"Angry Boys" Departs With A Whimper

By Garth Franklin Monday August 1st 2011 07:35AM

When Chris Lilley's mockumentary "Summer Heights High" finished its eight week run in Australia in late 2007, the show had become something of a national sensation.

Along with garnering widespread critical acclaim, it pulled in national ratings of 1.2 million for the premiere which grew to 1.5 million by the end of its run. The show also went on to perform well in international markets such as the BBC in the United Kingdom and HBO in the United States.

Four years later Lilley returned to screens with the much anticipated "Angry Boys". The opening episode in May attracted an audience of 1.36 million, the ABC1 network's most popular broadcast of the year to date.

Cut to last week and the twelfth and final episode limped off the screen with a paltry 612,000 viewers tuning in, and that was up on the preceding three episodes which scored a viewership in the 391,000-465,000 range.

There was a sizeable switch off from viewers at large after the first few episodes and critics haven't been as kind to the series. The subtler but biting humour of his earlier work has been replaced by "overblown characters and needless obscenities" says The Courier Mail.

Indeed the most common complaint, aside from the near continuous amount of racist and homophobic slurs, has been about the humour or rather the lack of it on display. The show was marketed on being a comedy when practically all the episodes were drama with the very occasional giggle - the tone becoming even more emotional and serious towards the end.

The series truly was unique and unlike anything else on that channel, and it was both handsomely produced and smartly crafted complex social satire. Lilley's character observations were certainly more biting, confronting and on the point than ever before.

In doing so though the tone shifted to depictions that veered between the stereotypical and the uncomfortably accurate. Why follow a show centered around self-absorbed pricks, abusive parental figures, brain-dead jocks and brattish teenagers - you know, the kind of people most of us try to strenuously avoid if we can in everyday life.

Combined with a heavy focus on racist and homophobic insults in place of actual gags, the result was a lack of empathetic characters which made it a show difficult to stick with. With the fewer laughs and longer run (twelve episodes instead of eight), many didn't seem to be willing to make the commitment.

Now with its end, new questions emerge as to how successful the show has been. Despite the live viewing drop-offs, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the show picked up in other areas with DVR, ABC2 repeats and iView catchup viewings effectively almost doubling the ratings of the last few episodes.

With its serialised nature there's likely quite a few audience members who're waiting for the disc release to watch the show, indeed the DVD release late last week scored more pre-orders than 'Summer' did, and to date the show is the most successful selling ABC product on iTunes.

In the longer term, many are already wondering what Lilley will do next. The writer/producer/actor told UK press last month he has considered bringing back previous characters such as Mr. G, Ja'ime and Jonah for his next effort - when that will be however is anyone's guess right now. Yet after 'Angry' I wonder if a lot more people will approach it with caution.