No one expected the first sitcom from Channel 9 for a billion years to be amazing, which Here Come the Habibs duly wasn’t. But it wasn’t totally awful either and perhaps we should feel grateful for that? It’s arguable that the show deserves a second series, but, for the most part, it was just… competent? The characters were somewhat consistent, the plotlines weren’t complete rubbish, the cameras were pointing at the action and the microphones were turned on. Maybe that last one wasn’t a plus.
This blog post is supposed to be a vale for the first series of the Habibs, but it’s more a deep sigh. Why can’t we make decent TV sitcoms in this country? What’s our problem?
Televised Revolution make a good point when they argue that it’s not a healthy sign that it’s always the same production companies who get to make local comedy shows, but we can’t help but return to our blog of last Sunday and argue that it’s the fact that it’s always the same writers writing these programs that’s the bigger problem. Go through the credits of the past couple of decades of Australian TV comedies and you’ll see the same writers turn up in the credits for all sorts of shows, made by all sorts of companies. Writers who churn out scripts that are competent but not outstanding, wherever they go.
In the case of Here Come the Habibs, many of the writers are the sort of well-established folk you’d expect to find writing episodes of a sitcom, having worked on middling comedy shows such as The Nation, Wednesday Night Fever, Randling, Balls of Steel Australia, Housos, Pizza, Good News Week, The Moodys, Chandon Pictures, The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide To Knife Fighting, The Hamster Wheel and Upper Middle Bogan.
Less excitingly, Habibs writers’ credits also included Home and Away, Neighbours, All Saints and Kitchen Cabinet. We don’t mind the idea that these writers have worked on a few less-than-successful comedy programs, but soap operas and lightweight politics shows? Er, no.
It’s understandable – just – that television production companies in this country want to call on writers who have written television before. But what we need is writers who’ve a): written comedy before, and way more importantly otherwise you just get Dave O’Neil in the credits of everything, b): done a good job of it. In the past it was usually the case that good sitcoms came from good writers who were writing more or less for themselves (Frontline, The Games). Can it really be the case that no-one in Australia has had a good sitcom idea since then? That the only people coming up with sitcoms are people who already work at production companies and have already written hours of generic, forgettable television product?
If we want to get good at sitcoms in this country, we need to be able to call on writers who’ve got lots of experience of writing sitcoms. Production companies who’ve got lots of experience of making sitcoms would be very useful too, but it’s getting the scripts right we need to concentrate on. Because if we were to isolate the major problem with the Habibs, it would be that it didn’t contain a lot of laughs or good plotting, more broad slapstick and obvious-as-hell set-ups.