Lined Up For the Chop

The trick with parodies is to make sure there’s more going on than just the parody. Those classic Mad Magazine movie spoofs had great art; Get Smart had a whole lot of jokes that had nothing to do with the “spy-fi” craze of the 60s. And the other end of the scale, SBS’s recent action send-up Danger 5 often felt like the writers went home after high-fiving each other for coming with with “Hitler in a High School”. So which side of the line does Maximum Choppage fall?

The set-up is a familiar one: in a lawless town where gangs terrorise the innocent, a lone warrior arrives to set things right. Only this time the lawless town is the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta and the lone warrior is Simon Chan (Lawrence Leung). His friends and family think he’s been off training at martial arts school; in reality he was studying at Marshall’s Art School in Melbourne. Now he only has a week to save his mother, her video store, and himself from a gang of serious badasses and the shady figure (ok, it’s the Mayor, who wants to turn their shopping strip into a car park). Fight!

Leung is a likable lead as the quiet nerd forced into the hero role (and outfit), his two buddies Egg (Dave Eastgate, who you may recall from The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting and Wednesday Night Fever, though he probably hopes you don’t) and Petal (Stephanie Son) are decent sidekicks and the evil gang is, well, evil. Setting a martial arts story in a Sydney suburb is silly enough to get a few cheap laughs early on, and the show is committed enough to its wacky scenario to sell it effectively without going too far into lunacy. The question (and one we can’t really answer based solely on the first episode) is whether these elements are going to be enough to sustain a six-part series.

For some reason, Australian sitcoms are almost always rubbish when it comes to characterisation. Upper Middle Bogan wasn’t a great show, but the fact you could tell the characters apart put it a long way ahead of the pack. So all too often our sitcoms try to make up for this – when your characters are all the same its difficult to get laughs out of their interactions, after all – by going for hilarious over-the-top situations. Which is what’s happening here. And we all know how well most Australian sitcoms end up.

Looking at the synopsis for upcoming episodes (fish fighting? ghost busting?) doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence. Sure, this kind of thing could work, but the whole “this week, another wacky cartoony scenario plays out” deal is one we’ve seen a little too often in Australian sitcoms. Which is a bit of a shame, because the character stuff in episode one is actually pretty reasonable: it doesn’t go too far with Chan’s fake warrior act (having Petal know the truth is a relief), while Petal and Egg are different enough from each other to at least suggest some possible character-based plotlines down the line.

If you’re just doing a one-off sketch, a crazy idea can be enough. But a six part series – that’s three hours of television – can’t just rely on outlandish scenarios to keep people watching. Dropping Leung’s nebbish persona into an action movie set in an unlikely location creates enough comedy contradictions to get this first episode over the line, but unless there’s a few more ingredients added – and not just constantly changing the kind of wacky genre knock-off that takes place each week – this particular dish is going to grow stale fast.

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  • Billy C says:

    That’s possible the most begrudging review I’ve ever read. It’s reads like you really didn’t want to like it, couldn’t find much wrong with it and now you’re hoping it will get worse!

    I really liked it. It had actual jokes, there was something at stake and I thought it did a good job of introducing a lot of characters very quickly. I actually laughed out loud several times.

    The first narrative Australian comedy in several years where I’ve been even remotely interested in watching a second episode.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    How the review developed was more like this:
    a): watch episode
    b): think it was fine – maybe better than average
    c): look at synopsis of future episodes
    d): realise that this series seems to be relying on a lot of wacky set-ups rather than character development
    e): remember that 80% of comedy these days starts out strong then rapidly ends up repeating itself
    f): write review

    Perhaps if Danger 5 hadn’t mined (somewhat) similar territory a month ago we might have been more impressed.

  • Billy C says:

    “d): realise that this series seems to be relying on a lot of wacky set-ups rather than character development”

    Well it’s your snarky website (and I love it) but I prefer to judge something on what it actually is not what it might be. Pretty hard to develop characters in one ep when you’ve got half a dozen to introduce.

    Didn’t see this season of Danger 5 but don’t see a particular similarity. Sure both have a heightened reality. But this is closer to Spaced than Danger 5. It resembles the real world, it’s not international espoionage. Parking in Cabramatta and the twist on the Madonna gang are pretty funny local references.

    Also it’s pretty refreshing to see another series where not everyone is white.
    I’m really quite enthusiastic about this one. It’s not that anti-comedy stuff and it’s not understated. It’s owning the jokes and a thought most of them were all right. I don’t mind wacky. I thought it looked good and was really refrehsing. If it’s the same thing every week with new jokes I don’t think I’ll be overly dissapointed.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    “Pretty hard to develop characters in one ep when you’ve got half a dozen to introduce.” It’s also pretty hard to develop characters when every episode is based around an entirely new wacky situation.

    We’re not judging the show on what it “might be”, we’re looking ahead to what’s coming up and expressing a concern that a perfectly serviceable opening episode is going to turn out to be the best of the bunch due to diminishing returns. Because far more often than not, that turns out to be the case with Australian comedies.

  • Billy C says:

    ” It’s also pretty hard to develop characters when every episode is based around an entirely new wacky situation. ”

    – Sure but an episode description never talks about character development. They talk about situations.
    Neither or us can predict what’s going to happen based on press material. You may end up being right but Seinfeld had wacky situations and very little character development.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    If you don’t think Seinfeld had a whole bunch of character development going on, we’re not even speaking the same language here.

  • Billy C says:

    Considering the entire premise of the final episode was their inability to emphasise or change and the circular nature of their conversations I don’t think we are!

  • Billy C says:


  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Yes, but within those limited parameters the show (which admittedly had a *lot* more time to play with) really developed them as characters. They may have all been jerks, but Elaine was a different kind of jerk compared to George, or Jerry, or Kramer. And a lot of the show’s success came from the clash between their various natures and each other / the social situations they found themselves in.

    Most current Australian comedies struggle to define their characters as anything beyond “that guy saying this stuff”. At least Chris Lilley could create characters – he just refused to have them interact with anyone else.

  • sdf says:

    Certainly not a bad show but it’s just a bit snoozy all round. Two mehs up.