But it’s not really that outrageous. Sure, there are plenty of small elements that are offensive, but mostly it’s just not that funny.
A chuckle here, a wry smile there, but certainly no full-throated guffaws — indifference is the worst reaction you could elicit in comedy.
Centred on six eccentric characters/caricatures, all written and performed by Lilley, Lunatics doesn’t come close to recapturing what many have considered the “comedic genius” of his early work.
There’s the South African pet psychic Jana, the character that’s generated the most controversy, created by someone who has previously been accused of cultural misappropriation.
But Lunatics producer Laura Waters has assured audiences that Jana is white and is merely sporting a 70s-era Barbra Streisand afro.
Keith Dick is a Karl Lagerfeld-emulating fashion retailer with delusions of grandeur and taste. He moves his family to Cooper Pedy, trying to turn the main street clothes shop into something he considers stylish. He also has a sexual fetish for a cash register he’s named Karen.
Becky is a 7-foot-3-inches tall upbeat Australian teen going to university with her twin sister in California. She loves unicorns, glitter and hot pink.
Quentin is a douchebag real estate agent from a family cursed/blessed with massive derrières, a toxic bro who thinks nothing of harassing women and then calling them ugly sluts if they reject his creepy advances. He’s clearly a fan of Todd Carney’s urinal antics.
Joyce is a former porn star turned hoarder who thinks her soft toys might come to life Toy Story-style when she’s not watching them.
And then there’s Gavin, a 12-year-old incel rapist-in-the-making who brags about “tuning chicks”. The Coke-swilling Adelaide boy is sent to England for the summer to live with his uncle, the Earl of Gayhurst as the potential heir to the vast estate.
You actually suspect Lilley might be a secret feminist because his male characters, especially Quentin and Gavin, are irredeemable monsters while the female characters are just weirdos with good hearts.
Of course, there’s every chance Lilley doesn’t think his creations are abhorrent because the official press notes for Lunatics end with “they are scarily recognisable types and they teach us that it’s OK to just be you”.
Actually, it’s not OK to be Gavin or Quentin. If we’re meant to find Gavin or Quentin relatable, then we have a long way to go as people.
The choice to give some of the characters another exaggerated trait — the big butt, the 7’3 height, the sexual fetish — when they’re already larger-than-life is unnecessary. Not that Lilley has ever been subtle.
The characters are all caricatures but they’re presented in a way that was maybe comical 20 years ago or if you’re 14 years old.
But he can’t resist a juvenile joke — what’s actually clever about calling the English estate “Gayhurst” in 2019?
You could argue Lilley hasn’t moved on from the same schtick that brought him early acclaim with We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High, but now he seems to have less insight and discipline.
His characters’ hubris has always been the target of Lilley’s comedy but you wonder if he has any sense of his own.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Lunatics is not tone or its meh-ness, it’s actually the fundamental structural issues.
Whereas something like Summer Heights High was focused and contained, Lunatics is sprawling. The characters are in different locales in stories that don’t connect, and expecting you to care about all of them is a stretch.
As is the series length which drags at 35 minutes each over 10 episodes — Lunatics needed a serious edit.
The show is set up as an irreverent, bold exploration of weirdos and identity — Lilley probably wants you to be outraged — but it mostly feels like a bunch of tame sketches that overstayed their welcome.
Lunatics is available to stream now on Netflix
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