Content Sponge #6

Content Sponge 6

Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart are Mr and Mrs Murder

Reading back over these Content Sponges, I have to admit the horrible truth. My television tastes are middle-aged, middlebrow, slightly left of centre. However, lest it be assumed that I only ever watch shows on ABC and SBS, I do occasionally watch commericial telly, but most of that stuff is so popular it barely needs a review.

For example, my pinko, lefty, indie loving latte-sipping friends give me very little respect for enjoying THE BIG BANG THEORY. It is more or less the number one sitcom on the planet right now, so what more need be said than, Hey Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, start writing Rajesh some decent stories, the “so metrosexual he’s practically gay” shtick is played out and Kunal Nayyar deserves better material.

MR AND MRS MURDER

Shaun Micallef’s show MR AND MRS MURDER for the 10 Network is nowhere near where it should be. The premise of a duo of crime-scene cleaners with a penchant for solving mysteries is solid. Having them as a married couple is a nice reworking of the Thin Man, Hart to Hart formula. The problem I fear, is Mr Murder himself.  Micallef is playing Charlie Buchanan as a bit of a goof. A little too much of his comic creation David McGahan is allowed to creep in. He comes off as an oblivious twit in his own comedy universe whereas the other characters, particularly Mrs Murder (Kat Stewart) are in a more straightforward comedy-mystery. Stewart is kicking arse in her role and that shows up what Micallef is doing.

The series has a well-credentialed team behind it­–Tim Pye, Kelly Lefever and Jason Stephens–so there is every chance they will be able to turn things around if the show is allowed to develop. Australians love their imported UK murder mysteries, and with Guy Pearce’s JACK IRISH tele movies rating well enough for more to be commissioned, the bar has been raised on Australian versions of this particular telly format.

THE DOCTOR BLAKE MYSTERIES

Speaking of this category, the DOCTOR BLAKE MYSTERIES have just run on my beloved, socialist ABC. As a period murder-mystery series it blows the MISS FISHER MURDER MYSTERIES out of the water. It looks good and the production design has an attention to detail that the dialogue doesn’t.  Every couple of lines has a modern clanger in it. Craig MacLachlan is working hard to play the part of a World War 2 veteran who is a former POW and now finds himself an alien in his hometown of Ballarat. Nadine Garner plays his housekeeper and once again shows talent way beyond the limitations of the role. The series unfortunately, lacks a little excitement.

WOULD I LIE TO YOU?

You might not have caught up with WOULD I LIE TO YOU? on Aunty, as silly buggers have been played with this show’s timeslot over the last year. All the love Stephen Fry’s QI receives, seems to be withheld from ABC’s other UK comedy-panel-show purchase. I like QI, but feel there are a number of episodes where the panel is coasting. The whole thing has a lightly intellectual gloss that belies the number of your basic sex and bodily function double entendre gags that fly around the set. In other words, the show isn’t as classy as it thinks it is.

By contrast, WOULD I LIE TO YOU? although slightly downmarket from QI seems the harder working and more enjoyable show In My Humble Opinion. This is despite its employing the usually tiresome, “Am I telling a lie or not?” game. I can’t overstate how much I loathe this in all other circumstances. It is right down there with “Battle of the Sexes” as a worn out format. Yet somehow, the WILTY? folk have made it work.

In its first two seasons, the host was the haughty Angus Deayton. Comedian Rob Brydon (GAVIN AND STACEY, THE TRIP) is a more genial character who works well with the team captains, David Mitchell (PEEPSHOW) and Lee Mack (NOT GOING OUT). Mitchell and Mack are perfectly cast as diametric opposites.  Mack works his Northern, working class shtick against Mitchell’s middle-class, university educated persona. Mitchell rants intellectually; Mack throws back rapid-fire gag lines. Brydon breaks things up beautifully with his slightly naïve act. He is a polished performer who knows how to read an autocue as though he is coming up with his introductions and recaps on the fly.

The on-screen talent is ably supported by strong writing. The writers are good at choosing which autobiographical truths from the regulars and guests will ‘play’ well as a potential lie.  The formula makes the show fast-moving and continually entertaining.

 PLEASE LIKE ME

I tuned into the first two episodes of Josh Thomas’s PLEASE LIKE ME with only medium expectations. The trailers were interesting enough to hook my interest, but I was afraid that the thing that I find intermittently irritating about Thomas’s comedy might also permeate the show.

It’s like this, the older I get the more I expect comedians to say something. Comedians in general don’t necessarily see this as their mission. Young comedians in particular balk at meaning or messages.  Being ironic and random has been the favoured stance for twenty-something comedians since the 1980s. Sometimes Thomas says sharply observed and clever things. Other times he seems vague and unfocussed.

None of this makes any difference to his young fans, who absolutely love him. His place in their affections is as Matt Smith’s to Millennial Doctor Who fans. They will doubtless overlook his variable acting in the new series. He plays a younger version of himself, who in the first seconds of the first episode is dumped reasonably amicably by his girl friend who also tells him she believes he is gay. He denies this.

The Josh character then gets involved in an awkward love story with a guy called Geoffrey and a nicely detailed family story. The amount of storyline is ambitious. The conversation between Josh and his young friends is often, yes, random and ironic, but there was plenty happening in the episodes I saw. There were good character observations and witty dialogue. Some of this was lost in the verite mumbling a few of the whippersnappers indulge in.

The oldies in the series are well cast with HOME AND AWAY vet Debra Lawrence and David Robert playing Mum and Dad. Josh’s housemate Tom is played by stand up Tom Ward. Ward gets an “additional” writing credit for the series. I question the need for Tom to be quite so passive when the series has a passive main character.  He has a similar energy to Thomas’s so their scenes together have a degree of ease to them, but don’t pop.  Wade Briggs plays Josh’s new boyfriend. He makes Josh uneasy because he is simply too good looking. Their scenes together are very good.

 The series is credited to Josh Thomas and I expect there is a certain amount of adapted autobiography built into the storylines. I also expect that Liz Doran the series script editor is responsible for some of the series structural gifts.  In episodes 1 and 2 there is a certain clarity in the story telling that suggests the work of an experienced telly talent.

Director Matthew Saville (CLOUD STREET, NOISE) does a great job here. The look of the images is terrific and his understanding of how to stage a piece of visual comedy in particular and direct performance in general, is the show’s greatest asset. I hope Saville directs the entire series. Chris Lilley’s SUMMER HEIGHTS HIGH certainly benefited from his stewardship.

If you don’t like Josh Thomas then this series won’t change your mind. As much as I enjoyed the first episodes, I do hope we see Thomas’s acting improve as the series unfolds. (It’s another version of the Micallef problem). Taking a stand up’s material and adapting it and their stage persona to screen can be a risky proposition. Sam Simmon’s and his team didn’t make the transition with the sketch comedy show PROBLEMS in 2012. So far, I think Josh Thomas and his people have done a good job.

To return to my opening paragraph of so long ago, I would argue that one of the reasons I end up reviewing so much material from our national broadcaster is that their commitment to paying for and developing drama and comedy is noteworthy, whereas I can find very little to say about the stream of Australian reality and lifestyle programming offered by the commercials.

Phil Jeng Kane

 

 

 

 

 

 

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