Down Ricketts Lane

On the surface of things, Sammy J and Randy’s Ricketts Lane looks like the sort of high concept sitcom we get every couple of years. As per the Rebel Wilson-penned Bogan Pride the characters break in to song and dance numbers every so often, and like Frank Woodley’s 2012 solo vehicle Woodley this is a show about failing relationships and disappointing lives in a quirky old school suburb. Hey, look! Curtains from the 70’s. And other retro stuff you used to see ‘round your grandparent’s house. Actually, that could be the house in Please Like Me. Anyway…

Ricketts Lane actually comes out of various live stage shows that Sam McMillan (Sammy J) and puppeteer Heath McIvor (Randy) have been presenting at comedy festivals for more than five years. The material, the schtick and some of the songs are therefore fairly well-honed, and on screen work reasonable well by setting the action in a heightened reality universe of broad brushstroke characters (the bastard boss, the bitchy ex-wife) and odd situations (the bastard boss and the bitchy ex-wife enjoy bondage with each other).

It’s the kind of show you imagine would work well on ABC2, but instead the entire series is premiering on iView. Apparently this is because ABC2 don’t broadcast new shows anymore, and as it’s presumably too niche to just put out on ABC (?) here it all is. Sammy J and Randy’s rusted-on fans, and maybe you dear reader, have watched it all by now. Sadly, we’ve only had time to watch the first episode, which is what we base this review on…

It’s census time! And both girlfriend-less Sammy J and unhappily divorced Randy are desperate to restore some pride by being able to place a tick in the married box on their household’s form. So Randy heads off to try and woo back ex-wife Victoria Vincent (a hard-nosed tabloid TV current affairs host) while Sammy J asks his secretary Wednesday to help him find a wife…and having missed the signs that Wednesday would happily be that wife, Sammy J ends up with a mail order wife called Smilté, an East European bodybuilder with an aggressive teenage son and a pet llama.

With so many ingredients for comedy gold present, this really should be funnier than it is. Many of the songs, which were probably a hoot in the stage shows, fall flat when performed on camera, and the main laughs come from the short interactions between bastard boss Borkman and his subordinate Michael (played by Little Dum Dum Club favourite Dilruk Jayasinha). Adapted for TV some of this may be, but successful on TV it isn’t. Not quite, anyway. Instead it falls in to the classic high concept sitcom trap of letting the high concept dominate. Compare this to something like Utopia, which while not high concept is very much about being a political satire, and it’s notable that getting laughs from gags is at least as important in the writer’s minds as producing satire.

In other words, what Ricketts Lane needs to do is to place more emphasis on getting laughs from dialogue, and writing song and dance sequences which work well on camera. There may be some of this coming up in future episodes (the save the trees plot in episode 2 looks promising) but this may also be one of those series which needs to throw off what’s worked in the past in another medium (stage) and look at how it can work in the medium it’s trying to work in (TV).

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  • Matlock says:

    I was under the impression this was going to premiere on ABC next month as well, is that still happening?

  • dfd says:

    Weren’t there comments on a previous post that pointed out it ‘had’ to debut on iView because of the type of Screen Aus funding it received?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    From what we can tell, it was the same deal as the one for recent ABC not-zombie series Glitch in that it received some form of ‘digital’ funding. FYI, Glitch premièred on ABC1 then all six episodes became available on iView while the show played out weekly on ABC1. The best we can currently find for Ricketts Lane‘s ABC1 debut is “October”, which is a somewhat different approach.

  • Billy C says:

    I’ve never been a massive fan of Sammy J. I’ve never seen a full live show though to be fair and have only seen small spots. I always found him fine but not my sort of thing but I really enjoyed the first episode and I’ll probably watch a few more. I thought it was refreshingly gag heavy. I didn’t think it really needed the songs to be honest. It’s not easy to shoot a puppet. They are limited with camera movements and angles but I thought they did a decent job.

  • Opencell says:

    Ricketts Lane with Sammy J and Randy is a fun, very light hearted comedy that is Australian, great news. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole series with each episode building on the previous one. The crass Borkman, the devoted Wednesday and the main man Randy, with Sammy J in tow. I have turned into a loyal fan. “it’s not a competition, no, but if it was I’d be winning”. Love it!!