Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Daniel is a foul-mouthed Australian teenager who giggles when told his twin brother Nathan is going deaf.
“Course I’m going to laugh when you say that,” he says, mistaking the word “cochlea” for something dirty.
Ruth, his grandmother and a matron at a juvenile detention facility in Sydney, fosters good cheer by yelling “Gotcha!” after falsely announcing one young inmate’s early release.
Offbeat humor runs in the family on “Angry Boys,” HBO’s winning comedy series from Australia’s one-man acting troupe Chris Lilley.
Lilley, known to American audiences for 2008’s “Summer Heights High” on HBO, portrays six characters: In addition to Ruth, Daniel and Nathan (who expresses himself mostly with middle fingers), the roster includes a Japanese tiger mom, a black American rapper and an aging Australian surf bum.
Through a dozen half-hour, mockumentary-style episodes, “Angry Boys” spins five interconnected, continent-hopping story lines.
In the fictional no-there-there town of Dunt, Australia, 17-year-old Daniel plans a going-away party for Nathan, who’s being sent off to a special school.
“He’s deaf, and maybe a little bit retarded,” says Daniel, his endless taunting masking deeper feelings.
The brothers naively invite a roster of their idols to the party, and “Angry Boys” tells all of their stories: S.mouse, a talentless 24-year-old hip-hop star whose streetwise persona covers up a privileged upbringing and teenage obsession with the musical “Wicked”; Blake, a 38-year-old ex-surfing champ who retired to oblivion after a rare dolphin attack; and Tim, a 13-year-old Japanese skateboard wiz falsely marketed by his publicity-seeking mother as the sport’s first gay superstar.
All but Tim are portrayed by Lilley (who plays the skateboarder’s psychotically pushy mom), and all accrue a startling depth as their tales unfold.
Much more than he did with “Summer Heights High,” Lilley takes a risky approach to these stories, and viewers would be well-advised to hang tough through the homophobic slurs, racist epithets and crude jokes. Some of the characterizations push the edge of offense -- Lilley substitutes L’s for R’s as Jen, the Japanese Mommie Dearest, and gives his black characters names like Schwayne and Lasqueesha.
“Angry Boys” certainly isn’t above the shock value of political incorrectness, but its finely etched characters insinuate themselves into our affections.
While American sitcoms like “The Office” and “Modern Family” shoehorn feel-good sentimentality into their weekly formulas, Lilley does something more extraordinary. His angry boys and demanding girls grow, week by week and joke by joke, into people you’ll miss when it’s all over.
“Angry Boys” airs Jan. 1 on HBO at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
Turns out, we actually can get enough of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The holiday perennial is one of many too-familiar titles resurrected in the clip-heavy documentary “These Amazing Shadows.”
Airing on PBS this week, “Shadows” (directed by Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton) documents the efforts of the National Film Registry to restore and preserve movies and short films of cultural and aesthetic value.
Some of the examples presented are delightfully esoteric: The 1957 “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” theatrical bumper, and the early talkie “Gus Visser and His Singing Duck” (which lives up to its title).
But too many of the 88 minutes are given to obvious, no-brainer choices like “The Wizard of Oz,” “Star Wars,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Casablanca.” Fine movies all, but I wanted more oddities like “The House in the Middle,” a 1954 short funded by the paint industry that claimed a fresh whitewash is fine protection from a nuclear blast.
“These Amazing Shadows” airs Dec. 29 at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2
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(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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