Turning Up Your Toes

And so Greg Fleet’s long awaited sitcom Die On Your Feet died the way it lived: ignored by pretty much everyone. Hey, members of the Australian media rabbiting on about how Please Like Me is “the best comedy you’re not watching”; how about mentioning the comedy starring actual big comedy names like Greg Fleet and Adam Hills?

But of course, a show that’s actually trying to be funny isn’t what Australian comedy is about these days. Die On Your Feet was in many ways a throwback to the mid-00s, when the sitcom everyone wanted to rip off was Curb Your Enthusiasm: people sitting around making jokes and being mean to each other in a realistic setting. Hang on, isn’t that Please Like Me? Oh wait, we said jokes.

Snark aside, the Curb-model for sitcoms was a quasi-documentary approach to people whose careers involved being funny, and that seems to have been what Fleet was going for here. What he actually got was a bit of a mess: many of the individual scenes across the eight episodes worked well, but they barely hung together as individual episodes and as an entire series… well, like we said, some of the individual scenes were funny.

Which isn’t something we could say about the cast. Fleet has done a lot of acting over the years, and this contains some of it. Hills and Corinne Grant were either terribly misacast or extremely good at playing shape-shifting aliens who never quite got the hang of humanity. Which, again, is partly the fault of the quasi-documentary style: presumably Fleet wanted comedians in the lead roles (and the numerous talking to camera about comedy scenes do usually work ok), and not every decent comedian out there is also a decent actor.

The really disappointing thing about this generally somewhat disappointing show is that there’s a lot of stuff here that isn’t disappointing. If Fleet had somehow fashioned all the jokes here into a novel – or even a very lightly-plotted movie – it’d be a winner for sure. It does a really strong job of capturing the sense of a bunch of mates piss-farting around trying to top one another with quips and one-liners; it just doesn’t work at all when it comes to making those mates feel like actual human beings over the course of four hours. Which is a long time to spend with characters with so little depth they vanish when they turn sideways.

Plus the show was just shabbily made. The big build up at the end of ep 7 was one of the central characters was going to kill himself. Ep 8 starts with everyone else sitting around talking about someone who’d just killed himself, but then TWIST: the previously suicidal character comes in and it turns out it was someone else who topped themselves. Only – and yes, this could be our problem more than the show’s – it just felt confusing. So wait, the guy we saw writing a suicide note and staring at a noose at the very end of the previous episode just… thought better of it? Eventually it was all explained, but a confused audience is not always a laughing audience.

Die On Your Feet ended up being a reminder that putting together even an average sitcom is really difficult and you need pretty much everything to be firing to make it work. Usually when a comedy series fails it’s because the writing’s bad and it drags everything else down; here the writing (especially the funny stories and jokes) were so good it almost made everything else worthwhile. The moral here? If you fill your sitcom with characters who make jokes about everything in their lives, eventually you’ll have a show with a lot of jokes.

So if you’re willing to throw out just about everything most people watch a sitcom for, up to and including the situations – much of the show felt like they’d just filmed hour upon hour of chat in a handful of locations then spread it out across the eight episodes – then what’s left here is actually pretty good. If you were to put together a YouTube collection of the show’s funniest scenes and present them in random order with zero context, you would have a funnier and more enjoyable viewing experience than Die On Your Feet.

Though maybe leave out all the last episode suicide stuff. Even for a show fond of going bleak, that was bleak.

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