Big question first: should the cast of new ABC / Netflix sitcom Why Are You Like This? be filed under Millennials or Gen Z? The Millennial case comes strong out of the gate: the characters are clearly in their mid 20s, the first version of the series (a couple of Fresh Blood shorts) aired in 2017, the “official” cut off date for being born a Millennial is 1997, there you have it, why was this even a question.
But there’s a problem. Millennials are no longer “young” – the oldest ones are now pushing 40. And Why Are You Like This most definitely skews “young”… or at least, it does if you’re the ABC publicity department, who are always faintly desperate to make sure we all know they make shows that the cool kids would love if they ever went near the ABC. So from a marketing standpoint – and is there any other at the ABC? – they’re Gen Z all the way.
The real problem here is that this show kinda wants to be cool, and the ABC really really wants it to be cool, but cool and comedy really don’t go together. The funniest version of all this is one where the characters are clearly Millennials acting like Gen Z (wait, what’s the difference?) because they refuse to grow up. That would make them funnier, but it would also make them kind of dorky (note to self – research “dorky” awareness amongst Gen Z), and the ABC publicity department isn’t big on dorky unless it’s a character clearly past 35 and in a charming rural setting.
Anyway, we said a lot of what we have to say about this back in 2018, as that’s when the first episode of this series first aired. The second episode (the first two aired back-to-back: you can watch the whole series on iView) was even better, in large part because it expanded Penny’s woke tyranny to a client who’s workplace was stuck firmly back in the 1970s. Mia’s vaginal calamity subplot? Not so great.
There’s two strands to the comedy here: in one, the cliches around people in their early-to-mid-twenties are exaggerated for comedic effect, while in the other the relationship between two characters who fit together in some obvious superficial ways but are bad for each other on a personal level is mined for comedy.
(the second is also pretty much the dynamic in the ABC’s other sitcom, Aftertaste. Readers looking to pitch sitcom ideas to the ABC take note)
The first strand is well-worn territory and you know… *gestures towards shows ranging from The Bondi Hipsters to Nathan Barley*. It always seems like a good idea but hardly ever works, largely because most people aren’t really aware of what’s being made fun of and those who are often find themselves too invested in what’s cool to enjoy the mockery unless it’s really well done.
… and it is not really well done here, though the high number of cliched shock-based jokes excused by the characters self-awareness and social status (“it’s ok, I’m gay”) does raise some interesting questions about how progressive the comedy – though not the show as a whole – actually is.
The second strand is a bit more promising, even if it’s largely downplayed in the first couple of episodes. Australia hasn’t created a classic character comedy in a long time and this definitely isn’t going to be it, but we’ve got to start somewhere and “my personal beliefs require me to be pushed around by my amoral and exploitative best friend” is a dynamic with legs.
It’s funny how quickly Broad City faded from what we currently know as “the cultural conversation”, but that’s good news for Why Are You Like This? – it means that it’s stepping into a niche that’s wide open. As for exactly why it’s wide open? Well, Broad City made the mistake (well, “mistake”) of first and foremost being a zeitgeisty comedy (so once the online mood shifted to “we hate Trump”, all that great press dried up), whereas Why Are You Like This? can get away with a bunch of dud moments because it puts some currently marketable elements front and centre.
Which is a fancy way of saying that more often than we’d like it’s trying to be cool rather than funny.