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Review: Wilfred (US): Episode One

Wilfred recently premiered in Australia on Ten’s digital channel Eleven. It premiered in America last week on FX.

First of all, putting aside for a minute whether it was funny or not, or whether it “worked”, the fact that the US has gone and plucked a concept for a comedy from the lowest rating network in Australia, that most Australians have never heard of, let alone watched is symbolic of one of two things;

One: US comedy is reaching a crescendo, in an age of left-of-centre comedies such as Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock and Community not only breaking the mould but experimenting with new styles of comedy.

Or Two: US comedy has reached its nadir: shows like Outsourced are being commissioned (to no success whatsoever) while until Charlie Sheen’s demise, Two and a Half Men was the most popular comedy on TV. With such a dearth of new ideas, creativity and wit, it has turned to comedies in Australia.

But enough theorizing: it’s just fantastic to see a show which is just so bizarre and refreshingly different, in terms of its central conceit, at least.

In many ways, however, it plays out like a typical pilot; it is intent on getting every single story strand and obvious joke out on the table.  So, it runs through all the different doggy activities if you will, in order to wring every possibly comedic moment out of the show’s concept possible.

We saw leg-humping (including a stuffed toy getting rogered), face licking/kissing, belly scratching, urination, excretion, hole digging, protectiveness, ball-throwing, walking- you name it, it was all shoved into the very first episode in case at any point we missed the fact that Wilfred was a dog.

We also get to meet the supporting cast: there’s the controlling sister Kristen (Dorian Brown), who likely won’t be the source of many comedic moments, the requisite “hot” neighbour Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), who likely won’t have her character developed much more than that, and the angry neighbour, played by Ethan Suplee (and for anyone who has ever watched a decent amount of My Name is Earl, he will always be Randy).

It all comes across as a bit high-concept, which is fine, however in terms of longevity it will struggle after it hits the third or fourth season mark (assuming it gets that far of course!).

But, after all that, does it work as a comedy?

Well, it won’t have you laughing out loud, that’s for sure. But it will take you by surprise, and it is amusing, in a very bizzare way. Maybe I was just smirking at the combination of Frodo trying to grow a half-beard and Jason Gann, presumably the least likely of Australia’s sizeable acting troupe to make it in America- let’s face it, his presence on Mark Loves Sharon and The Wedge didn’t exactly scream “destined for stardom”.

But back to this show. While Jason Gann’s dry, monotonous delivery seemed in keeping with the slow-burning tone of the Australian series, it serves a decidedly different purpose in this one.

He serves as a chilled, yet conniving sage, the antithesis to the hopped-up and paranoid, yet straight-laced lawyer.

Of course, I could get into all the psychological debate about Wilfred and whether he is a manifestation of Wood’s deranged mind or anything else… But I won’t. If you start analyzing it, you will find that nothing makes sense in the show. And when has that ever stopped… oh, I don’t know, every other show on TV? This show just presents a slightly more warped version of reality.

This seems to be one of those shows where you aren’t looking for a laugh a minute (like many were in Chris Lilley’s Angry Boys), and it doesn’t suffer for that fact – because it looks great, and is totally different to most other comedies you’ll see on the box.

The jokes in this episode aren’t structure in a sitcommy way, yet are set up as various stand-alone pieces- Wilfred rubs his face in a woman’s breasts, for example. It isn’t necessarily funny on paper, but it works in the way that you would never expect to see that imagery on TV, let alone in society. It also provides an hilarious commentary on the social norms allocated to animals, and those to humans. Ridiculous? Yes. Implausible? Yes. But funny.

While it’s not riotously funny, it’s not boring nor is it stupid (well, only briefly is it stupid- they do poo in a boot). It is sure to be an interesting ride, if nothing else.

Wilfred airs Tuesdays at 9:30pm on Eleven.

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Angry Boys Review Episode 3: More of the Same… Unfortunately

Another week, another episode of Angry Boys. And following the trend, there’s an exposition of another major character.

We’re up to Episode 3 now and so far, the show has received praise for Lilley’s acting ability, as well as for his new character Gran, who has proved to be a perfect mix of funny (“Gran’s Gotchas”) and tough love.

Apart from that however, it has been expressions of disappointment for Lilley’s caricaturist and plain unfunny portrayal of s.Mouse, a down in the dumps rapper, in which Lilley has donned a blackface get-up – not that that was why it wasn’t funny.

