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.

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Posted on May 11, 2011, in Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Sorry Andrew – who are you?

    “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. ”

    Bit confused as to why you think it’s your job/right to tell anyone, but in this case Lilley, int what way he should or should not construct his series. Quite an extraordinarily arrogant bit of criticism. How about a bit of respect for the author and the choices he makes? Not suggesting you have to like them, but to assume you know the better way to proceed – you’ve got to be kidding…

    • Thanks for the feedback, it’s my first truly negative one, so that’s always exciting!
      I am sorry if it comes across as arrogant; he obviously knows more about making TV shows, and successful ones at that. I am merely trying to get across my opinion- if the show becomes too heartfelt at the expense of laughs, I personally will stop watching, not asking anyone else to.
      I am also not a professional blogger, and believe me, I am not under any illusions as to my extreme insignificance in the whole scheme of things.
      And I KNOW that I don’t know the “better way to proceed”, as, by my last count, I have created around about 0 shows for television, while I have enjoyed 2 of Lilley’s creations thus far. And I do respect the way he is constructing his series, and would love for him to prove me wrong.
      Happy to debate further though… (And- it’s strange that this is beside the point, but I assume that you enjoyed the show?)

    • Sorry Mark Bryans – who are you?

      I’m a bit confused as to why you think it’s your job/right to take such offense to a review, you’ve got to be kidding. I think perhaps your statement of “extraordinarily arrogant” might be a bit of an overstatement, then again Mark Bryans seems like a bit of a dramatic internet queen. I didn’t even read much of the review, the show sucks and Lilley needs to rethink a lot of things.

  2. The reviewer is right, although, he has take it very easy on Lilley. I thought it was same ol; same ol’, from Lilley. Nothing new, nothing fresh, quite boring. very disjointed, disappointing opening ep. Hope it gets better. but off to a a horrible start.

  3. Pathetic!!!! I listen to all that crap and swearing at school each day – don’t need to waste my time listening to it again in the evening. Such a let down after Summer High

  4. Read somewhere that this was supposed to be genius?. 1st episode was shit. Could grow like Little Britan though, but can’t see it personally. Perhaps I’m getting old.

  5. So disappointing.
    Will it get better?
    No sign of that after four episodes.

    It makes me feel old. Am I missing something?

    • In answer to your (possibly hypothetical) questions, from episode five onwards, it does get slightly better (episode 5 is more of the same, but episode 6 has no S.mouse, which means there’s some inherent improvement).

      And I wouldn’t be worried about missing something; I antagonised over that very question for the first four weeks, but after reading a great deal of tweets/articles which range from expressing bitter disappointment to aggressive criticism, Lilley is the one “missing” something.

      But in fairness, there are still a few Lilley supporters, who feel that the show is really a hyper-realist slow-burning show that is meant to make you cringe at the immaturity and crudeness of life without necessarily laugh out loud… But that just doesn’t fly in my opinion- it’s meant to be a comedy and it doesn’t cut the mustard. Period.

  6. I’ve only just recently got into Chris Lilley’s comedy, and I thought that Angry Boys was really great after watching the first episode. I then watched the whole of Summer Heights High and went back to watch the 2nd 3rd and 4th episode of Angry Boys and found it very disappointing. Lilley has taken a really big step down from the comical genius of Summer Heights High and Angry Boys seems like a big excuse to swear and behave badly. However, in saying that, it’s still OK. It could be better, but I still intend to watch it because I feel as if it’s going to get better and SOME of the storylines are funny such a Gran and S.Mouse.

  7. This review I feel is entirely fair. Angry Boys is a poor relation to Lilley’s other work and I am finding it too puerile to watch. S.mouse is particularly unwatchable. The Gran character is the strongest character.

    Some criticisms I have read are around Lilley playing characters of other races. This will probably always be a contentious issue, all I have to add the the debate is that I lived in Australia for a couple of years, and Lilleys output has more actors of Aboriginal and Asian descent than any other I have seen. This may not make his ‘blacking up’ or whatever less contentious, but points to a strong likelihood that Lilley himself is not racist and is not out to offend black or Asian people.

  8. i think your review is way off the mark,i thought angry boys as with all of lilleys work is excellent.And to be honest who cares if theres more swearing in it i couldnt give a shit.Gran is an is an excellent character, and s mouse is good portrayal of how dickish some hip hop stars behave.so all in all i really dont know if we were watching the same programme as i thought it was very funny.

    • Fair enough- but I should just qualify my issue with the swearing. It’s not that I didn’t find the show entertaining because of the swearing- heaps of shows I like have as much if not more swearing in them than Lilley’s- it’s just that now Lilley wants you to laugh at the swearing as a joke in and of itself. I accept that swear-words can be used as part of a particularly shocking punchline in a stand-up routine, or to enhance an already-funny scene in a comedy, but if a writer is writing a show from a repetitive, nauseatingly juvenile base of swear-words, poo-jokes, “dick”-mentions… it first of all isn’t funny (to me), because basically, the swear-words are the joke- and that joke stops being funny very, very, quickly.

      And by the way, I do get your S.Mouse appraisal; I have no doubt that it’s a good portrayal. In fact, I would even go so far as to say it’s a very good portrayal. The problem is, the S.Mouse comedy is pretty well emblematic of what some people dislike about the show (and what I referred to above)- “Poo On You”- yes, it emphasises the ridiculousness of commercialised rap… but apart from that, Lilley just wants you to laugh at the word “Poo”. It’s lazy comedy, but if it floats your boat, I’m happy for you- if one of us can extract some merriment from the show where no-one else sees any, go right ahead!

  9. Accurate review- I have been a HUGE fan of chris lilley after watching summer heights and we can be heroes…. I have found angry boys to be a major disappointment 😦 I was looking forward to it for sooo long too!

  10. I feel as though Angry Boys was good. But as it has been mentioned, S. Mouse is a terrible character that I always find myself skipping opver. It is extremely slow burning which I don’t mind. I love Blake Oakfield, Jen Okazaki and Gran. It isn’t really until episode 6 Chris Lilley reveals he did put some artistic thought into the series. In fact, episode 6 was when the ball really got rolling. I just wish he didn’t think he had to lull people in to it with crude humour and swear words. Its one of those series yopu have to be patient with. Ver very patient with. But it is worth it.

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