Being a proper Aussie bloke (well, actually, not really, I don’t understand sport), I like to give things a fair go. I didn’t enjoy Angry Boys last week and thought it might have been the fact it was the first episode and just needed to find its rhythm. In that spirit, I returned to the well, looking forward to maybe meeting somebody new and not just tweaked or just plain reconstituted old characters. So, we met S.Mouse.
Oh, look, he’s blacked up, but because he’s an artiste, it means it’s confronting and funny and satirical, rather than old hat.
As I said last week, Lilley’s usually strong performances save a deficit in writing. S.Mouse is a thoroughly unlikeable little turd, although I’m sure there’ll be redemption next week, but he’s so grating. Once again it was the writing that completely failed to do the performances justice, and being the writer, that’s his problem. His storyline was spectacularly lacking in invention, it was just ideas plucked from reality and a long time after they stopped being funny. Making him black was an interesting choice because white rappers are inherently funny. Their almost mandatory lameness means you can have a lot of fun. The weird collision of hip-hop novelty and troubled, rebellious child star struggled to convince.
Satire has to add a twist and so far, there’s no twist. S.Mouse’s dodgy back story notwithstanding, it’s been done before. Characters like this – Kanye West, Snoop Dogg et al – are depressingly familiar and tiring. Having Chris Lilley point out that hip-hop is un-self-conscious parody is news only to a five year-old. When someone like S.Mouse has already appeared in Law and Order or CSI or worse, The Bill, you’ve missed the boat to take you to the island where there’s a shark you can jump.
Oh, she said wanked a dog! It’s Gran again and her ‘unexpected’ potty mouth. Hilarity.
The Gran (Mr G’s mad aunt?) character doesn’t appear to be going very far and consists of her being mostly horrible and then a little bit sweet. Her storyline is also written in order to manipulate the audience to invent some sympathy for her, rather than to be thought-provoking. The suicide angle was a bit uncomfortable, but not the way I think was intended – I thought it was too much. One wonders what is in store for us to manufacture sympathy for S.Mouse. At least with the virtually irredeemable twins, there is something embedded in their story that already gives us something to chew over.
What annoys me about the story arcs of the characters is that Lilley pushes them into the gutter to haul them back out again, even if it’s only momentarily. Russell T. Davies did this with the final stories of the David Tennant-era of Doctor Who. He turned the wonderful character of the Doctor into a scary, raging egomaniac with a sense of entitlement that we’d never seen before and it left a sour taste because it was a crude device. Lilley just keeps recycling it on all four storylines we’ve seen so far.
I will say I got a laugh this time. Right at the end when the boys in the prison were in the super-hero pyjamas. It was actually the only moment where the humour was at all subtle or gentle. He can do it, he’s just chosen not to. The rest of the gags were poo, dick and bum jokes and if there were other subtle jokes, they were so subtle I missed them.
Twitter seemed slightly muted compared to last week. I checked the ratings, they had remained flat, with a fall of 20,000 (statistically irrelevant, I would say). Whether it’s the dawning realisation that it isn’t funny or the unexpectedly heavy subject matter in some of the scenes, I’m not sure. Perhaps I am projecting and I just filtered the tweets.
Which brings me to a theory I’m developing about Lilley. Many tweets from last week seemed to be the fawning stuff I see regularly for Stephen Fry on Twitter. Lilley has somehow achieved national hero status, the successes of We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High propelling him to a position of pre-eminence. Let’s face it, the only other Australian comedy series we’ve had recently was Laid and, well, you know. It’s almost like if anyone dares to criticise the show, they’ll never work in this town again. I say that from the comparative safety of a relatively anonymous blogger with a name that is the Scandanavian equivalent of John Smith.
All this talk of ‘dark and confronting’ dodges the issue that it isn’t actually very good television. The pace is ponderous, the direction heavy-handed and Lilley does not allow much from the other performers, they’re all flat, robbing the show of the depth it’s going to need to survive its long season. I get that his characters are the stars but even in Little Britain, The Peter Serafinowicz Show, The Catherine Tate Show and other character-based sketch shows, the other performers at least get a chance to be seen, to react and to engage. The only exception has been S.Mouse’s father who I thought could have been funny if he’d been given funny lines. There’s no dynamism to the main characters either, so the repetition of their hooks – their hubris, the racism, the relentless swearing and gesturing – is just boring.
I didn’t set out to hate Angry Boys, but alarm bells rang when I heard he had twelve episodes to fill and the creeping mean-spiritedness of Summer Heights High had really put me off. Angry Boys has found its rhythm, but it’s a beat I can’t learn to like.