” polish. For example, the slo-mo shots that set the tone at the start of the final wedding episode are effective mood-setters – they’re not funny, mind you, but they’re a good set up for the funny stuff to follow… wait, there’s no funny stuff to follow? Bugger.
Cheap shots aside – of course there’s funny stuff to follow, but “the wedding’s on a Tuesday” is the punchline to a joke, not a statement that needs another two or three sentences to pound into the ground – there’s… wait, we haven’t finished with the cheap shots.
“Roger, I’m not sure why you’re here” is the kind of line that writers think is both smart and funny (“hey, there’s no plot reason why his character should still be in this show, but by pointing it out we turn this problem into a joke!”), but by episode eight of a series where Roger has had no reason to be involved aside from being played by one of the production team, it’s just a sign of incompetence. Either find a real in-story reason for him to still be in the show, or get rid of him. This show isn’t that fantastic that it can afford to be carrying dead wood.
The funniest thing about The Moodys has been the various attempts by both ABC publicity and the press to convince us that the Moody family are a zany bunch of knockabout larrikins – well, more that they’re “crazy” and “riotous”, but you get the drift. Perhaps if you subsist on a meagre diet of historical murder mysteries and programs where politicians dodge the most basic of questions then sure, the extended Moody family might seem a little “out there”. But as a comedy? It’s barely funnier than your average episode of House Husbands.
Everything over the last eight episodes has been pitched at such a low volume that the overall impression is of a show actually scared to try for a big laugh in case it fails. These aren’t wacky comedy characters: they’re barely exaggerated versions of the chumps you find around any family barbecue. Then if a critic realises this is pretty thin gruel, they try to sell that blandness as a strong point: it’s a show “driven by characters who make us squirm in recognition”, you say? Here’s an idea: when The Simpsons had Homer laughing at a lame comedy while saying “it’s funny because it’s true”, it wasn’t a ringing endorsement of that style of laff-getting.
Yes, there are moments where The Moodys tries to go broad. Disposing of business documents in a woodchipper: not unfunny. Oh look, the wedding celebrant won’t go off to the hospital to conduct the wedding unless she gets a ride in a hot air balloon; oddly unfunny but it turns out to be a major plot point, so the trouble is that the follow-up twist feels weirdly contrived. Patrick Brammall and Darren Gilshenan can actually give comedic performances that add something to a scene; everyone else, back to drama school for you.
But the real problem with The Moodys is that while observational comedy can work when someone really, really really good is doing the observation, otherwise all you’re left with is a vague feeling you’ve left the kettle on. Worse, it’s a show deliberately pulling its punches: it would not be at all difficult to play the characters broader to make them funnier, or to make the situations more outlandish so they could provide some actual laughs too. It’s obviously way too much to expect this kind of “start off normal then let the insanity mount” comedy be handled with the skill and comedy of Fawlty Towers or Seinfeld, but those are shows that exist now and there’s nothing wrong with learning from them.
There’s clearly a lot of effort from a lot of talented people on display here, but unfortunately much of their talent lies in creating a kind of soft rom-com with a couple of mildly oddball supporting characters. You want to make that lightweight “classy” stuff, go make an Australian film and see how well you do at the box office. If you’re on television and you’re making something labelled comedy, here’s a suggestion: put making people laugh at the top of your list.
The first series of The Moodys worked for two reasons – firstly, the Dan and Cora “will they – won’t they” subplot gave narrative momentum to the show. Secondly, all the characters were forced into each other’s company via congregating at the parents’ house. Those two devices were absent from the second series, giving it a thin feel that lacked any sort of jeopardy or tragedy.
But the main problem with the show is that it suffers from the same problems that The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide To Knife Fighting suffered from, which is the inability to develop comic material beyond the premise. The writers kept coming up with premises that *could* have been funny, but were never explored. Just rehashing the premise over and over again does not make it funny, nor does letting the premise fizzle out. That’s like telling the punchline to a joke repeatedly a la Daryl Somers from Hey Hey It’s Saturday.
The Moodys also suffered from what I call “Gristmill-itis” where all the characters end up shouting at each other because they have no plot to be involved in. Shouting = soap opera, which is not funny.
What’s really depressing is that one of the big execs at the ABC recently referred to The Moodys as “world class.” God help us.
The biggest problem with the Moodys is that almost nobody watched it.
That’s hardly a surprise – the big hook with the first series (as Big Shane pointed out) was the Christmas angle. As is often the case with sequels, the producers fell in love with their own characters and assumed audiences would share their passion.
This was always a one series idea, and it’s a sign of the laziness that’s increasingly becoming standard at the ABC (where the only shows that don’t get a second series – Very Small Business, The Bazura Project – are the good ones) that a follow-up was greenlit rather than asking the producers to come up with something different enough to stand out.
“It suffers from the same problems that The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide To Knife Fighting suffered from, which is the inability to develop comic material beyond the premise.”
Don’t forget how Elegant Gentleman was put together – they did an open public submission for premises, which the team then wrote into sketches.
And then, if the rumours are to be believed, the cast of those sketches re-wrote them on-set.