TELEVISION Angry Boys (ABC/HBO)
Eric Idle once made an off-the-cuff remark, admitting his desire to create an episode of Monty Python that would be utterly devoid of all aspects of humour. Stemming solely from a sense of curiosity as to how an audience would react, you can imagine viewers waiting eagerly for an audacious pay-off until - to their dismay - nothing arrives.
The Monty Python troupe never actually dared produce such an episode, and nor has any other comedy since - with the exception of some valiant efforts from the makers of The Big Bang Theory.
I can’t help but get the feeling that if Idle had followed through with his intentions, the effects would in fact be not too far removed from some achieved by Chris Lilley’s latest series Angry Boys. That is not to say that the series neglects comedy entirely, far from it, yet whereas his previous creations seemed to find the perfect balance of dramady, the whole concept of Angry Boys seems to be rather rushed and confused.
Perhaps the most talked about character of the series, is the bubblegum hip-hop pastiche, S – dot - Mouse. In the series, his breakthrough single ‘Slap My Elbow’ showcases the sort of numbingly aphasic rapping that wouldn’t sound odd coming from an artist such as Soulja Boy or Lil’ Bow Wow. The main controversy surrounding the character however is his race, with commentators asking the question: Why does he need to be black? Whether or not S.Mouse is the modern day equivalent to Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer is debatable, however what complicates matters further is the manner in which he embarks on a self-induced makeover at the end, bringing out his middle class spirit within. A social transformation that would make David Starkey proud.
S.Mouse, like all the series’ characters is hit or miss, with an emphasis on the miss. However there are some genuinely funny moments, with Daniel Sims and his partially deaf brother Nathan coming across as the most entertaining characters. The fact that these two are the only characters that weren’t original creations for Angry Boys – appearing in Lilley’s first series We Can Be Heroes – shows a decline in the standards of character construction from the comedian. This has led some to comment that Lilley should stick to writing and performing Australian characters, this overlooking the fact that wanton beach-bum Blake Oakfield is perhaps the most inane and humourless figure throughout the series. The performances by Lilley are impressive nonetheless, yet it seems that the main reason for a neglecting of comedy is his general overconfidence in an ability to perform characters in a dramatically realist manner.
Other than the weak characters, the foremost reason for which Angry Boys differs from Lilley’s previous output is as a result of its overall premise. Summer Heights High and We Can Be Heroes work as mockumentaries predominantly because of their plausible groundings as documentaries. One can genuinely perceive a documentary crew following a spoilt public school student as she undergoes a school-swap with a pupil from a less privileged background. What’s more, the search for the ‘Australian of the Year’ in We Can Be Heroes is a veritable premise for an uplifting piece of non-fiction entertainment.
Yet with Angry Boys, there would be no real reason for a crew to follow and film each of these teenagers. At the end of the series all the strands tie together - and this is predictable after the first few episodes - yet it becomes awkward and illogical when you apprehend that it would have been nigh on impossible to predict who Daniel would have written to, let alone who would have turned up to the series’ ultimate leaving party. The programme might have worked more seamlessly if it abandoned the whole fly-on-the-wall basis from the outset.
Without taking away anything from HBO, which has produced some groundbreaking comedies in recent years, perhaps it is the American influence which has altered Chris Lilley’s style. By no means am I implying that an American influence as such is a negative one; Christopher Guest initiated and perfected the genre. It’s just that American mockumentaries no longer seem to care if the stories fit into standard faux-documentary perimeters. The US Office for instance - now entering its eight season - long ago departed from any real sense of observational documentation. Nevertheless, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the American Office is often rescued by the hilarity of its comedian performances and story-lines, and a heightened sense of farce and absurdity. Angry Boys on the other hand is stuck in an awkward middle ground; between realism and illogicality.
Gran’s scenes best sum up the privileging of dramatic verisimilitude over humour. In the character’s first few sequences there are certainly some humorous moments, with her brutal practical jokes achieving most of the laughs, and her grossly unwarranted racial taunts garnering a few additional chuckles. You get the overriding feeling however that these comic set pieces have been forced into the script. As the narrative progresses, and events quickly become more sobering, it appears that any sequences of actual comedy were overlooked. If Gran’s story stood alone, the resulting product would essentially be a serious dramatic piece – but performed by a man in drag. Think Dame Edna in Sophie’s Choice.
Some of Gran’s most poignant moments, are those showing the relationship she strikes up with a juvenile inmate who’s been incarcerated for incessant bestiality -the ‘Dog Wanker’. Watching Angry Boys can be comparable to watching such a crime – and indeed the aforesaid proposition from Eric Idle – a generally displeasing and uncouth experience, one which by the end you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.