On the basis of the pre-publicity for Here Come The Habibs you'd think it was all about to destroy the fragile last hope of multicultural Australia. The pre-release commercials made it look like Housos with even broader comedy accents, and there was even a change.org petition demanding the show be pulled before it even screened.
So it's a huge shock to report that Here Come The Habibs is… well, a solid commercial network sitcom.
Trailer: Here come the Habibs
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Trailer: Here come the Habibs
It's a second migration for the Habib family, first it was Lebanon to Australia, now the western suburbs to Vaucluse.
And that in itself is kind of amazing. Seriously: when was the last time you saw a new Australian sitcom that wasn't on ABC or SBS? Honestly, think about it.
Yes, Here Come The Habibs is broad ethnic humour, no worse or less affectionate than Acropolis Now! or Fat Pizza (whose alumnus Tahir Bilgic is also on the show). In fact, the closest parallel might actually be the venerable Kingswood Country, where broad stereotypes are used to make sly – and occasionally deeply unflattering – comments about Australian society.
The basic premise of "working class family become obscenely wealthy and move to hoity-toity neighbourhood where fish-out-of-water hi-jinks ensue" is as old as The Beverly Hillbillies. The only twist is that instead of the family being a broad-accented family of yokels they're a broad-accented Lebanese-Australian family.
As with every sitcom, the first episode suffers from the need to set up the show's premise and rapidly sketch the characters in broad strokes as swiftly as possible. Hence the first act is largely characters vomiting up indigestible chunks of exposition before anything approaching a plot can be brought to bear.
And much of it is comedy of stereotypes, but amid the thick accents and impressive pratfalls are some smart and savage lines. It's clear that much of the series' humour will be drawn from white discomfort with Middle Eastern folks, personified by the Habib's hapless neighbour Jack O'Neill (Darren Gilshenan, extending the can't-cut-a-break good natured obsequiousness of his No Activity character Stokes).
One of the earliest laughs come from watching him attempt to make small talk with the impassive Habib patriarch Fou Fou, played by Michael Denkha ("You've probably never been to Cronulla, right?"). It's hard to think of a better summation of a certain type of middle-class Australian than Jack's genuinely uneasy "They're not going to knock the house down and build a mosque?"
The entire cast acquit themselves well. Helen Dallimore is gloriously awful as Olivia O'Neill, delivering lines like "My shoes are like my children, darling. As are you," with relish. Camilla Ah Kin's Mariam Habib, on the other hand, delivers her lines bone-dry, all but daring Jack to blink when she introduces herself and Fou Fou with "I'm one of his many wives."
So, after the online furor, what did Twitter reckon about Here Come The Habibs?
Going by the vast majority of tweets, they dug it.
You see, our Lebo culture involves having a good old laugh at ourselves! #9TheHabibs— Infinity (@bechanna01) February 9, 2016
Im dying, its so accurate #9thehabibs— Maymuna (@hellomaay) February 9, 2016
Liking the #9TheHabibs - warm and amusing— JennyMacKinnon (@jennylmackinnon) February 9, 2016
In short, Here Come The Habibs unexpectedly suggests there's still life in the Australian network sitcom. Who saw that coming?