Monday, December 19, 2011

Sorry, 'Angry Boys' just isn't funny

Aussie comedian/ writer/ actor/ director Chris Lilley's show Angry Boys premieres on HBO next Sunday (January 1).

Given his last series, Summer Heights High, did reasonably well with American audiences, there's already been a fair bit of hype.

I'll be very interested to see how Angry Boys fares in America, particularly with regard to Lilley "blacking up" to portray an African American rapper. But mostly I'm interested to see if people find it funny, because I certainly didn't when it premiered in Australia earlier this year.

Having not laughed once in the first two episodes, I initially thought I just
didn’t "get" Angry Boys. That was confusing, because I’ve always loved the understated mockumentary humour and character work Lilley previously did so well in We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High.

Not a boy. Not angry. Not funny.

Angry Boys is basically a third instalment of those shows, using the same sort of humour and even some of the same characters. So why isn’t it funny?

While Lilley’s previous shows both had a sharp focus that made them believable as "documentaries" – We Can Be Heroes followed five nominees on the path to the Australian of the Year awards in Canberra, while Summer Heights High was a fly-on-the-wall look at life in a public school – Angry Boys feels more like a random collection of character-based sketches.

It’s made with the feel of a documentary but, apart from a loose connection between each of the characters, it seems to lack a thread to pull all the parts together.

Where is it all going? Even the title doesn’t really make sense. What is it supposed to be about?

The fine balance of silliness and realism that Lilley got so bang-on in his previous shows is also awkwardly handled in Angry Boys.

On one hand you’ve got American rapper S.Mouse with his hit song "Poo on You", which is so ridiculous as to be completely unbelievable, and on the other you’ve got prison warden Gran, whose interactions with her juvenile detainees seem so close to real life, they’re more heart-rending than humorous. I almost cried at the end of episode two, for goodness sake.

Call me crazy, but I just couldn’t laugh at a victim of child abuse spending his first frightened night in jail.

How will American audiences react to Lilley donning "black face" for his portrayal of rapper S. Mouse?

Then again, maybe I wasn’t supposed to. Lilley has played with that sort of jarring comedy before. Many viewers were shocked when Pat died on We Can Be Heroes, in what was a truly emotional moment definitely not designed for laughs.

So you have to wonder if this type of awkward, unsettling, realist humour is what Lilley really wants to do, and if involvement from greater commercial interests such as co-producers HBO and the BBC have ruined the mix somewhat. If you’re trying to sell to new mainstream markets in the US and England, maybe you have to throw in the odd poo joke, not to mention the odd American character – so people understand you.

The problem is this weird blend of silliness and ultra-realism makes Angry Boys feel like a cross between something like Fast Forward and Australian Story – an awkward combination.

Lilley’s magnetic screen presence and incredible characterisations mean there’s still something fascinating about Angry Boys but if it’s a comedy, it’s certainly not as we know it.

An edited version of this article was originally published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail's TV Guide, on May 29, 2011.


  1. I agree. Not funny. Not even a little bit funny. The problem is, viewers had expectations that this new series would be funny, in the way his previous work was. So we all sat through the early episodes waiting for the funny to start - or to at least to 'get it'. I never did, and gave up. I bet the black face wasn't shown on American TV? That was a REAL mistake on Lilley's part.

  2. This show is AMAZING!!! Whoever wrote this is probably some lonely person who has nothing better to do than bash a FANTASIC show. Keep up the good work Chris dont let idiots like this bring you down. GR8!!!! show!!!!