Deep within the depths of ABC iView, we stumbled across The Housemate, a short comedy series written by and starring Gemma Bird Matheson and Alex Keddie. The Housemate imagines a world in which a room in a decent and affordable inner-city rental property is so scarce that the only hope some people have of ever getting one is to be a contestant on a The Bachelor-style reality show called The Housemate.
It’s funny because we are literally months away from this actually happening.
But sadly, despite its topicality and resonance, The Housemate isn’t that hilarious. It’s more the kind of multi-part sketch you’d expect to see in one of those ensemble sketch shows that contain a lot of TV parodies. You know, the type of sketch shows that networks insist on making pilots of every so often, like last year’s Skit Happens, which featured “a parody of Love Island but with desperate, single women competing for the interest of a cute fluffy cat”.
To be fair to The Housemate, it does wring about as many jokes out of a The Bachelor-style program about finding a flatmate as it possibly can. Including a sequence where the voiceover man describes how it’s been “a rocky road” for friends Gemma and Alex to find a new housemate, while Gemma and Alex are sitting on a sofa looking sad and eating some Rocky Road.
There’s also a mildly amusing inner-city twist on The Bachelor’s rose ceremony, where the surviving contestants receive a latte, with vegan contestants getting an almond milk latte but being asked to pay 80c extra. But otherwise, as far as the laughs go, the show lives or dies on whether the prospective housemates are actually funny or not.
In a wise move, the two vegan contestants who start out on the show are dispensed with in early episodes (turns out there are only about three funny jokes about vegans and they’ve all been done to death by comedians in the past half-decade), leaving the far funnier creeps and oddballs remaining in the show.
Of these, the stand-outs are:
Molly B (Laura Wheelwright, Wolf Creek, Get Krack!n), an intense shop assistant at Sportsgirl who seems to know everything about Gemma and Alex because she’s been stalking them on social media.
Tiana (Tiana Hogben, Get Krack!n), who seems incapable of expressing emotions but somehow makes it through to the final round.
Marg (Heidi Arena, Little Lunch, Audrey’s Kitchen), a 47-year-old mother of two who recently split up with her husband.
In the end, though, even with these solid comedy characters played by very able comic performers, The Housemate fails to fire because for the conceit to work the action has to take place within the confines of a reality show, thus limiting the comic possibilities.
Of course, had they taken the opposite approach, as Get Krack!n and This Time with Alan Partridge have done, where the writers took liberties with conceit to get laughs, it might not have worked either. Parodies of TV shows, despite their proliferation in comedy across the decades, are often very hard to get right. The makers have to both be true to the show they’re parodying and exaggerate the show enough to get laughs. But be too true to the show and it’s not funny, and be too over-the-top and it’s no longer true.
The Housemate’s ultimate problem? It veers too much towards the truth and thus is fairly thin on laughs.