The existing characters of Daniel and Nathan Sims fit somewhere in the middle. The main shtick there is their rude behaviour and language, which admittedly was funny at first, but after a while, it seemed like the same old stuff we had seen in We Can Be Heroes, and to an extent, Summer Heights High in the form of Jonah.

But I just want to make clear the fact that it is not a bad show, by any means. There is a clear attempt at humour, and let’s face it, there isn’t much of that (well, none of it) on Australian TV at the moment and it is clear the direction Lilley is trying to take the show.

However, the problem is, is that the “funny” came in dicky, sweary bursts by dumb or self-obsessed characters, and Lilley seems intent on shoe-horning in moments of pathos, which does not always gel with the tone of the episode, and obviously comes at the expense of laughs.

However, I was still open to have my mind changed by Episode 3 and the introduction of surfer Blake Oakfield. In fact I was quite excited.

The conceit of a surfer who lost a testicle in a shooting incident didn’t exactly excite me, as it seemed in the vein of the same “dick balls poo f*ck” comedy he had been running with the past couple of episodes, so… Was it?

The opening scene was all about setting up the overarching plot of Nathan’s deaf-school party, drawing together all the various celebrities (as well as Gran Sims).

Then we got introduced to Blake Oakfield and we find out what type of character he is. He is “in love with himself” as well as being a “bit of a dickhead”.

He is a member of the “Mucca Mad Boys”. And we also learn that it is one of two rival gangs in the town, which has been a source of violence (we are treated to a re-enactment of a scuffle).

Blake is under the impression that he is protecting the town.

So, Blake is an idiot with a hero complex. Which I guess is kind of funny, in that it plays on the destructive nature of gang mentality, as well as the male tendency to protect your territory.

Unfortunately, there weren’t many jokes at all in that plotline.

Instead, we were treated to re-enactment on top of re-enactment as an establishing tool. Unfortunately, it was in graphic, unfunny detail; we got to see a gory picture of presumably, some bloody male genitals. Why? Blake has lost his testicles.

And it would be easy to critique the joke of people kicking Blake in the balls- or lack of- repeatedly, as it could be seen as immature, etc. But I’m not going to, for the moment. I will just remind you of a certain show called the Ronnie Johns Half Hour, which featured a recurring sketch of two people kicking each other in the balls. And that was a heavily criticised show, for those who bothered to watch it at least.

SMouse is under house-arrest, and so we get a mini-tour of his mansion. He shows us his plasma, etc. We also get to meet his girlfriend, so of course, we get to hear a different range of vocab: yup, there are some “sluts” some “bitches” and some “suck a dicks” in there.

She tells us: “After a fight, we get it on”. And that’s all we hear from her, because she apparently dumps him.

So there we go, that’s the plot. And overall it was OK; but not at all funny, I’m sorry. If I’m missing something, let me know. But if I keep being expected to laugh at “balls balls BALLS bitch bitch f*ck!!!”… well, I can’t really be expected to watch anymore. Can you?

Angry Boys Episode 2 Review: Not-so-Mighty S.mouse

Source: abc.net.au

This isn’t to say that the first episode was terrible, it just didn’t live up to the hype generated by his previous track record. It also didn’t feature a great deal of laughs.

However, I was holding out for the second, and maybe the third to make any more sweeping judgements. And let me get this clear- I really want to like this series, as I’m sure everyone else does, however, you have to continually judge it as a standalone show, not in the manner of “How good is Lilley’s latest masterpiece?”

For starters, the character s.Mouse is possibly one of the worst creations in the history of Australian comedy. And not “worst” as in, “Oh, isn’t J’amie terrible!” kind of way. I don’t like saying it, believe me, but the idea of an African American rapper  who needs to get his career back on track isn’t remotely appealing to me, nor do I think it would be to any other Australian. If it is, feel free to prove me wrong.

Once again, I feel it helps to reiterate what was so great about the previous two series; he managed to capture a unique style of humour, a distinctly Australian one with Australian characters. Even J’amie, who many might say was a Mean Girls-type clone, had a uniquely Australian flavour.

