Physical comedy! That’s something we haven’t seen on Australian television in a while. There’s a bunch of reasons to come away from the first episode of Preppers thinking “…ok?”, but the fact it features lead and co-creator Nakkiah Lui struggling with an obstacle course is one big tick in its favour.
Preppers is the story of Charlie (Lui), breakfast TV co-host who, after a morning where everything goes wrong (the first episode keeps the details vague), retreats to what she thinks is the family property. Twist! It’s been leased to a community of ‘preppers’ – survivalists preparing for the end of the world.
It’s not a great sign that Charlie’s backstory with her oily co-host (Brooke Stachwell) and her TV producer fiance (Grant Denyer) seems more satirically promising than the main story. But exactly how Charlie blew up her life will be played out in flashbacks across the series, making it a reason to keep tuning in.
There’s also a nice thread of pointed but low-key political comedy running throughout the episode. Lui demands her land back only to be told that’s what all Aborigines want. Survivalist leader Monty (Jack Charles, easily the breakout star here) points out that Aborigines are well positioned to survive the apocalypse, having already survived the end of (their) world.
(as for why not all the preppers are Aboriginal? Someone’s got to pay the bills)
It’s a solid set up for a sitcom. Unfortunately, the first episode only loosely sketches most of the preppers. The stand-out is gone by the end of the episode; seems it’s a one in, one out situation. The rest are going to have to lift their game to make much of an impression in coming weeks. They’re all distinct characters, and provide plenty of opportunity to get various points of view across. They’re just not all that funny in week one.
The comedy here is more about skewering attitudes than anything else. Not every one-liner works. But there’s a wide range of targets being attacked (there’s something for everyone!), and Charlie’s wealth and privilege makes her as big a target as anyone. It’s socially aware, but unlike a few recent series that have figured just gesturing towards social issues = comedy, this actually makes jokes about those issues.
Yes, they’re not always classics. But first and foremost this is a comedy, not just a drama where the cast deliver observations like they’re jokes. That’s a good basis from which to rebuild.