Series 3 of How To Stay Married ended last night as it began: with little to no laughs.
Sitcoms generally make their viewers laugh by a combination of funny dialogue, funny characters, funny situations and funny performances. How To Stay Married seemed to avoid including most of these elements because it, presumably, assumed that the highs and lows of raising a family or the rivalry within a parents’ group would be funny in and of themselves. And perhaps they might have been if any of the Butler family (played by Peter Helliar, Lisa McCune, Willow Ryan-Fuller and Vivien Turner) or the parents in the group (played by Casey Donovan and Broden Kelly, amongst others) were given anything remotely funny to do or say.
And this is despite the demonstrable ambition of the writers to inject a bit of parody into this series, with topical plotlines involving political spills and celebrities going on telly to talk about the conspiracy theories they believe in. Mind you, if you’re going to make a point or make people laugh by referencing something topical, you might want to consider going beyond merely shadowing real-life events in your story…
So, most of the problems with How To Stay Married were down to the creative choices of the writers. But what’s worth remembering is that those creative choices affected the output of everyone else working on the show too. Imagine trying to direct How To Stay Married. There’s almost nothing to work with! You could try to inject some laughs into the show, by, say, encouraging the cast to really go for it, performance-wise. And as the cast included Aunty Donna’s Broden Kelly, not the type of comedy performer to not go for laughs, and Judith Lucy, a comedian who over the past three decades hasn’t exactly been shy to “go there”, then you should be onto a winner with that idea.
Yet here the script let everyone down yet again. Broden Kelly had little choice but to play it straight most of the time – because – and we really can’t stress this enough – there really was nothing to work with. And as for Judith Lucy, well, she tried hard, but there’s only so much even a performer as good as her can do.
The basic problem, really, is that the writers of How To Stay Married have chosen to centre their show on a bland everyday family, who do bland everyday things. There’s a way to make everyday people funny, of course, but as they’ve not worked out how to do that after three series, it’s pretty unlikely that any future series of How To Stay Married would suddenly become character-based cack-fests.