Austin Powers

Austin is the kind of series you get when the production side of television couldn’t give a rat’s arse about whatever it is the audience actually wants to watch. And fair enough. The entire basis of ABC television is to provide programming for those who aren’t being served by mainstream broadcasting. But there’s a big difference between “television for people who the commercial networks ignore” and “jobs for the boys”. Austin? Lets hope the ABC got mates rates for this one.

Like almost everything local that appears on the ABC, Austin is a television series the ABC and other Australian funding bodies have invested (heavily?) in. Good news for the local industry. What they haven’t considered is whether you, the viewer, might be getting anything out of the deal.

This isn’t so much a matter of being funny; these shows never really are. The ABC has only three scripted “comedy” series lined up this year: White Fever, Austin and season 3 of Fisk. Guess containing actual comedy is an optional extra for those comedy series the ABC decides to invest in.

So, not very funny*. It’s also not, in just about any way that counts, Australian. It’s a series about two British people who, while on a trip to Australia, discover that one of them most likely has an Australian son. Awkward. It’s a British comedy with British stars that’s partly set in Australia. So why are Australian funding bodies investing in it?

Oh right, Miller’s character’s secret son, the titular Austin (Michael Theo). The character is on the autism spectrum. So is Theo, making his major acting debut after two seasons of ABC dating show Love on the Spectrum. He’s not bad in this. He’s also very much the third wheel on a series headlined by UK comedy stars Ben Miller and Sally Phillips. They’re also not bad in this. They’re also not Australian, not exactly household names, and not much of a reason to tune in.

It’s possible to create a series that does a good job of mixing casts and locations. Surprisingly, NCIS: Sydney does an ok job of it. So does ABC crime series Troppo. The first features a largely US cast in a firmly Australian location where the cast are treated as outsiders. The second is an Australian series that just happens to have a US actor in one of the lead roles. Austin does neither of those things. It’s a 2024 version of an On The Buses movie where they go to Australia and discover one of the regulars has a secret son.

Austin at least is specifically set in Canberra. That puts it slightly ahead of similar projects where Australia is a stand-in for “somewhere in the Western world”. It’s a step up from, say, Spreadsheet. That featured pretty much the same mix of a UK lead, an Australian setting, and a suffocating blandness that could have come from anywhere. Oh look, the co-creator and director of Austin was also the co-creator of Spreadsheet, what a coincidence.

Hey, while we’re on the subject of international productions: why are they always set in Australia? Australia doesn’t seem to be making all that many series where some big name local actor goes overseas and has adventures. Oh right, because the entire Australian film and television industry is based around the idea that what’s important are local jobs, not making things locals want to watch. So long as a bunch of behind-the-camera crew get paid, who cares what’s up on the screen?

Which brings us back to Austin. It’s a perfectly competent series** that wouldn’t make it to air here without the local angle, and the local angle is so minor*** you could remove it without anyone noticing. But that’s par for the course with this kind of project, which almost always feels like the kind of thing an overseas network would never produce on their own but will happily put it to air so long as Australia covers a lot of the costs.

Hope you weren’t expecting them to spend that money on something you wanted to watch.


*it’s a series about a white middle-class man who gets #cancelled, a subject that is yet to deliver a single decent comedy after at least six years of trying

**One big problem comedy-wise is that for this set-up to be funny, Miller’s character really needs to be a right bastard – but as we all know that everything is leading towards him realising he really does love his son, there’s a hard limit on just how shitty he can be

***Theo is good, but he’s not irreplaceable

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  • Andrew says:

    I binged the series over the weekend. It started off promising, but 8 episodes was quite a stretch for this. It could have probably been just as effective with half that number.

    I don’t understand why they kept Gia Carides and Roy Billing, as good as they are, for the whole series. Their roles were largely redundant after episode 2.

    An average series, not all that funny but lighthearted enough. Good performances from the three main leads.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Yeah, eight episodes felt a bit like “it’s cheaper if we buy in bulk!”

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