Sex and Death 101: LAID

February 13, 2011

The late, legendary comedy writer Michael O’Donoghue once said “Making people laugh is the lowest form of humour”. (He was a complicated guy. Kind of angry too.) It’s a statement that seems to have been taken to heart by the makers of the new ABC series LAID, airing 9.30pm Wednesdays.

I’d ask you to please remember as you read this that one’s appreciation of comedy is a highly subjective thing. For all I know, you may have tuned in to the premiere episode of this program last week and giggled from go to whoa.

Speaking for myself, however, I barely cracked a smile. (I will admit, however, that I did chuckle once or twice watching later episodes, due to some well-cast guest stars like Shaun Micallef.) And while I’m willing to admit that it might just be the case of my sensibilities not jibing with LAID’s sense of humour, I couldn’t help but think there was something else afoot here.

Sure, LAID’s billed as a black comedy, and they’re rarely the type that’ll have you rolling around the floor, clutching your splitting sides. But at the same time, it also seems to pride itself on a wealth of witty banter – especially between lead character Roo McVie (Alison Bell) and her best friend E.J. (Celia Pacquola) – and saucy one-liners, so clearly it wants to be viewed as, well, funny.

But it’s not. Not really. If anything, it seems to trade in the type of humour that inspires a wry smile (the one that says “I get it”) than a full-body laugh. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Except I didn’t even crack a wry smile all that often either.

The possibility exists that, as a man in his forties, I can’t really relate to the trials and tribulations of Roo, a 20-something woman faced with the unusual dilemma of having everyone she’s ever had sex with unexpectedly dying. But then I recalled the comedies – the stories in general – that I’ve admired and appreciated, and I realised that the best ones have allowed me to identify and empathise with characters of different genders, races, ages and backgrounds.

And I didn’t get Roo. I don’t know if Bell can shoulder much or any of the blame for this – she’s not untalented, not unfunny. (Pacquola, however, isn’t so much deadpan as disinterested.)

Are you really interested in the sex lives of these people? Really?

Maybe the fault lies in Marieke Hardy and Kirsty Fisher’s writing, which doesn’t really define Roo all that well. I mean, I’ve watched four episodes of LAID and I still can’t get a handle on who she is, what’s she like and what she wants.

Sure, she’d like to find out why her exes are dying, and she and E.J. hatch something resembling a plan to do so, but that’s only because something other than the two of them sitting on the couch trading stilted witticisms has to happen.

Which leads to another issue, one concerning the story. When I first heard about the concept of LAID, I was intrigued but also concerned that it might lack room to develop. And based on what I’ve seen so far, those concerns have been validated.

Whether taken at face value or read as a metaphor for the mysterious ways of love, sex and relationships, Roo’s boudoir body count doesn’t really say or mean anything. It provides an opportunity for a few embarrassing exchanges with past lovers as Roo delves into her sexual history but even they’re not so hilariously awkward that they come across as entertaining or enlightening.

Step away from the laptop, Ms Hardy

So, yeah, LAID’s got problems. I wish it didn’t, because new voices, new faces and new styles are vital to the evolution of Australian entertainment. But there’s no disguising that there’s definitely room for improvement here.

Eleven in ’11: Pedro Almodovar’s THE SKIN THAT I INHABIT

February 13, 2011

First of all, I dig that title. There’s a strange kind of poetry in something that seems like such a precise translation – the Spanish title is LA PIEL QUE HABITO, which I’ve also seen translated as ‘The Skin I Live In’, a title that rolls off the tongue a little easier but doesn’t have quite the same slightly unsettling quality. ‘Inhabiting’ one’s skin suggests a temporary or transitory situation…well, to me at least. As they say, your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, cool title, Pedro.

Secondly, Banderas. It was Almodovar’s WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN that first hipped me to this guy, and since then I’ve admired the grace, intensity and versatility he’s displayed in a wide variety of roles. (And THE MASK OF ZORRO is one of the finest Hollywood adventures movies of the last 50 years. No shit.) But there’s no denying he’s been a bit off the boil recently, popping up in direct-to-DVD stuff I can’t even be bothered downloading. Not that I do that anyway. Seemingly supplanted by Javier Bardem as Hollywood’s go-to Spaniard, it’s highly possible that a reunion after 20-odd years with the director who gave him his initial break could serve as a potent reminder of what Banderas can do. Plus he’s got a few years on the meter now, and it shows, but he’s also wearing it well.

Thirdly, this just sounds creepy. And looks creepy. Check this out:

Your guess is as good as mine, pal.

This is the only SKIN THAT I INHABIT image so far released, and I gotta say that it’s piqued my interest. That the imagery brings to mind Georges Franju’s creepy classic LES YEUX SANS VISAGE/EYES WITHOUT A FACE is undeniably cool, and one can only hope that Almodovar conjures up a similarly disturbing tone. While his flair for the melodramatic is well-known, he’s also a filmmaker with a knack for evoking dread – check out the likes of MATADOR or BAD EDUCATION for further evidence.

But THE SKIN THAT I INHABIT sounds unlike any material he’s tackled in the past, with Banderas playing either (a) a doctor creating a skin that could have saved the life of his wife, who died in a car accident years earlier, or (b) a doctor out for revenge against his daughter’s rapist. The first option is the storyline of the Thierry Jonquet novel MYGALE, on which Almodovar’s screenplay is based. The second option is a storyline I’ve heard about for a while now, and Banderas’ revenge involves performing a sex-change operation on the rapist. Maybe I’m just all kinds of wrong but I prefer the second. It sounds magnificently twisted and right up Almodovar’s dark, kinky alley.