Over the years there seems to be a growing disconnect between what audiences want in a comedy and what the ABC thinks they want. Audiences want to laugh; the ABC thinks they want a show set in some lush semi-rural regional getaway location so they can film the whole thing in rustic houses and cute cafes like it’s a tourism commercial. Guess which group Aftertaste falls into?
So yeah, good news for Rosehaven fans who’ve been thinking “I really wish this had slightly more conflict between the main characters”, bad news for people who really wish the ABC would give their tiny handful of sitcom slots to actual sitcoms and not these soothing travel brochures. Which in this case is even more annoying than usual, as there’s clearly the basics of an okay sitcom here.
You have one stereotype (the shouty angry world famous chef) smashed up against another (the feisty can-do teen girl) in a situation where they’re forced to work together to get something they both want (he needs redemption; she needs exposure). If this moved twice as fast and packed in twice the jokes, we’d have a hit on our hands.
Ok, probably not. For one thing, what “jokes” there are here largely come from a): swearing (mostly him), b): saying inappropriate things (mostly her) and c): putting a weird stress on statements to indicate they’re meant to be punchlines (you know what we mean – Rebel Wilson does this a lot). If you’ve seen the trailer, where chef dude says he worked with some famous chef and she replies “yeah – as a dish pig“, you know what we mean. It’s just an observation, not a punchline, and it stays that way no matter how hard you sell it.
Part of the problem is that there’s a lot going on here and they’re focusing on things that aren’t the basics. There’s definitely a decent comedy to be made about an angry white man trying to make a comeback only to discover that in 2021 that’s not possible (on the other hand: Eddie McGuire). There’s also a decent comedy to be made about an angry man coming home and trying to repair his broken relationships, a young woman who discovers the only way she can get the recognition she deserves is by riding on the coat-tails of some garbage dude, a clash between rival cutsey cafes in a small town AND SO ON.
It wouldn’t even be a problem that it’s trying to do all these things at once if it knew what was going on at the heart of the show. It’s clearly character-based, so if it’s a comedy then the characters stay the same and the jokes come from how they deal with what’s around them; if it’s a drama, they start in one place as a person and move to another.
After the first episode though, it’s clear that both our leads are going to just… wobble around. Angry chef is angry, then repentant, then angry; bubbly teen gets disillusioned, then bubbles back. In real life, sure, people are like this. But on television, it kinda helps to have a bit more structure – otherwise it just feels like you want to be a serious character study only there’s just not enough character there.
But who cares about plot and characterisation and jokes so long as you have loads of shots of food, right? You can imagine the commissioning editor’s hand slowly drifting under the desk as they realised that this could be a series that could combine the rural charm of a winery commercial with the mouth-watering imagery of a cooking magazine if only they got rid of that pesky comedy stuff.
Of course, we pretty much knew all this going in, but so long as the ABC keeps pretending this kind of thing is “comedy” we’re going to check it out just in case. Honestly, it’s not bad for what it is – which is a very pretty show that’s filed under comedy because it couldn’t cut it as a drama and c’mon, a guy shouting at an emu is hilarious – but what it is should be something the commercial networks make.
Probably with a big fat wine & tourism sponsorship up front.