The original Very Small Business was basically a two-hander: Don Angel (Wayne Hope) ran a collection of shady businesses while his sad sack offsider Ray Leonard (Kym Gyngell) wrote articles for Don’s publishing “empire” and mused on how life had brought him so low. it was hilarious; it was also a savage attack on the myth of the salt-of-the-earth small businessman. For reasons never properly articulated, it only lasted one season; now, a full decade later, it’s back.
Somewhat surprisingly, Don’s empire now actually is an empire… well, he seems to have a range of brands under the World Wide Business logo, each with their own staff member and range of shoddy merchandise (watermelon beanbags, avocado cushions, strawberry pencil sharpeners) that they’re trying to sell at massive markups. The one business that does seem to be bringing in some much-needed cash – Don needs to buy an extremely expensive Range Rover so he can make a splash arriving at the local Small Business Awards – is the internet influencer one run by his daughter Sam (Molly Daniels). And even there Don is constantly sticking his oar in doing more harm than good because he’s basically an arrogant human being with very little to be arrogant about.
The large cast are mostly skimmed over this episode and most of them barely register; so far the highlights come when we get to see the various complicated scams WWB is up to. Sam locks in an AFL player to flog sunglasses, only to have his agent cancel the deal; her choice of a replacement (a porn star) doesn’t go down well. Meanwhile Ray – who, for his sins, is now in charge of the Don’s Dirty Dog Wash franchise scheme – uses the sad story of his life (wife left him, partner left him, daughter turned out not to be his, daughter is now his trans son) to win over clients wavering about signing on the bottom line: clearly hanging around Don for the last decade has taught him a thing or two.
Don is a monster, almost completely devoid of likable qualities: he’s barely competent at sales, awful at employee relations, is driven almost entirely by ego (and his bowels) and spends much of his time spouting cliches about how he’s the driving force of the Australian economy. So if you’ve ever had to spend any time with a small businessman (or woman), he’s extremely recognisable. “You’ve heard of the trickle down effect? I’m the person it trickles down out of”.
He’s also very funny, though the more you’ve had to deal with his type the funnier he is; seeing this particular kind of self-aggrandising blowhard get skewered dead-on is very satisfying indeed in a country where pretty much our entire social and political system is built around blowing smoke up their arse. Getting paid peanuts while your boss goes on about how he should be lauded for being a “job creator” before he heads home early in a car worth more than your yearly pay packet? Yeah, that’s a thing in Australia.
But aside from that? Well, like we said, the scams and schemes were interesting; someone’s done their research there. And Sam is a solid addition to the dynamic, though one episode in and we’ve already had enough of the “wow, young people’s talk is totes amazeballs” jokes. Don’s an old fart; we get it. That’s probably the most likable thing about him.
Don is strong enough of a character to carry a show by himself; this could work (though probably not on the ABC) as simply a series of monologues. So our big worry here is that the more the show focuses on everyone else, the less it’ll be making use of its biggest selling point. After one episode it seems to have got the balance right; so long as he’s on the other side of the screen, too much of Don Angel is never enough.