The best sitcoms have layers, more than one thing going on at any one time. They don’t just contain some characters saying funny things. There’s also something happening in the background, or there’s a quick shot of a funny prop, or – and this is really hard to articulate, so bear with us – the director’s created the perfect atmosphere for laughs.
What makes a high-quality sitcom is a lot of things done by a lot of people, mainly the writers who came up with the concept in the first place, and whose job it should be to make you laugh often.
So, in Australian sitcom, where it’s sometimes rare that there’s even one thing funny thing happening at one time, Fisk is a show worth celebrating. The first episode was high-quality and full of laughs, so was the second, and so was the third. Usually in Australian sitcom, by the time you get to mid-way through a series, there’s been a dud episode, where the writers have sort of run out of puff before they gear up for whatever the series finale is. Not with Fisk. Unless the dud episode’s coming in episode four. But we doubt it.
Fisk is a show which builds on what’s happened before, which means that Roz (Julia Zemiro) going around obsessively labelling and signposting everything in the office in episode two, results in small but hilarious sight gags in episode three, like the sign about covering food before it gets heated up in the microwave, which Helen (Kitty Flanagan) pointedly ignores. Then there’s the Ikea desk bought for Helen, which George (Aaron Chen) “hacked”. A cheap desk with its legs on wrong shouldn’t be as funny as it is, but it is in Fisk. Must be that atmosphere we were trying to describe earlier.
Then there’s the character comedy. Helen’s uptight, no-nonsense personality is the perfect foil for all manner of bizarre clients, idiot colleagues, odd family members and tedious ex-husbands, but there’s something quite special about Fisk’s part-parody, part-dissection of office culture. Take the series of vignettes on chit-chat in episode three. Maybe it’s the mere fact that someone’s (finally!) pointing out how stupid it is, the Emporer’s New Clothes finally being revealed for what they really are? Maybe it’s Kitty Flanagan’s “I don’t get this nonsense” gestures versus Julia Zemiro’s exasperated “how can I connect with this woman so I can manage her” expression? Whatever it is, it’s brilliantly played and brilliantly funny.
And there’s more of this to come. How do we know that? We don’t, we haven’t seen the rest of the series, but there’s something about what we’ve seen so far that tells us that this isn’t a show which runs out of good ideas by episode two (Why Are You Like This) or is only really interested in getting us to a dramatic finale in episode six (Aftertaste).
Fisk feels like a show which is in it for the long-haul, which wants to make us laugh for six episodes straight. Because everything from having guest actors like Collette Mann and Marg Downey, to creating a shot where Ray (Marty Sheargold) ends up with a tiny fez-style lampshade on his head in the middle of a meeting, tells us that this show is 100% about the comedy and nothing else.