The decision by Seven – well, 7Mate to be exact – to show Housos vs Virus and Regular Old Bogan back to back has provided us with an exciting opportunity to examine how storytelling works in the Australian sitcom. Because they sure as shit didn’t give us anything to examine as far as comedy goes.
Both of these series have been on the shelf for a while, largely thanks to Seven suddenly having more footy to screen in 2020 than they knew what to do with. The delay hurts Housos a little, as it’s possible it might have originally aired at a time when jokes about toilet paper shortages were still funny. Even for a Paul Fenech production it feels shoddy and rushed – which again, might not have been a drawback if it had aired in April when the extended slow-motion shot of a woman flashing her chest might have served to raise national spirits or something.
Bogan, on the other hand, suffers from an extremely basic animation style that’s not so much ugly as just half-arsed. Knowing absolutely nothing about animation, there’s presumably a good reason why they didn’t put in a bit of effort / money to come up with some decent character designs, especially as they don’t move much so having to come up with a wide range of easily drawn poses and expressions is not an issue. There was not a single joke in the first episode that the animation made funnier, which feels like a major drawback for an animated show.
That said, being animated means Bogan can do things unimaginable by Australian sitcom standards – you know, like car chases and using multiple locations. We’re not talking Rick & Morty here: this is an animated sitcom where things largely stay within the boundaries of live-action comedy but with a severed dick or two thrown in (and about). On that level, it works.
There’s an well structured A and B plot, the episode’s events are over the top but flow relatively logically, and the whole thing wraps up with a callback that makes sense and provides a decent character moment. It’s the kind of show that you can imagine an impressed teen telling his mates about and having those mates say “yeah, that sounds pretty good”.
Unfortunately, for a sitcom to really work, it needs jokes. Bogan occasionally gestures in the vague direction of them – the pre-teen daughter wants her clit pierced! the dad is a fuckwit! check out this severed dick! – but that’s about it. Saying “Spoof Creek” over and over again doesn’t make it funny; having the dad refer to his son by name at least once every sentence is just plain bad writing.
But while Bogan has the structure in place but nothing to fill it – it’s really just a wacky drama – Housos doesn’t even have that. After establishing the new status quo – after the previous Housos series half the regulars are in prison or old folks homes, and the remainder plus a few new “next generation” characters are all in coronavirus lockdown in a single house – everyone yells about how they don’t have enough toilet paper, booze, food and sex toys, so Frankie (Fenech) repeatedly sneaks out to steal them, flash his arse, and hit people with his thong. That’s it.
Fenech’s recent Fat Pizza reboot worked because Fat Pizza is a halfway decent idea for a show. Housos has never been anything but a bunch of screechy-voiced characters yelling over the top of each other (fan favourite phrase “fucked in the face” is back, everyone!), which doesn’t exactly make it the ideal comedy for people stressed out about the local impacts of a global pandemic. Even for Fenech, Housos vs Virus is a new low; here’s hoping the virus wins.