By Leah Martindale, Third Year, Film & TV
The series was released to both acclaim and controversy in April - here’s the lowdown of the characters.
Lunatics is Chris Lilley’s newest adventure in mockumentary comedy, exclusive to the streaming site Netflix. Lilley is best known in the UK as his iconic roles of Ja’mie and Mr G - Helen ‘Greg’ Gregson - in Summer Heights High (2007) and the spin-off, Ja’mie: Private School Girl (2013). Lilley’s television career is built off mockumentary series, with a second Summer Heights spin-off Jonah from Tonga (2014) - justice for Mr G! Who wanted a Jonah spin-off anyway? - and unrelated shows We Can Be Heroes: Finding The Australian of the Year (2005), and Angry Boys (2011).
Lilley’s newest exploit has garnered mixed opinions and revived ‘a back-catalogue of criticism’ , described as ‘controversial’, ‘dizzying, tone-deaf’, ‘not that outrageous, not that funny’. ABC even question if Lilley was still funny. So what’s all the hullabaloo about? Here’s a nice quick rundown of the caricatures from Lilley’s newest adventures in offensive laughs.
12-year-old Gavin is a classic Lilley child character with a juvenile attitude and foulmouth to rival Jonah Takalua’s. Born and raised in Australia, he has gone to spend a summer at his uncle’s country, Gayhurst Manor, which due to an unfortunate twist of lineage Gavin is one day destined to inherit. With an instagram page entitled ‘C*ntLord’ he spends most of his time creating awful content for, Gavin is a dabbing, swearing, overweight nightmare child.
Middle-aged Keith Dick is a wannabe fashion-designer objectophile - meaning he has romantic and sexual attraction to inanimate objects. Heart of his desires is Karen, an ancient cash register. Having recently inherited his wife’s late father’s clothing store, he has rebranded the shop as My D!ck and is determined to appeal to a younger audience, while overcoming his marriage-ruining sexuality disorder.
Ex-model-turned-adult-star and delusional hoarder Joyce is a sadly recognisable character. Equipped with her own quirks and comedic devices, Joyce is complete with a tragic loneliness and penchant for the imagined. Hoarding everything from scrunchies to frisbees, teddy-bears to Kate Bush memorabilia, Joyce’s only companion is fellow ex-model Rhonda, who enables Joyce on her trips to get ‘collectables’, and offers a sensible slant on Joyce’s crazy nature.
29-year-old Quentin Cook is a real-estate agent with his head in the clouds and his bum in XXL pants. Blessed with a bountiful behind, as all Cook men are, Quentin dreams of being an EDM DJ and singer… and bar owner… and housing developer… and opening a gluten-free Asian fusion nightclub/restaurant… and becoming the new Banksy. Blessed with a Mr G sized ego and a rump to match, Quentin is trademark Lilley if ever I’ve seen it.
18-year-old Becky is a bittersweet character, underplayed at times. Non-identical twins with her sister Lucy, the two have moved from Australia to the States for college, inspired not in small part an exchange student they had to stay with them who is now a sophomore at the same college. Bestowed with an unusual 7 foot 3 inches in height, she is the dorm freak, mocked by boys, getting her hair caught in ceiling fans, and slowly growing apart from the regular-sized, attractive sister who once completed her sentences.
South African lesbian pet therapist to the stars Jana is the epicentre of Lunatics’ controversy. Kitted out in full afro and notably darkened skin, Jana revives Lilley’s past criticisms of black- and brown face with past characters S’Mouse and Jonah. Jonah from Tonga ‘was withdrawn from Maori television in New Zealand for its negative portrayal of Tongan culture’, with New Zealand's minister for Pacific peoples even making a public comment on the show. With a disturbing trend of Australian blackface, the show harkens back to controversies such as Come Fly With Me (2010-11), with both described as akin to minstrel shows.
While Jana does come complete with an afro and dark skin, in flashback sequences she is seen with her tan but clearly white parents, and so either she is extremely tan or she is South Africa’s Rachel Dolezal. Either so, it is easy to see why the show is receiving criticisms, despite the characters of colour being far less offensively stereotyped than his past transgressions.
The show’s valid critiques raise question as to the validity of satire if it is not ‘punching up’. Satire should, it is widely accepted, mock those in positions of power. Whether Lunatics does this is debatable, but the show certainly makes commentary - of debatable need or success - on the archetypes we recognise, to fantastically absurd proportions.
Reviews have called the show childish and crude, and reduced the characters to their most base of characteristics. Quentin has a giant ass, Becky is freakishly tall, Gavin is fat, Keith’s surname is Dick, Joyce is an ex-adult star, and Jana is… Jana. But behind that reductionist first perspective lies a depth in characters and a wealth of story and development you’d be a fool to miss.
@ChrisLilley so I just finished watching #Lunatics and I wanted to say thank you. Your attention to detail and ability to mirror a piece of all of us is inspired. You are a master of pathos. You play the long game. And you are very necessary. Respekt. You are dope as f*k.— Dylan Lewis (@_Dylan_Lewis_) May 8, 2019
Somehow, however, despite its dubious controversial content and classic crude comedy, the show is in my mind at least up there with Lilley’s greats. The characters have a reality lacking from previous performances and I’m not ashamed to say that Episode 8 made me cry. The show embodies what ‘bittersweet’ really means, and the final episode’s musical outro stamps home the overriding theme - to ‘be your own kind of beautiful’.
Complete with dubious English accents, classic cringey songs, and a ensemble performance from the triple-threat crude comedian Lilley, the show is funny in its trademark brand. Understandably the show will rub some the wrong way, and much like I couldn’t care less for Jonah, Gavin will never be a favourite. However, if you are a fan of Lilley’s childlike humour, satirisation of the recognisable, and hilarious absurdity, you are in the right place.
Lunatics is available on Netflix now.
Featured Image credit: Netflix / Vince Valitutti
Do you think the characterisation in Lunatics crosses the line?