Angry Boys stars Sydney-born comedian Chris Lilley (Summer Heights High) as Daniel and Nathan Sims, twin teenage brothers from small-town Australia who first appeared in the mockumentary We Can Be Heroes (transmitted as The Nominees in Britain by FX UK). But while the parent series was an award-winning success, the spin-off is a twelve-part behemoth of bad taste that evokes sporadic smiles rather than continuous chuckling.
Nathan – who is 90% deaf – and Daniel – who donated an eardrum to his brother in an operation that failed – live with their mother in the tiny Australian village of Dunt. Their lives revolve around skating (Nathan), surfing (Daniel) and swearing (both of them). To their family, to their friends and to pretty much everyone else, the brothers offer middle-finger salutes and endless expletives. When their mum’s boyfriend Steve moves in, he brings his pet dog along with him, to the cursing consternation of the two brothers. ‘His name’s Marcos, but I call him Fuckos,’ Daniel explains. ‘It wiggles its bum when it walks; that’s to attract other male dogs.’ Groan.
A much funnier character, however, is their grandmother, Ruth ‘Gran’ Sims (also played by Lilley), a butch prisoner warden at a nearby juvenile detention centre whom older viewers – and/or fans of vintage Australian soap operas – may recognise as a not-entirely-subtle parody of Prisoner: Cell Block H’s Vera ‘Vinegar Tits’ Bennett. Although she claims to be a caring, surrogate parent for the youthful detainees, Gran is also bizarre and frightening, possessed of a misguided sense of humour and an inappropriately foul mouth. If Daniel and Nathan are carefree with their crudity, their senior relative takes offensiveness to a level well beyond the boys’ overuse of the word ‘fag’.
‘Gran does have a habit of crossing the line,’ admits the institution’s CEO as the guinea-pig-loving granny organises a football game into teams of light and dark skin before bawling at them in the most abusively racial and sexual terms possible. ‘There’s no doubt that she can get a little bit out of order with her political correctness.’ This is the nub of the problem with Angry Boys, handily addressed by one of its characters: obviously, the intention is for viewers to first be shocked by these grotesquely stereotypical characters and their offensiveness, then to laugh at them. But there’s very little that’s actually shocking in the show, despite its best efforts; and thus, there’s very little to laugh at, either.
There is some amusement to be found – the scene where Gran hosts a karaoke night for the inmates but hogs the microphone herself, singing ‘Rehab’ and M-People’s ‘Moving Up’, is truly hilarious – but there’s a sense of tiredness and repetition even before the end of the opening episode that makes one wonder how long the same old swearing, deaf jokes and teenage gross-out gags can last before they become mundane. The mockumentary concept is such a well-trodden route for comedy that any new example risks comparisons – usually of the unfavourable kind – with established or classic American and British series such as Modern Family, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Thick Of It and The Office.
A surprising co-production with HBO, Angry Boys falls a long way short of these high standards, but viewers who enjoyed David Walliams and Matt Lucas’s recent airport-based spoof Come Fly With Me might find it more to their taste – provided they prefer their comedy to function at its basest level.
Airs at 10.40pm on Tuesday 7th June 2011 on BBC Three.