In Australia: Aired nightly, Tuesday 19 January-Thursday 21 January, 8.30pm, SBS 2
As we discovered quite recently with The Shannara Chronicles (although, truth be told, we’ve known it in our hearts for quite some time), fantasy is not only a genre that’s very easy to parody, it’s almost self-parodic. Even when it’s being serious, there’s an inevitable difficulty in suspending disbelief, particularly when it starts throwing in pompous dialogue, not bothering to develop characters much beyond their ‘destinies’ and their general unwillingness to embrace them, plots that are largely scavenger hunts but with better prizes, and so on.
So you might ask what the point of The Wizards of Aus is, as it’s a parody of the fantasy genre in which two powerful but rather petty wizards fight their plot-ordained conflict in powerful but rather petty ways. Do we need it? Fantasy is silly already.
It’s a good question and I’m not sure there’s a good answer, beyond “So that Michael Shanks can make some silly and occasionally funny jokes.”
No, he’s Canadian. This Michael Shanks.
He’s Australian. Or maybe a New Zealander. Or maybe both.
The basic plot is this: Shanks is a wizard who lives in a world of magic and dragons and wizards and knights and warrior women. Except all they do all day is fight and do idiotic, heroic things. So Shanks decides to move somewhere where rationality rules: the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Unfortunately, so do a lot of the other magical beings from his world. Some get regular-type jobs, others continue with their malevolent activities.
Shanks is a sort of halfway point between the two worlds – too smart and rational for the fantasy world, too magical and lack in worldly wisdom for Australia – and the show basically divides the humour into three types:
- Flashbacks to the fantasy world
- A somewhat lame attempt to satirise Australian racism using magical beings as an obvious metaphor for immigrants
- The juxtaposition of the magic world with the real world, with wizards applying for recycling bins.
The first camp is actually quite funny, with Shanks smartly sending up the conventions of the genre. You really wish that was the whole show – a sort of Blackadder of the fantasy world.
The second camp is obvious and rarely makes a point beyond “Look! This is just like how we’re treating the boat people and Asians! Do you see? Do you see?”
And the third camp, despite all kinds of shiny guest stars such as Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3, Memento), Liam McIntyre (Spartacus, The Flash) and Bruce Spence (Legend of the Seeker, Mad Max 2), really seems more like a big, long and possibly quite expensive advert for the Australian digital effects industry than anything actually funny.
Less is more, it seems, even in the fantasy realm.
If it weren’t such a busy month, I’d probably stick with the remaining episodes as although it’s a bit scattergun, there is at least reasonable promise in the show’s mocking of fantasy conventions. Unfortunately, it is so I won’t. YMMV.