Channel Nine has gone out on a limb with its first foray into the world of scripted comedy since 2001.
The network has turned to the creative minds behind No Activity and The Moodys for an initial six-episode run of the heavily promoted Here Come the Habibs.
Created by Rob Shehadie (Fat Pizza, Housos), Habibs is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a Lebanese family that strikes it rich and moves next door to a white Anglo-Saxon family in a posh Sydney suburb.
There’s the obvious comparison with the Beverly Hillbillies and, to a degree, the 80s Aussie series Kingswood Country without the beige sets and mean put-downs.
Social media critics have been quick to judge it based on the preview trailer, dismissing it as ‘rubbish’ and ‘clichéd’ with a very short life expectancy.
But Nine has shown a lot of faith in the show, ignoring the predictions of a ‘ratings bomb’.
Nine Network Co-Head of Drama Andy Ryan believes Aussie audiences are ready for a show like The Habibs, but concedes it’s a risk.
“It really is a big thing for Channel 9 to take on a comedy full stop. We haven’t had a narrative comedy; a scripted comedy since 2001. In fact, no commercial network has done it
I think there are a lot of reasons why it’s easy NOT to make a comedy. They get judged very harshly by the audience and frankly they have to be funny. We think this one is”.
“When it was pitched to us, we knew it was topical and spoke to something that was going on in Australian society that was bigger than just the comedy of the show. It had something to say that reflected upon the Australian experience and not specifically the multi-cultural aspect, although that’s obviously there
When you boil it right down, it’s about family and it’s about neighbours. It’s about outsiders moving into a strange environment and getting resistance from the Old Guard. That’s a pretty bankable comedy concept’.
We could have gone a lot of different ways. It could have been a very ‘sketchie’ type show. Or it could have been a very straight ‘drama” – a very intense social-realist drama. But we liked the comedy perspective of these characters”.
Here Come The Habibs boasts a very strong cast – the majority of whom are of Lebanese descent, giving the jokes and observations a bit more authenticity.
For Camilla Ah Kin, who plays the mother Mariam, it was a chance to draw on her own background and smash a few stereotypes.
“I’m very excited about the show and I’m excited because I haven’t seen a Lebanese family, in this context, on Australian television before. When I watched the first two episodes at the Cast and Crew screening, I was laughing seeing all that ‘stuff’ and recognising it immediately”.
“The writers have been very clever in purposefully setting up the stereotypes and then subverting them. And it’s not just the Habibs, it’s everyone: the WASPy neighbours and the other nationalities, who move through the mix as well. It’s a really comical way to step back and have a laugh at ourselves.
“But it seems like a certain amount of time has to pass before we’re culturally ‘allowed’ to have a laugh at ourselves and thank goodness that time is now! As an actor it’s great to get a script where I’m not in a war zone with an AK47 over my shoulder or my dead child in my arms”
While the Network has only ordered an initial run of six episodes, the team behind the show has high hopes a second series will get the green light. The story ideas are already being mapped out, but much will depend on whether Nine’s mainstream audience is willing to give it a go.
A watcher of TV since the 70s. A writer of words since the 80s. A reader of the news since the 90s; mostly on Triple M, Nova and Gold.
Twitter - @NikoleGunn