Wow, Jonah really is stirring up some serious shit:
A new Australian television comedy about a rebellious Tongan teenager has been condemned as “self indulgent” and “deeply offensive” to Pacific Islanders.
Chris Lilley’s six-part ABC TV comedy series Jonah From Tonga follows the life of a 14-year-old schoolboy and his run-ins with family, friends and teachers.
Professor Helen Lee, head of La Trobe University’s department of sociology and anthropology, has told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat she was horrified by the show’s portrayal of Pacific youth.
“I just think it’s dreadful. It’s just awful. It’s creating a terrible stereotype that’s just deeply offensive to Tongans,” she said.
It’s a wonder there haven’t been riots by now – especially as those outraged have been forced to resort to quoting New Zealand hip-hop to make their point:
Australia has a comedy problem if a guy who dresses in blackface, brownface and yellowface is considered a ‘genius’. In what other country could a comedian earn a pass, let alone praise, for resurrecting minstrelsy? Not many, if any.
That’s what Chris Lilley does: racial cross-dressing. In Jonah from Tonga, Lilley’s latest mockumentary, he wears brown makeup, fake curls, a phoney tatatau, and uses a fob accent and Polynesian mannerisms. Lilley appropriates the Polynesian appearance and experience to make an obvious point about racism in Australia: Polynesians are marginalised.
Oh wait, we forgot: no-one in the real world gives a shit about any of this stuff, because no-one in the real world is watching Jonah from Tonga:
Chris Lilley, once a homegrown critical and audience success story for the ABC, is now a ratings failure.
Week two of the 39-year-old comedian’s latest ABC1 television series, Jonah from Tonga, fell from a modest start of 441,000 viewers to just 287,000.
This put Jonah in 37th spot in Wednesday’s ratings, below standard afternoon fare such as The Bold and The Beautiful on Ten.
That’s a long way from the success of the 2007 series Summer Heights High, which catapulted him to fame and regularly attracted more than 1.2 million viewers. It was the ABC’s bestselling comedy DVD.
The disappointing figures come on the back of an equally poor reception for Jonah’s predecessor Ja’mie: Private School Girl, also on ABC1.
The figures suggest Australian audiences have grown tired of Lilley, who once attracted a three-country deal with HBO and the BBC on the strength of Summer Heights High.
Okay, all snark aside for the moment, that really is an astonishingly poor result only two weeks in. Perhaps someone should have told Lilley that the first episode of Jonah shouldn’t have been all about hitting the reset button on a character who’s story had already been wrapped up back in 2007. At the time – was it really only last week? – it seemed like a reasonable decision to return Jonah to a place where Lilley could move forward from. Now it seems like a massive mistake: whatever people might actually want from Lilley in 2014, “more of the same” is certainly not it.
But wait – surely we can expect a press release from the ABC any minute now touting the series’ “massive” iView figures because no real Chris Lilley fan would be caught dead watching it on a television which they don’t even own anyway because it’s the future? Oh right: the ABC already shot their iView load with that “whole series over one weekend” deal. Plus – and this is something we can never say enough because it’s what happens every time with Lilley’s shows – the show’s television ratings dropped; did 150,000 people lose their television sets between weeks one and two? No? Guess they tried the show and didn’t like it.
The sad thing about all this is that, on the whole, Jonah from Tonga is a step up from Ja’mie: Private School Girl. That’s not hard to do: three hours staring at a photo of Rove McManus would be a step up from Ja’mie. But still, Jonah features a lead character who, while as one-note and unchanging as everything else Lilley does, at least has a gimmick funnier than just “treat everyone else like shit”.
We’re not going to go as far as Fairfax has yet again –
We’re half way through this six-parter following the life and times of Jonah Takalua and the show is shaping up as possibly Chris Lilley’s best work yet. And yet Jonah could only loosely be termed a comedy – and then only in the same way as is Ricky Gervais’ The Office. Much of the time the show makes for uncomfortable viewing as we watch the awkward, lost, man-boy Jonah grope his way toward some sort of self-awareness and maturity. It’s important for this journey that Jonah is not really a bad kid. At least, not in a vicious, violent way. Sure, he is enormously irritating, disrespectful and far from the sharpest tool in the shed, but Lilley tempers Jonah’s many unsavoury aspects with brief flashes of vulnerable pathos, never allowing us to fully give up on him.
– because seriously, comparing Lilley to The Office in 2014 is a fool’s move: he’s made almost twice as many hours of television as all of the UK The Office put together, so we can safely consider that particular strip mined out. If Lilley can’t transcend his influences by now, he’s nothing but a hack.
But we do appreciate the way that in this series Chris Lilley is actually letting people who aren’t Chris Lilley have more than a handful of lines. It’s still a show where Jonah welds a “ranga’s” locker shut then rounds up all the school’s “rangas”, cages them in back-to-back soccer nets then tries to make one of them eat dog shit, but… what was our point again?
Oh right: everything in this article is wrong:
It’s hard to think of anyone on TV who excites as much interest or divides audiences as dramatically as Chris Lilley
Maybe Ms Enker should think a little harder: last time we checked Chris Lilley wasn’t exciting as much interest from Australian television audiences as The Bold and the Beautiful.