“When it comes to sodomi, you can’t afford to be a tight-arse”. Would you look at that: an actual joke on an Australian comedy shown on ABC2. And from one of the guys behind Beached Az! We should just pack up and quit, clearly we’re in a world where all the old signposts mean nothing. Holy crap, an “Accidentally Kelly Street” reference! “Karl Drogo”! This show’s a goldmine.
We’ve never been fans of The Bondi Hipsters, mostly because we enjoyed UK series Nathan Barley when it did the exact same thing only better a decade earlier. Plus being “an internet sensation” tends to turn us off for a number of reasons, largely to do with the level you have to pitch your comedy at to cut through online. So it’s fairly safe to say our expectations for Soul Mates were… not all that high.
And now that we’ve seen the first episode? Well, we’re still on the fence, but we’re slightly more towards the middle of it. Having four separate plotlines is a good way to keep things moving along, especially as it’s clear from the start that none of the storylines could support an entire episode on their own. The caveman one, this week at least, is basically just a “how dumb were people before they knew how things worked?” joke that barely holds up across the brief time it gets.
The Kiwi Assassins one presents a different set of problems: jokes about NZ accents and riffs on 80s action movies are funny for about 30 seconds the first time you encounter them, and then it’s move along folks, nothing to see here. Ok, your personal mileage may vary; let’s all just agree that they’re not a bottomless well of comedy, and that it’s a well that for pretty much anyone not still giggling at “fush n chups” or the idea of a three minute training montage set to a fake generic 80s pop hit (seriously guys, the joke died a death at the 60 second mark) the well has run dry. Plus New Zealand has been serving up some pretty decent comedy of late (the vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows is funnier than any Australian film of the last five years, for one thing); getting laughs from how they speak when they’re getting laughs from actually being funny is not a great look.
The Time Travel Agents bit had a couple of decent jokes beyond “the future, where they dress funny”, so we’re going to put it in the “positive” column. The Yoko Ono one was helped by largely playing out in the background while other stuff was going on – the idea of having even two things going on at once seems to be one that Australian comedy has largely forgot. That’s one of the advantages of a TV show made by people who came to comedy from making their own sketches (in contrast to stand-up) – they have a better idea of how to get laughs beyond simply having people saying funny stuff (the future guy’s bottomless carry bag being an honest-to-god visual joke).
As for the Bondi Hipsters… well, as we said, this stuff was funnier when Nathan Barley did it a decade ago. And again, hipsters are an easy target. But at least here there were the hints of an actual comedy dynamic (the meek guy and the aggressive, slightly out-of-wack guy) which just made us even more depressed to realise a lot of Australian comedy can’t even manage that these days. Different personality types can be funny when played off against each other! Who knew?
Overall then, Soul Mates was better than we expected. We just weren’t expecting very much. Let’s call it “competent” for now: there were a lot of broad and easy jokes, but at least they were jokes, and giving the leads various comedy personas went some way towards diluting the smug annoyance that the Bondi Hipsters have generated on their solo outings. The real trouble is going to be stretching all this out across eight episodes, especially as the preview for next week didn’t hold out the promise for a lot of change – guess the cavemen are just going to be puzzled by pretty much everything we take for granted, huh?
The characters could get funnier the more we get to know them, or this could be one of those series that start out strong but by week three they’re just spinning their wheels. The future! It’s not just where you get to make jokes about how robots piss.