One car-based “comedy” ends, another car-based “drama” begins: what exactly does the ABC have against public transport?
Yep, another hilarious zinger from us, but seriously: who is running things over at the ABC that on the same night Squinters finally ends the show that starts up after it is yet another series about a collection of offbeat types cruising around Sydney? Sure, Diary of an Uber Driver isn’t meant to be an out-and-out comedy – and lead Ben (Sam Cotton) actually does seem to be driving around Sydney, not just waving his hands about in front of a green screen – but when a network can barely make a handful of local shows a year, why make two that are pretty much the same thing? Especially when that thing is boring?
Squinters, yeah, fuck that; it ran out of ideas at the end of episode one and while doing an entire two seasons of it was a nice showcase for a reasonably talented cast, there was absolutely no reason for anyone to keep watching a show that was nothing but a bunch of nothing characters saying nothing interesting while going nowhere. It was a hollowed out shell of an idea, a show that might have worked if the ABC was in the business of actually giving funny people a go as far as scripted comedy is concerned; they’re not and it didn’t.
Diary of an Uber Driver is the same thing, but retooled as “lightweight drama” as our bland hero drives around interacting with various forgettable types because if he doesn’t then we don’t have a show. Remind us again: why do we have a show? The idea of having an actual story or ongoing characters that might hook viewers in and get them coming back isn’t so much foreign to the ABC as it seems like something they’re actually allergic to.
Yes, there’s an angle here: Ben wants to make his relationship work, and so he’s become a student of human nature to… ah, fuck it: this isn’t a story, it isn’t even the start of one. It’s a premise to collect some cash from a funding body, a fun way to employ a bunch of decent actors, an attempt by the one who isn’t Josh Thomas to expand his writing credits beyond Please Like Me. What it most definitely isn’t, is a television show anyone actually asked to see.
And yet we doubt anyone involved in the production of this show will see this review – okay, it’s a rant, and almost certainly an ill-informed one at that – as a negative. We’re talking at cross-purposes to the Australian television industry, asking why the latest fighter jet doesn’t fly while everyone is admiring how lethal it looks. The performances are fine, the tone is varied, it looks good and it runs for the required length. There’s a “hilarious” sequence involving a whole bunch of “shocking” dirty talk. What more do you want?
If Australia was full to the brim with genius television writers in the much the same way as it’s packed with decent actors and television crews, then sure, why not try something high concept to stand out from the pack? But Australia has no good television writers; it barely has any good sketch comedy writers and if something happened at Mad as Hell HQ we’d be fucked. Considering the rock bottom standard of pretty much everything written locally that appears on our television screens, why are we making not one but two shows based around a tricky, superficially boring concept that requires Larry David in his prime to make work even for a single solitary episode?
Then again, what do we know about comedy? Fuck all obviously, because it seems this show is, rather than a mildly diverting way for a bunch of skilled technicians to pay their rent, on par with one of the greatest sitcoms of all time:
Many of the greatest comedy writers of history have realised the importance of setting, and how a good one can open up a kaleidoscope of potential comic scenarios. John Cleese was aware how rich a hotel would be for comic scenarios, given that just about anybody can stay in a hotel. The same principle has worked on Cheers and Brooklyn 99 and any number of medical and legal comedies: set your show somewhere that facilitates the introduction of a steady stream of eccentrics, and you’ll never be short of a funny story.
Now comes Diary of an Uber Driver, a show which takes advantage of the near-infinite possibilities presented by the 21st century’s gig economy.
Who knew that the reason why Fawlty Towers was so funny was not because it featured a tight knit group of well-defined comedy characters in a confined setting where the introduction of one variable could rapidly tip things into chaos, but because… well, literally the exact opposite of that? Fawlty Towers was a show where each episode took months to write; has anything on Australian television this century felt like the producers stumped up the cash for a second draft?
That could be the revelation at the heart of Diary of an Uber Driver: the opening up of the potential of human connections. Ward has struck on a premise that allows him to bring anyone at all into his world, but just as it was in his last show, it’s the magic of what happens when strangers collide that brings the funny as well as the feels.
Wasn’t “it’s the magic of what happens when strangers collide that brings the funny as well as the feels” the tagline for Bumfights?