The reason for s.Mouse’s inclusion in the series seems to be primarily to appeal to American audiences (by sheer virtue of the fact that he is an African American)… and of course, it is yet another excuse for Lilley to go nuts and fill up the swear-jar ten times over. But it’s not just swearing, we get some “poos”, some “bitches” and whatever else you can think of.

And I better just qualify something again; I don’t take issue with the sheer volume of swearing a scatological references- “Puck you, miss”, while not necessarily a swear-word, is one of the genuinely funny parts of Summer Heights High. I take issue with the fact that Lilley seems to just be hammering these words from week to week (first with the Sims brothers, now with s.Mouse).

So, am I missing something here? Is there another layer to the character that would make him seem all that more hilarious?

The ultimate test would be, to imagine the s.Mouse character as a sketch performed on Ben Elton’s Live From Planet Earth, a short-lived show that endured an absolute bollocking in every medium known to man. Once everyone had made their minds up; that this was an old has-been trotting out clichéd stereotypes, people delighted in savaging every part of the show (for the record, I disliked it, barring a few OK elements).

Now, imagine Ben Elton running out on stage (this is a Channel Nine show, mind you), in a Chris Lilley blackface-type set-up. He reads from exactly the same script as Lilley has written, etc.

Now, what would everyone think? What would you think? Funny now?

Oh, but it’s Chris Lilley who makes the character is it? Well not even he could salvage this one.

In fairness, it seems that many people on Twitter expressed sentiments to the tune of the character not doing anything for them, with some even being daring enough to admit it didn’t make them laugh.

But once again, tell me what made you laugh- if anything- about the character. Was it the “Slap My Elbow” song? Oh, ’cause it emphasises how ridiculous rapper and rap-music is… And?

But please, let me know.

But once again, the saving grace was once again Gran, a character that many have expressed favour for. She/he really is a unique character, tough love is the only way she knows, yet her (strangely) blokey demeanour allows her to rib the inmates, to often hilarious results (ie. “Gran’s Gotchas” in Episode 1).

However, I once again express my distaste for the fact that Lilley feels the need to shoe-horn a heartfelt moment in at the end. In this case, it was Gran sharing a motherly moment with a dog-wanker inmate (yes, HA!). I guess it would have been a satisfying resolution to the episode’s vague plot, yet given the lack of laughs in the first half of the episode, it would have been nice to balance it with a few more in the second.


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.

Show Preview: Angry Boys


PREMIERES Wednesday 11th May, 9PM ABC1

Chris Lilley’s latest comedy, in which he plays the five central characters, of which Nathan and Daniel Sims are the focus- as Daniel aims to prepare a going-away party for Nathan.

Chris Lilley

Daniel and Nathan Sims

Ruth ‘Gran’ Sims

Japanese mother Jen Okazaki

Blake Oakfield

S.mOUSE


There will be 12 episodes on Angry Boys, each 30 minutes long.

The ratings for the premiere in Australia will be predicted to be around 1.6 million (the premiere for Summer Heights High rated around the same). But due to its timeslot being half an hour earlier, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect 1.7 million, given its broader appeal.

Generally very good, with Lilley’s excellent track-record generating a lot of anticipation. A bit was made over the considerable presence of the word “f-ggot”, as well as Lilley apparently donning a black-face getup to play the role of rapper. S.mOUSE, which we all know got Hey Hey it’s Saturday in trouble in 2009. Time will tell whether it creates a bigger furore, though.

HBO Renewal and Cancellation Wrap

 

 

Angry Boys

Hands down the most anticipated Australian comedy of recent times, given Chris Lilley’s impeccable record of We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High. It remains to be seen if it will be received as well in the US as Summer Heights High was. However, given its inclusion of an American character, it will certainly improve its prospects.

Game of Thrones

Boardwalk Empire

A SECOND season will hit US screens later in 2011.

Hung

Somewhat of a surprise renewal. A THIRD season of 10 eps will be coming later in 2011 (around June, possibly).

Bored to Death

A THIRD season coming later in 2011.

How to Make it in America

SECOND season to come in 2011.

Treme

Its SECOND season starts April 24, 2011.

True Blood

A FOURTH season to come on July 12, 2011.

The Ricky Gervais Show

Funny or Die Presents

Big Love

Entourage

Flight of the Conchords (Ended)

In Treatment

The Life & Times of Tim

Little Britain USA