The Member for Nothing

The Australian electorate faces a difficult choice this Saturday; difficult because both of the major parties have similar policies and almost all of the small parties and independents are raving nutbags. Which makes Miles Holbeck – The Member, a new election-themed comedy web series from Jungle, available in bi-weekly installments on their Facebook page, seem rather timely.

Former PE teacher Miles Holbeck is standing as an independent candidate for the Senate, except, unlike every independent who’s ever stood, he hasn’t got any beliefs or policies. He’s more the kind of politician who’ll say whatever he thinks the few people prepared to listen to him want to hear.

Making Holbeck an independent candidate with no strong beliefs is an interesting choice, partly because it seems so unlikely – isn’t the thing about independents that they stand because they believe strongly in something, no matter how misguided – and partly because for the character to work, there has to be some way for us to his understand him. And so far, all we’ve discovered is that Miles used to be a PE teacher and that he and his wife split recently. Which doesn’t really explain why he’s running despite holding no political views.

We could probably overlook the fact that Miles is an unrealistic and unexplained character if the show was funny, but here’s the other problem: it isn’t. It’s yet more of what we’ve come to expect from almost two decades of post-The Office, cringe-coms: a misguided character does stuff and looks idiotic. And we’re all meant to laugh.

Miles campaigns in a local park, tries too hard to get along with people and metaphorically falls on his arse. Miles gets a slot on community radio, but when asked by the interviewer to tell the listeners his views, any of his views, he plugs his tailor. Miles’ campaign manager hires various experts (in strategy, NLP, etc.), but Miles either doesn’t understand or ignores their advice. Miles gets booked for an Open Mic night in a bar and bores and mystifies the audience with his attempts to play the guitar and connect with them politically. And on it goes.

Oh yeah, and almost all the people in this series are members of the public who had no idea Miles wasn’t a real candidate. Which again, would have been fine if it was funny, but it isn’t. You just feel a bit sorry for the various people whose time’s been wasted.

With so many candidates in this year’s election having nothing of great interest to say, a comedy about a candidate with no views seems prescient, but it doesn’t work comedically. If you want to create a character who’s funny, you’d be better off creating a character with extreme views – a Bob Katter or Donald Trump-style nutbag, for example. But if your character believes in nothing, there’s nowhere for your comedy to go. And as much as we’re not fans of Office-style cringe comedy, at least David Brent was an actual character, with the sort of delusional self-believe that’s potentially very funny indeed. Miles Holbeck, on the other hand, needs to find some beliefs to hold so that we can laugh at them.

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