Vale Maximum Choppage

This post’s been sitting on the shelf for a few days because… well, we figured we said pretty much all we had to say when we covered the first episode. Especially as pretty much all our predictions for the future of this series came true. Diminishing results as week after week our heroes are dropped into yet another ‘wacky’ situation where the laughs are meant to come almost entirely from the (increasingly forced) absurdity of the situation? You don’t need to be Nostradamus to see how that future plays out.

We don’t know enough about the rules of the annual Series Mania television festival to know whether entering Maximum Choppage in it as a drama is just a quirk of the entrance requirements or something deeper, but it certainly seems reasonable to us. Maximum Choppage was the kind of “comedy” where the laughs are meant to come from the crazy setting (and characters taking the crazy setting seriously) rather than actual jokes, which in our book means it was basically a drama based on a silly idea. That’s fine; that also makes it a drama.

We’ve gone on record before as not being huge fans of “high concept” comedies (*cough Danger 5 cough*), largely because they almost always leave us thinking the high concept would have worked better as a one-off sketch. Maximum Choppage has done nothing to change that view. Sure, it was a polished production with solid performances and the occasional decent laugh; there are plenty of other reviewers who’ll give you the thumbs up for vaulting that low bar.

For example, this guy:

Maximum Choppage is undeniably groundbreaking – in an act of “soft power” it puts a new spin on a working-class suburb better known for its history of drugs and gangs. White characters take a back seat to Asian leads: the show’s real hero is an Asian female; there’s a male Asian character with a white girlfriend; and the token dork is a white character with an Asian fetish called Egg (white on the outside, yellow on the inside). With its purported 90% Asian Australian cast, the show is both a breath of fresh air for Asian actors and a welcome change to the monoculture that is Australian television.

While the show does an admirable job of exposing national audiences to Asian Australian culture, it also indulges in a few cringe-worthy oriental stereotypes. In the first episode the characters sing a bad karaoke rendition of Kung Fu Fighting; the “tiger mother” speaks in a heavy accent (“kill dem!” is one of her catchphrases); and there’s a character called Le Bok (like Reebok – supposedly Asians can’t say their Ls properly) who employs children to make sneakers. When we poke fun at a culture we’re trying to portray are we perpetuating stereotypes?

Both of which are good points (“undeniably groundbreaking” seems like a stretch, mind you), especially as neither of them make any kind of gesture towards the idea that Maximum Choppage was all that funny. But when your conclusion is:

Humour is a great way of injecting Australian television with some much-needed diversity. Too much of it only leads to enforced stereotypes, no matter how intelligently they’re being riffed upon.

That’s when you lose us. We want more diversity on Australian television because it’ll lead to a greater range of humour, not the other way around. And to claim that you could ever have “too much” humour on Australian television suggests you haven’t really watched all that much Australian television.

We’re not the kind of reviewers to give out gold stars just for participation. If you really want to break down the ethnic barriers in Australian television, it’s not good enough to just widen the pool of available actors and stories – if you’re making a comedy, it’s also got to be funny.

And a wacky high concept that gets stale by week three isn’t the way to do it.

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