The biggest knock against Angry Boys is that it isn’t very funny. Like quasi-chameleonic creator Christ Lilley’s previous Australian TV programs, We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year and the crossover hit Summer Heights High, Angry Boys pinballs between the lives of its cast of main characters, all played by Lilley in various states of cultural (and literal) drag, in a loose mouckumentary style. Unlike these previous series, Angry Boys appears entirely unfocussed from the get-go.
Where We Can be Heroes was structured around the lives of five Australians all nominated for a prestigious citizenship award, and Summer Heights High proved as sophisticated as The Simpsons (or season four of The Wire) in analyzing the daily politics of public school, Angry Boys‘s organizational schema is considerably baggier. Simply, the show’s thematic focus is angry young men, and the various caretakers who tend to them. To this end, Lilley plays South Australian twins Daniel and Nathan Sims (returning from We Can Be Heroes), their grandmother who works at a juvenile detention center, over-the-hill surfer Blake Oakfield, domineering Japanese mompreneur Jen Okazaki, and in Lilley’s most shamelessly offensive show of minstrelsy yet, African-American hip-hop artist S.mouse, a role which sees Lilley dipped head to toe in blackface makeup.
Lilley’s best show, Summer Heights High, succeeded in no small part because he reeled in the rambling, expansive nature of We Can Be Heroes, finely honing the personalities of just three characters. Angry Boys returns to the sprawl, as if Lilley feels the only way he can one-up himself is to construct more and more characters. Apart from the Sims twins, who arrive to Angry Boys fully formed thanks to their provenance in Lilley’s previous series, many of his creations here feel half-formed, a bundle of one-note jokes attempting to pass as something more. Ruth “Gran” Sims is little more than a vehicle for tough-love racism, while Oakenfield’s embodying of arrested adolescence veers a bit too close to the foul-mouthed juvenilia of the backwater Sims twins. The most welcome new arrival is Jen Okazaki, an overbearing mother carefully shaping her teenage son’s career as professional skateboarder in larger part by marketing him as a gay icon—despite his insistent heterosexuality.
Lilley dabbled in yellow-face mugging in We Can Be Heroes, in the form of the flamboyant Chinese physicist and musical theater icon Ricky Wong (a character engaged in a Broadway musical-style appropriation of Australian indigenous culture), but the diaspora linking Australia and Asia seemed to contextualize the spurious practice of cross-cultural dress-up. With S.mouse, Lilley’s afforded no such couching. As a result, the bulk of the character’s screen time feels entirely uncomfortable. Things may have been different if, as in the cases of characters like Jen Okazaki or Ricky Wong, Lilley’s characterization hit upon any real jokes or otherwise drove at anything halfway insightful. But S.mouse is little more than a mouthpiece: an outlet for Lilley’s wincingly contemptuous and entirely warmed-over appraisal of authenticity in hip-hop music, all delivered by a pasty Australian adult decked out in culturally loaded greasepaint, relishing in tossing around the N-word like a precocious preteen thrilled to be getting away something.
This grating obnoxiousness drapes Angry Boys, which feels like an empty vessel for a high-profile, admittedly very talented, comedian. And unlike Summer Heights High (or even We Can Be Heroes), Angry Boys‘s ostensible thematic underpinnings are undeniably thin. Instead of making consequential connection between teen angst, outmoded machismo, or whatever Angry Boys is pretending to be about (its opening credits feature young children striking poses in superhero costumes, presumably some sort of commentary on…something?), Lilley seems self-satisfied binding his narrative ligatures together, orchestrating an overly elaborate gathering of his main characters, which feels like just another occasion for him flex his muscles as a comic and push the limits of the show’s editing trickery. Likewise, he deflects any resonant dramatic moments until the home stretch of the show’s 12-episode run, bogusly spiking the emotional validity of his show in a bid to make it seem more meaningful than it is. So as much as Angry Boys is thinly conceived, short on laughs, and waffles awfully close to out-and-out racist cartooning, it’s above all else just kind of annoying, an overlong exercise in Lilley wearing out his welcome.
Broadcasted in 720p in North America, Angry Boys makes the jump to high-def home video pretty seamlessly. As much as this is an interview-driven mokcumentary series, Lilley and co-directors Stuart McDonald and Jeffrey Walker made a point of linking their geographically disparate narratives with fairly gorgeous establishing shots, which really pop on disc. Overheads of the urban sprawl of Tokyo, or long tracks across the dirt farms of the fictional South Australian township Dunt, look great. The audio tracks are similarly crisp, with S.mouse's videos sounding a lot better than they have any right to sound.
As with the Summer Heights High home-video release, half of the appeal here is that extensive, six-plus hours of deleted scenes. A lot of this gives a strong sense of Lilley's improvisational acumen, and of the bit players' capacity to stifle their laughter. But given that Angry Boys feels itself a bit like a stitch-up of deleted scenes and undercooked ideas, the sheer amount of deleted content seems to betray something of the series's essential shagginess. The included videos for S.mouse tracks like "Slap My Elbow" and the assertively Auto-Tuned, entirely infectious "Squashed Nigga" are entertaining enough, provided you can stomach Lilley in blackface saying, "I feel like a squashed nigga," over and over.
Though competently packaged for home video, Chris Lilley's Angry Boys reveals a talented comedian not so much pushing the boundaries of good taste as half-assedly mucking about at their perimeter.