Off the Boil

Two weeks in and the verdict on Working Dog’s new animated comedy series Pacific Heat is… well, it’s not positive. And fair enough too: for 2016, it’s a great example of 1980s comedy. It’s not news that Working Dog’s sense of humour hasn’t been cutting edge since around the mid-90s, but in animation – where the performances can’t underline when they’re being ironic – a lot of their usually iffy race- and gender-based material comes off second best.

But of course, that kind of insight is largely above and beyond local television critics, who’ve instead decided to go with the most obvious and least interesting observation possible: it’s like Archer, only not as good.

Ever since the synopsis and first still for Working Dog’s new adult animation Pacific Heat (playing on Foxtel in Australia and Netflix in the US) premiered online, fans of the Emmy award-winning spy show Archer smelt a rat. It appeared that the Australian production company was feeding Archer through the proverbial photocopier.

Really? Is that how it appeared? That an Australian comedy team that have been working consistently for the last 30 years putting out a wide range of parody-based comedy and have spent much of the last 20 years trying to come up with formats for overseas sale* just suddenly decided to “photocopy” an American animated series because… um…

But who needs a logical explanation when it’s totally obvious that Working Dog have “form” in the area of the-lawyers-say-we-can’t-call-it-plagiarism:

And the Working Dog team have form when it comes to cop comedies. Their short-lived, live-action 1995 series Funky Squad was itself an extended remake of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage film clip from the previous year.

Case closed, your honour. Oh wait, hang on a second: Funky Squad was actually based on the radio series by Working Dog – itself helpfully titled Funky Squad – from 1994. Insert joke about wondering why Working Dog are bothering to make television when they already have time travel.

The argument here seems to be that whenever Working Dog do a blatantly obvious parody of some well worn genre, they’re not really doing a blatantly obvious parody of a well worn genre – they’re just ripping off someone else’s blatantly obvious parody of a well worn genre. Because all those other times Working Dog have done blatantly obvious parodies of well worn genres – The Johnny Swank radio series parodying spy cliches, the Jetlag travel books, the Audrey Gordon’s Tuscan Summer cook book and spin-off TV series, Russel Coight’s All Aussie Adventures, the Shitscared skits on The Late Show where they went and actually showed documentary The Devil At Your Heels saying “this is what inspired us”** – they were really just ripping off American parodies of the same thing, right?

Not that this review is all about sinking the boots into Working Dog for being shameless plagiarists, of course:

More importantly, standards and tastes have evolved. Pacific Heat feels like a time traveller from a different era; I’m surprised that the creators didn’t bulk up the material with a few homophobic jokes (or maybe they did: I only made it through the first four episodes).

Okay, so which one is it – a blatant knock off of a very current US comedy show, or an example of the way Working Dog’s comedy hasn’t been updated since the 1980s? Did Working Dog really watch Archer and think “hey, let’s rip this off… well, let’s do an animated cop show that’s totally a rip off of Archer, only we won’t take any of the jokes or character dynamics or any of the stuff that’s actually unique to Archer, we’ll just take the most obvious but also least specific thing about that show”?

What Pacific Heat actually is – as we mentioned in our initial review because we occasionally like to do some half-arsed research – is a version of the short comedy radio plays Working Dog did in the late 80s and early-to-mid 90s. It’s animated because when they tried doing a live-action version in the aforementioned Funky Squad it didn’t really work, and it’s being compared to Archer because most TV critics don’t remember that there was an animated version of Police Academy and Murder Police never went to air.

Still, there’s a lot of actual things wrong with Pacific Heat, and this review eventually gets around to covering them… in the comments section, where the show also gets a decent defense (or just a more accepting reading) from a few posters.

But then, it seems like they actually engaged with the show being discussed rather than feeling the need to remind people of the Mickey Rooney performance in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.



*ie The Panel, Thank God You’re Here

**That didn’t really stop people from saying it was a Superdave knock-off. But then, those people didn’t remember Paul Hogan’s Leo Wanker.

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  • Billy C says:

    This is all fair enough but it is visually very close to Archer. So that’s where the comparisons arise. Have not seen either show so can’t comment on if it’s similar in other ways.

  • David M says:

    I’m surprised it was Luke Buckmaster doing the review – his background is in film, and *cough* asking for free shit for reviews *cough* so I wonder how he ended up at the Grauniad