Angry Boys Review: Good, but not Hilarious – A Dangerous New Direction for Lilley?
At first, I didn’t care if Angry Boys was going to be the funniest thing I had ever seen.
The fact is, we know that Chris Lilley can do funny. In fact, he can do it very well, HBO-standard well. He’s shown us this by contributing two of the funniest Australian series to ever grace our screens.
Lilley could have easily served up Summer Heights High 2. Almost too easily, as it would be another certain hit, given the success of the first.
He even could have brought back Jonah, as by definition, he is an “Angry Boy”.
However, he hasn’t. He has assembled a cast of “new” characters, barring the the two Sims brothers, who were first seen on We Can Be Heroes.
However what I was looking for was not whether the show was funny, but if it stood by itself as a unique and original show. This is because despite how funny the first two series were, there were strong similarities.
And as much as these aforementioned things were all ticks in my book, the question remained whether he would trot out the same Lilley formula.
That is: “controversial” jokes, cringe-worthy situations and often juvenile-style humour.
The other questions hovered over the new characters: would the Japanese mother resemble Ricky Wong’s parents too closely (or just an “Asian” stereotype in general)? Did the “black rapper” represent Lilley’s stooping to broader comedy?
Unfortunately, in the first episode, we only received answers to some of these questions as we were only presented with the two Sims brothers and their grandmother, prison warden Gran.
First of all, I will start out by saying that my casual assumption that Lilley could churn out another funny series was incorrect as so far, Angry Boys is not as funny as its two predecessors, nor do I think it will be.
Suddenly it became about not whether Lilley had created something new and fresh, but just whether he had at least made a funny show. And I don’t know if he delivered in that respect.
The two Dunt boys showed that they don’t have that much more to offer in terms of comedy- especially since it feels like we’ve seen it before in We Can Be Heroes. We also saw boys behaving badly done to perfection in Summer Heights High in the form of Jonah.
And if you were to place the two (or three) characters of Jonah and the Dunt boys next to each other, it would be hard to differentiate between the two. Both are foul-mouthed teenagers… And that’s about as far as it goes. However, Jonah’s character was inherently more hilarious as we could see he was a student who was struggling academically, yet used swearing, bullying and breakdancing to paper over the cracks.
Viewers enjoy laughing at this situation as we are laughing “at” his bullyboy antics which he uses to escape his hell that is schoolwork. Hence Lilley’s combination of funny antics with an underlying hint of pathos proved a winner.
But when it is transposed to the Dunt boys, we are asked to laugh “with” them as they perform burnouts, flip the bird and… Swear. They aren’t performing these actions because they have an underlying insecurity, they are simply boys behaving badly. And while some (well, probably more than some) will find them funny, it isn’t substantial enough in the first episode.
This was why Lilley decided to supply a boost of pathos… However, to me, explaining that the ear drum transplant didn’t work was a cop out, after their story was seemingly resolved in We Can Be Heroes. I don’t mind so much the idea, but when their story is resurrected in order for Lilley to swear nonstop again, it doesn’t really cut it. It’s also a classic bet-hedging: if critics don’t end up laughing at the jokes, at least they will fall into the trap of complimenting the heartfelt elements of the story. Well, not I certainly haven’t.
Gran, however is a strong character, who would go down as a famous strong female character if she wasn’t played by a bloke. Her racist remarks seemed plausible for an old-school character such as her, however if the media decides, they could easily stir up a huge s-storm over.
However, even though it isn’t as funny, it is clear that there is a stronger narrative arc, and stronger ties between the characters- something that was pretty much nonexistent in the previous series.
Time will tell whether viewers will respond to this as well- they probably will but if Lilley still wants to label his shows comedies, I would say the first episode strayed very heavily into dramedy down. If you watched it again, you could pretty much draw a line down the middle of the episode and observe these two conflicting sides to Lilley’s apparent new style.
To be fair to Lilley, it would be worth waiting for the exposition of the rest of the characters to make a true judgement.
At the end of the day, Lilley needs to remember the reason why his shows are so popular: they are funny. Though he won praise for his portrayal of Jonah, in the way that he made the audience feel sympathy for him in the end, this should not become the centerpiece of the show.
Overall, it was good, but not great, with the highlight being the new character Gran (cue another Lilley creation: Gran’s Gotchas), so hopefully the rest of the new characters inject similar new life into the show.