Like No Other Love

The important thing to say about Summer Love is that it’s very good for what it is. It’s just that what it is, going by the first episode at least, isn’t all that funny. Which is intentional! And also a bit disappointing.

Summer Love is an anthology series based around a beach holiday rental. Each week a new couple or group of people turn up to work through some kind of issue that might sound like it has comedy potential but again, isn’t all that funny in practice.

The first week sees two couples turn up for their yearly break together, only right from the start there’s conflict a-brewing. One couple now has a two year-old, who is boring and annoying to everyone but her parents. The other couple rapidly has a bunch of grievances (“why didn’t we get the good bedroom?”), which stretch the group’s already tenuous bond. It turns out the new mother is also a new-ish member of what is an otherwise long-term friendship, while the blokes increasingly inhabit different (and in one case, not-so-blokey) worlds.

To stress, none of this is completely unfunny (there’s even a good riff about the crappiness of “classic rock” radio), but it’s more about sharp observations and slowly widening fault lines than firing out the jokes. Which is fine – it’s a one-off half hour story, surely it’s building to a big comedy pay off, right?

Nope. There is a big payoff, but it’s pretty much all dramatic. Turns out this has been something closer to a nicely crafted half hour play than anything else. It’s a quality Australian drama that’s fine for what it is but – and again, and we can’t stress this enough because it’s airing in a traditional ABC comedy timeslot – it’s not all that funny.

We’ve gone on a lot here over the years about how “comedy” now basically means “everything that’s not serious drama”. This is an example of that. Maybe future episodes will be funnier; there’s one co-written by Nath Valvo that looks promising. Wayne Hope & Robyn Butler (AKA Gristmill, who have produced this series) also have an episode that looks like they’ll be in fine form.

But going by the summaries, most of the episodes seem to involve couples dealing with personal issues in a way that suggests this series has started how it means to go on. A quick check on IMDB reveals that a lot of the episodes were also written by cast members (including the first one). It feels like it; the characters are well crafted and believable, their interactions are interesting, the dialogue is plausible, and if you don’t care about them there’s nothing else here to keep you watching.

(ok, the beach house is nice)

Still, if this was The Australian DramaWeeds we’d be giving this a big thumbs up. It’s a solid half hour of television and if Australia has to make dramas about middle class people’s personal problems then keeping it to half an hour is definitely the way to go. But for comedy fans, it’s not exactly a big win.

The ABC is firmly committed to a steady stream of half hour scripted programs that are presented as comedies – because audiences actually like watching comedies – but where “being funny” barely gets a look in. For every Fisk there’s five seasons of Rosehaven, two seasons of Aftertaste and now this.

And just because this is a better drama than both of those doesn’t make it a comedy.

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