REVIEW | Chris Lilley's LUNATICS

Lilley as “Jana”, the pet psychic in LUNATICS
Image - Netflix

WE COULD BE HEROES landed Chris Lilley deep into Australia’s psyche in 2005.

His deft writing and performance introduced us to J’amie and a raft of other characters that gave us a unique insight into who we were. SUMMER HEIGHTS HIGH built on that, introducing alpha Ja’mie into a new beta setting, and gifting us a full-blown exposition of the drama teacher we’d all had at some stage - the incomparable Mr G.

With this new 10 episode series LUNATICS, delivered internationally on Netflix, what is apparent is Lilley doesn't have a lot of people saying no to him.

As writer, director, producer and star… he really should have.

LUNATICS - at least the primary characters - are deeply flawed micrograbs of the darker parts of our humanity amplified as comedy, though they sadly swing very wide and land squarely in sadness.

Where before Lilley’s characterisations revealed some redeeming features of each of his creations, LUNATICS attempts in its death throes to justify each of the central six’s abhorrence by suggesting that, “If you wanna be weird, be weird. You do you.” It’s not enough, and feels entirely ham-fisted in each of the six’s individual versions of a happy ending.

Perhaps it’s Lilley reassuring himself that the weirdness he imagines can be considered OK because he’s being authentic to that which comes from his creative night terrors.

I laughed really hard at one moment (and only one). A supporting character did something that was very much a step too far for them and the humour was in that character having the wherewith-all to back themselves. It was very well delivered but not worth watching the 9 episodes necessary to get the context and appreciate it.

I might be reading too much into it - it was one of the rare moments Lilley wasn't on-screen.

There's nothing horrific in the series and that might be a contributing problem. If it was that bad you might expect some controversy. Yes, Lilley inhabits three female character (one quite graphically thanks to some CGI in episode one) so if that’s offensive to you you wouldn’t even have checked in given his history. No, there’s no blackface character in this series - many thought Jana (above image) was another move into controversy however Lilley’s team assures us Jana is white, simply well-tanned.

This is the real problem for this series and its creator—there’s nothing controversial or even remotely interesting about these characters and their individual journeys.

Hackneyed writing and sub-par performance only add to the multitude of sins contained therein.

Given how great some of Lilley's past creations have been comparison is too hard to avoid. There's none of the sharpness of Ja'mie or the endearing unawareness of Mr G here; just very, very pale imitations.

Having a 40-something man play a foul-mouthed obese 11-year old isn't funny.

Neither is a 7 foot 3 Australian girl at an American college who unsurprisingly struggles to make friends yet becomes famous thanks to her YouTube channel.

Or a white Zimbabwean lesbian pet psychic whose dog undergoes gender re-assignment surgery.

Similarly neither is a former porn star turned hoarder with severe mental problems enabled by her best friend.

Nor the eldest son in a three generation real estate sales empire who genetically has a massive arse and an incredibly inability to realise he isn’t talented though he persists.

Lilley nearly lands it with an ageing wannabe fashion designer with objectophilia who is obsessed with a cash register to the point of intercourse. Nearly.

The one thing that binds all six together is their complete lack of self-awareness and the Lilley trademark of diminishing others to elevate themselves.

Put simply: it makes all six primary characters completely unlikeable, and when you’re attempting to hold a mirror up to society and reveal the humour and horror in all of us it only leaves you with the latter. Which, as comedy, just isn’t funny.

It’s just lazy.

Instead if Lilley had focused even one of his prize creations and spent the time and energy developing them with a depth and breadth - even a hint of likability - instead of seemingly playing character-trait-grab-bag-bingo... that would have been dope as fuck.

LUNATICS (10 episodes) - available now on Netflix.