I *really* wanted to love Lawrence Leung’s satirical TV series, which recently screened on ABC. His Rubick’s-loving, MacGyver-worshipping nerdy persona has great potential to be a real cult hero. Leung could have excelled as a no-holds-barred ubergeek on a heroic quest in the name of all geekdom, but instead he dawdles through nine weeks of unfulfilment in denial; on quests for mediocre pursuits.
The show has some funny moments, and is not lacking in casual entertainment value. Its nostalgia almost sucked me in completely, but it just wasn’t believable enough. Really top notch satire exhibits such a sharp truth that leaves the viewer roaring with laughter at the uncanny accuracy, take The Hollowmen for example.
In an effort to amplify his own self-perceived lameness for the purposes of comedy, Leung’s “adventures” turn into overwritten, overacted stereotypes, most of which have a predictable outcome. Perhaps the show sits too precariously on the fence between reality TV and transparently scripted comedy.
To illustrate, think of how Flight of The Conchords makes no attempt to masquerade as a factual documentary. The whole series is so obviously scripted, so it fits nicely into the category of “sitcom” and the audience is comfortable. Summer Heights High is the same. Despite its opening title claiming authenticity, the supporting characters treat Lilley’s creations just as they are written; instead of reacting to their mildly unsettling surreality, as we do as the audience. It has long been said that great humour comes from truth, but that’s what’s lacking here.
With one foot in the reality camp, Leung encourages the audience to see his character as a real person. Maybe that’s what he wants, but its not him, its the “made for TV” version of him, who has been artificially altered. I’m sure a lot of the script draws factual inspiration from Leung’s childhood, but its the interactions with other characters that most lack authenticity. While the Chaser-style stunts have some initial shock value, we know that in reality, premeditation is required if you want to achieve the desired follow-through.
For example, you don’t rock up to a stranger’s house and start waxing his floors and car Karate Kid style. You approach him and sell him the show’s agenda, give him a few lines and then start filming. This ensures the quality of “drama” matches your preconceived ideal. However, one stunt I could not accept was rocking up to the front gate of MacGyver creator Lee David Zlotoff‘s home for an “impromptu” interview. Seriously, he would just call the cops or tell you to fuck off.
We also see evidence in the school teacher reunion scene of the discontinuity inherent in these stunts. You can just about pinpoint the exact edit. The scene starts off with Leung being the sweet genuine guy with an innocent agenda. It rapidly switches to the reality induced by an off-camera explanation and script run-through.
So they set it all up beforehand. That’s fine and dandy. What grates here is the slimy attempt at presenting obviously prearranged sequences as reality. The result is that we see through their veil and the humour simply drains away.
Rush out of the bushes with all the urgency in the world, shake those cameras as hard and convincingly as you can. Blur that man’s face so we think he’s actually a real person. Sorry mate, I’m just not buying it.