We’ve always been a bit nonplussed about Soul Mates, which returned to the ABC last night. It’s neither especially bad nor especially good comedy, but with its recurring characters and serial structure, it is at least an interesting take on the sketch show.
Returning in series 2 are the Bondi Hipsters, Dom and Adrian, who’ve opened a new café in Bondi called Closed. The deal with Closed is that it looks like it’s closed, and the only people who get served are the ones who get the joke. It’s the kind of comedy concept that sounds reasonably funny on paper, but it turned out to be less funny as actual sketches. (We quite liked Dom and Adrian’s coffee song, though.)
Also returning are the cavemen, Sticks and Rocky, who in this episode start a small business and quickly find that their workers aren’t up to scratch. This evolves into a quite clever, well-observed piece of workplace satire, picking apart the management/worker relationship, but it’s not hugely hilarious. It’s more the sort of comedy that makes you nod sagely rather than guffaw.
At the sillier end of the Soul Mates spectrum are the Kiwi Assassins, secret agents from New Zealand living in 1980’s Australia, tasked with undermining Aussie success. It’s nice to see Francis Greenslade as a mad scientist type, trying to get Phar Lap’s heart beating again, but coming off the back of Mad As Hell, it’s clear which show used Greenslade’s talents best.
But if this all sounds like a re-hash of series 1, don’t worry, there are new characters too. A series of sketches set in ancient Egypt show the royal family instructing slaves to renovate a demi-god’s tomb. With much of the plot and humour revolving around the power play and sexual politics of the ancient Egyptian elite, it reminded us a lot of Tinto Brass’ Caligula – not a film we thought would come to mind when watching Australian sketch comedy!
And perhaps that’s a clue to the problem of this show: all the characters are either hyper-real stereotypes and/or re-workings of characters from pop culture. And while that kind of thing has been the bread and butter of sketch comedy since forever, what makes sketch comedy funny is when comedians add an extra twist to it. There’s something funny in, say, two cavemen inventing – and finding the problems in – workplace culture, but just showing what would happen if that happened isn’t terribly funny. And as different a take on sketch as Soul Mates is, we find it disappointing because all we want from a sketch show is laughs.