Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe: No Reservations Required

It wasn’t all that long ago that series like Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe were part of the ABC’s regular comedy output. Today? Not so much. After decades of budget cuts and an increasingly tight focus on an audience that’s presumably excited for series like the upcoming Mother & Son reboot, something as relentlessly inventive and subversive as Aunty Donna’s latest project doesn’t stand out so much as, well, stand out a lot.

Just to make things clear, this is definitely the kind of series the ABC should be showing. Our full review is on its way: the short version is that it’s good, we liked it, you should watch it. But it’s also very different from what people have come to expect from ABC Comedy in recent years. Which is to say that if you’re a big fan of Hard Quiz and The Weekly then a musical number titled “One Of Us Has a Vibrator In Our Bottoms” is going to come as a bit of a shock (much like the vibrator itself).

In an ideal world, or even a world identical to this one only the ABC is properly funded, there’d be three times the current number of local sitcoms on the national broadcaster. Variety would simply be par for the course: the idea that this series – made by extremely popular comedy professionals with over a decade’s experience (shit, they even had their own series on Netflix) – was in any way “risky” would be as laughable as their jokes. Which is to say, very laughable indeed.

But in this world, where the ABC can’t risk alienating even a handful of their decaying Boomer audience, this kind of thing is… well, it’s not Rosehaven. Though let’s be honest: this rapid-fire, throw everything at the wall style of unhinged comedy is at least as old as The Goodies, which was also a show featuring a wacky comedy trio. So it’s not like everybody under 60 doesn’t know what they’re watching here.

Again, not so long ago the ABC was airing this kind of content on a regular basis. But a decade or so back it decided to shift the more youth-friendly comedy to the streaming side of things, later supported by turning then comedy-heavy digital channel ABC2 into ABC Comedy. The old and the old-at-heart would get the free-to-air channel. The ABC’s more youthful viewers would have the more technologically advanced methods of broadcasting that they were familiar with. Everybody wins.

Then the bottom continued to drop out of the budget and all the youth-friendly stuff was axed.

Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe is airing in the ABC’s prime time comedy slot because in 2023 there is literally nowhere else for them to put it where anyone will see it. All the other options are gone; if the ABC is going to continue to make comedy series that are anything more than safe suburban salutes to keeping it cozy, they’re going to have to air in a timeslot where people are going to see them no matter how risky that is.

The ABC archives are so full of comedy series that pushed the boundaries it’s hard to seriously argue there are many boundaries left. The only real difference between them and Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe is that Aunty Donna are generally speaking pretty darn funny. Is it a sharp break from what we’ve come to expect from the ABC’s recent comedy output? Yep. But that’s the fault of the ABC: maybe if they focused more on giving funny people a chance, this kind of thing wouldn’t be such a pleasant surprise.

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