Way Too Gay: The happy crew from the try-hard ABC sitcom Outland.
Please note: this is the extended version of the review that appeared in last week's Green Guide (16 February, 2012). It has been rated MA15+ for occasional coarse language and gratuitous references to Jar Jar Binks.
If you find the line: ‘‘never fist a man with Parkinson’s’’ funny, then you’re likely to eat this up.
The problem - well, one of the many problems - with this painfully strained stab at a hip, savvy sitcom is that it is way, way, way too gay.
Andy (Paul Ireland), Rae (Christine Anu), Max (Toby Truslove), Toby (Ben Gerrard) and Fab (Adam Richard, usually an automatically funny guy) are a clutch of gay sci-fi lovers who form their own fan club after being ex-communicated from a major one.
Sounds like a fun premise, and it should have been given the mother lode of nerd humour and pop references the show could have gleefully plundered. Yet the whole thing falls flat, due chiefly to the characters being far too similar and lacking anyone to give them any real schtick.
Tonight's lifeless, inert offering has the team trying to release Andy from a bondage harness affixed to the ceiling of a community hall. Cue: endless stream of sex jokes. Oh, there are a few nods to The X-Files, but it takes a full 13 minutes before there’s a decent gag about things exploding in Scanners; everything else is just gay gagging.Now, to be absolutely clear: mincing and sissy talk and penis jokes can be funny - even endearing - in short, concentrated bursts.
The trouble here is that there's no relief from any of it, nobody to set up punchlines or to say to Fab: ‘‘Does moisturising your elbows really enhance your prospects in the gay community? I’m just curious.’’
To put it bluntly, Outland is a show badly in need of a straight man - both figuratively and literally.
One of the keys to any good sitcom is the comedy of contrast, wherein humour feeds off the conflicts and differences between the characters.
To pluck five examples completely at random: in Will & Grace a neurotic straight woman lives life with her long-time gay best friend; Love Thy Neighbour had a white racist living next door to a black couple; All in the Family had a rabid right winger with a liberal son-in-law; Family Ties saw hippie parents whose son is a money-loving yuppie; The Big Bang Theory has a quarter of nerds whose insular lives is invaded by a hot blonde.
The list is endless and wildly diverse - from Diff'rent Strokes to Fawlty Towers to Frasier to Seinfeld to Everybody Loves Raymond to Hot in Cleveland. It's a pot-stirring sitcom principle that has proved its worth over the decades, and should have done so again here.
As it is, Outland is too gay-centric. With all the characters batting for the same team, the comic pot is too calm; there is simply not enough conflict to generate enough fizz or energy, not enough grist for the characters to bounce off or respond to. As for it being set within the realm of geekdom, the show is a major letdown with too many references to penises and not enough to Jar Jar Binks.
Still, if you find the line: ‘‘never fist a man with Parkinson’s’’ funny, then you’re likely to eat this up. However, those of us high-brow enough to demand more from a dick joke than the mere showing of one (well, a rubber one) might want to give it a skip.
A major opportunity at a mainstream, line-crossing sitcom has been missed with Outland. And, to be fair, a look at the subsequent episode on the preview disk was sat through.
What do you think of Outland? What do you think of this review? Does the point the writer makes about it being "too gay" fair? Or does it show an unwillingness to understand the program?
Your valued thoughts are hereby sought.
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