There’s a certain school of thought that says reality is the highest form of art. The closer your novel or drama or whatever gets to reality, the better it is. Everything about The Other Guy suggests creator / star Matt Okine and his team wanted to make a show that first and foremost felt real. And they’ve succeeded: everything about this series feels like an incident or character plucked from real life. Because no-one would be stupid enough to make this shit up.
First things first: The Other Guy isn’t funny. It’s not really even trying to be funny. Trying to be funny involves more than just thinking up a situation that could conceivably be funny and then just writing it down and moving on. To wit: the first episode is largely about a piss-stained mattress. The mattress contributes nothing to the story, aside from Okine’s character AJ constantly saying to everyone “I didn’t piss on it”, which –
– oh yeah, this is the level we’re operating on here: AJ spends the entire episode denying that it’s his piss soaking into the mattress until the very last scene of the episode, where he finally admits that yeah, it was him. He admits this to his ex (Valene Kane), who he dumped because she cheated on him. They still have a connection, see? She’s the only one he can tell the truth to, right? About his drunken piss antics. Awww.
But here’s what matters: nothing funny happens with the piss mattress. They don’t trick a germaphobe into sleeping on it, they don’t have to get it outside because it’s stinking up the place but it’s too big to remove, they don’t really do anything with it. The entire first episode revolves around a pissy mattress that’s just there until they throw it out.
Anyone who would like to suggest the mattress is a metaphor for this show, feel free.
What The Other Guy really is, is a pissweak – ohohoho – lightweight romantic drama. Ignore anyone silly enough to compare it to either Atlanta or Master of None: Atlanta was a funny yet deeply thoughtful look at a part of American culture rarely examined on television, while this is about 20-something cool dudes wandering around Sydney saying stuff like “why did I sleep with my dealer?”. Master of None was a look at romance from a guy willing to mix things up to get at emotional truths: this features a one night stand that ends awkwardly because neither partner will admit they pissed the bed.
In fact, the only thing this has to do with those US series is that their success opened the door for an Australian knock-off. Hey, local critics: if you’re comparing an Australian comedy series to an American one simply because the local version also features a comedian of colour, maybe you’re being just a little bit more racist than you think.
Still, like every serious Australian drama, it’s well shot in a “no cheap laughs here” fashion. Okine himself – and just him, no-one else – has an easy charm that makes him – just him, no-one else – a moderately engaging lead you can’t help but wish was in a show where he was doing dumb stuff with funny mates. But instead his best mate is Stevie (Harriet Dyer), who as written is so astoundingly unfunny it’s like she traveled here from an anti-matter universe where the highest form of comedy is dragging fingernails down a blackboard.
Considering how ham-fisted the writing is in general – oh look, a scene with AJ’s dad, why do these shit dramadies always bring the parents in like anyone under the age of thirty wants to hang out with the olds fuck you Please Like Me – it’s almost a good sign that they never figured out how to fit in the obligatory “aww, she really cares” moment with Stevie, who spends the entire first episode taking drugs, slipping drugs to AJ, complaining about how it was a bad idea to sleep with her dealer, laughing at her dealer’s range of “slampieces”, inviting herself to move in with AJ, and so on and on and on.
It seems slightly possible that the comedic idea behind having her be astoundingly unpleasant in a completely unfunny way is to occasionally have her taken down a peg (her dealer gets to point out that sleeping with him doesn’t mean she gets free drugs), but it’s hard to tell for sure. Really, really hard to tell.
That’s where this whole “dramedy” approach totally falls down if you want to make a comedy: if you think being realistic is your main goal in a show like this, then you have to undersell things (well, you don’t really – reality is full of crazy shit. But if you want your television show to be seen as “realistic” then you have to downplay things), and that means you can’t do a big abrasive character who gets their comedy comeuppance each episode. It’s too broad.
Trouble is, this also wants to be a comedy, because Matt Okine doing a serious drama based on his own breakup would just be sad and creepy. He’s mining his life for laughs, people! And obviously that whole scene where the off-putting mattress salesman told a pair of complete strangers he was totally up for an orgy is something that happens every day. But to be fair, on a better show that would have worked as a moment of random creepiness against a realistic backdrop. Here it comes in a scene where AJ and Stevie are rolling around on mattresses being annoying pricks as per usual.
The tone is all over the place: if you want laughs from them being jerks in a mattress store, then go for that. Don’t then suddenly have the physically unappealing salesman reveal that sex with multiple partners is on his menu (AWKWARD) because quite frankly even if he is average-looking why would he want to fuck a couple of drunk jerks who’ve just been lying on his mattresses with their shoes on?
Just to return to Stevie for a moment, there’s a lot of comedy around at the moment based on women behaving badly. Almost all of it works because the people behind it understand that on some level the joke has to be on someone – either the person who’s behaving badly, or the stuffy types around her that she shakes up.
Here though, Stevie is annoyingly self-centered without the show giving any context for her behaviour to be out of place – the joke isn’t that she’s inappropriate, or that she’s oblivious to what’s around her, or that she’s messing up AJ’s life, or anything like that. The joke is that “wow, she’s really full on and crazy, right guys?” In real life this kind of character is the kind of character people say should be in a comedy show. But this isn’t real life.
Dramedies are almost always awful because they want all of the results without putting in any of the hard work. They want to be seen to be telling it like it is in such a way that nothing needs to make sense in a dramatic way because real life doesn’t make sense, and they want you to laugh without writing jokes because real life doesn’t have jokes. Having AJ argue with his barmaid-slash-one night stand over who pissed the bed then cut to them back in his bedroom about to have sex again only works with the audience doing all the hard work of rationalising the characters’ insane behaviour in their heads: we’ve all known people who’ve done crazy stuff like that in real life, so why not cut these fictional television characters the same slack?
Here’s why not: they’re not real. This is a fictional narrative. As such, we’re entitled to expect the writers to shape their material to create certain effects. If they want to get laughs, have the characters say and do funny things. If they want to be realistic, have the characters behave in a realistic fashion. But this garbage? Where the characters just do whatever at random because supposedly a total lack of logic or motivation feels real and where the comedy is meant to come from us thinking “yeah, that’s funny” rather than actually having anything funny happen?
It’s as weak as piss.