Australia’s Sexiest Tradie took a bit of a turn last week, ditching The Office-esque comedy of awkwardness, and the toilet humour, to delve a bit further into the toxic masculinity of lead character Franky Wood.
Previous episodes have firmly established that Franky is a massive tool – selfish, disrespectful, a misogynist – and generally the sort of bloke who shouldn’t have friends or a family who cares about him…yet somehow does. But in episode four things changed. What had been yet another comedy about a dickhead who people react to with shock and distaste, became a semi-drama about awful men. And not one that ended with the awful man in question getting his comeuppance.
Episode four opened with the announcement that Franky and long-time girlfriend Leanne (“Hammer”), who’d broken up in a previous episode, were suddenly back together – and engaged. Then we discover that thanks to one of his videos going viral, Franky was in the lead to win Australia’s Sexiest Tradie. Cue the arrival of Summer, a fellow Australia’s Sexiest Tradie contestant, who Franky fancies, manipulating Franky into helping her stay in the competition by Instagramming his support for her. Franky, who thought he might finally be in with a chance with the good-looking Summer, let her take over his social media.
Later, Summer joins the Wood family for a special dinner to celebrate Franky’s engagement and his success in the competition. But things get awkward when Leanne gives a speech about how happy she is to be engaged and Franky, with one eye on Summer, denies their relationship entirely. Mum Barbara, quite rightly, asks Franky why he’s messing Leanne around.
We’re used to Australia’s Sexiest Tradie being uncomfortable viewing, but mainly in the sense of the awkward comedy it generates. Franky Wood is an awful man but in earlier episodes, we could laugh at his awfulness and thus tolerate him. In episode four, the dynamic changed, and the show became uncomfortable in the sense that it was traumatic to watch the way Franky treated Leanne. And near impossible not to want to turn off the TV and never watch this again.
This is bad news for a show that’s meant to be a comedy. It’s also a testament to how hard it is to take a big, complex and difficult topic like toxic masculinity and use it as the basis for a sitcom. There probably is a way to do this well but Australia’s Sexiest Tradie hasn’t managed it. It was too ambitious an idea for this show, which has only really succeeded at toilet humour and cringe comedy. It’s also easily misinterpreted by the audience as condoning toxic and abusive behaviours.
It doesn’t matter that Franky kinda got what he deserved when Summer left him the second after she made it into the final of the competition. The fact that Franky was able to hurt his vulnerable fiancé in the meantime, and still be the hero of the show, makes it look as if his behaviour was okay. When it absolutely was not.