Chris Lilley’s Lunatics arrived on Netflix last Friday, and unfortunately features everything we’ve come to expect from the comedian. The same tired tropes are re-hashed in the Netflix Original over ten haphazard episodes, in Lilley’s classic documentary-esque style.
Same Guy, Same Tricks
In the first episode we are introduced to six new protagonists- Becky, Quentin, Gavin, Keith, Joyce and Jana- whose only commonality seems to be their lunacy. One of the six characters explored in this series; Quentin, is extremely vocal in his sexist remarks, but sees an unwarranted happy ending by the end of episode ten.
Similarly, we see 12-year-old Gavin also comfortable with harassing women with little to no repercussions. Even going so far as to chase a girl with a huge black dildo. While Lilley has never shied away from crass humour before, it was disappointing but unsurprising to see the same easy jokes reliant on the exploitation of otherness that he’s been making since the start of his career.
Lilley’s Problematic Past And Portrayal Of Mental Health
Thankfully, this series doesn’t include the blackface, brownface and yellowface synonymous with Lilley’s past work, but his portrayal of mental illness has its own issues. Mental illness is hyperbolised by referring to characters as lunatics with no shortage of jokes about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Hoarding and Objectophilia. Heavily reliant on stereotypes, the jokes are inauthentic and often leave you feeling sorry for the protagonists instead of laughing at or with them.
Alongside the characters who seem to have genuine mental health issues, are again the problematic Quentin and Gavin. By choosing to put mentally ill characters in the same category as Quentin and Gavin- whose only issues are an inability to communicate coherently- in itself is incredibly insensitive.
Changing Comedic Values
It seems that though we as a society have come to recognise what jokes just don’t fly anymore. Lilley remains stuck in the boyish humour that popularised him as a comedian back in 2005 with his debut release; We Can Be Heroes. While this was successful at the time of its release, Lilley’s comedy style doesn’t seem to have evolved since his peak with Summer Heights High in 2007.
Australia fell in love with Summer Heights High because its protagonists were people you could make fun of, mostly because they deserved it. From the arrogant school teacher to the misbehaving year-eight-student to the spoilt rich girl; all of the characters seemed like fair targets. This was of course before we realised the implications of Lilley performing in brownface, something he is still yet to apologise for.
Lilley has been on the decline for a long time. By making fun of characters who don’t deserve it, employing the same exhausted comedic rhetoric and his problematic past; the series was destined to fail.
Do yourself a favour, find something else to binge on Netflix.