This article is by Michael Idato from Fairfax Media here:
A sharp team is wielding a powerful comedic weapon.
The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, Wednesday, ABC1, 9pm.
Michael Idato – SMH – March 28, 2013
Sketch comedy is television’s difficult middle child. Its bigger siblings – the sitcoms –
are more confident, and tend to overachieve. Its younger siblings – the quirkier
programs loved by the ABC and SBS – get more attention and are given more
freedom.Awkward, uncertain commercial sketch is wedged in the middle like Jan Brady
sitting by the phone waiting for George Glass to call. It has historically had the
toughest time finding its space in the TV schedule. And finding an audience to love it.
The successes are fewer than the failures, but Jungleboys, the production company
behind A Moody Christmas, is diving into the genre head first with the result The
Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting.
The Jungleboys (from left) Trent O’Donnell, Jason Burrows and Phil Lloyd.
”Phil [Lloyd] and I have always wanted to do a sketch comedy. We have always
scribbled down ideas for it,” director Trent O’Donnell says. ”It’s just taken this long
to come around. And so many shows didn’t do well that it scares people away.”
Lloyd, whose body of acting work – Review with Myles Barlow and At Home with
Julia, in which he played ”first bloke” Tim Mathieson – makes him a more
recognisable face, agrees. ”Commercial TV is very risk-averse when it comes to
comedy, and there are examples of where they have [been] stung by it,” he says. ”The
reality is they are more practised at making drama.”
The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, commissioned by the ABC for
ABC1, will have considerably more room to breathe. It stars Patrick Brammall,
Damon Herriman, Robin McLeavy, Eliza Logan and Dave Eastgate. Jungleboys’
O’Donnell, Lloyd and Jason Burrows describe the series as ”random, ridiculous and
The first episode has all the signs it will make its mark. It delivers a mixture of the
staples – dinner parties gone awry, office politics – but weaves into them barbed
punchlines about contemporary politics and social mores. Given a choice between
silly and unsettling, it reaches for the latter.
When not making edgy comedies, however, Jungleboys is also one of the five top
advertising production companies in Australia, industry blog Campaign Brief says.
TV commercials are its ”day job”.
The blend of the two worlds, and the creative freedom that one inadvertently bestows
on the other, is what makes the Jungleboys partnership so intriguing.What is clear is that the business model for making television is changing, just as it
was when the Working Dog team pioneered using hand-held DV cameras to film
The company’s core business, for the moment, is filming TV commercials, a more
lucrative line than critically acclaimed comedies. ”The idea is to build up the longform TV side of the business so that it can become a very profitable thing as well,”
says Burrows, who runs the commercial side. ”Producing shows that have
international appeal is key to doing that.”
Review with Myles Barlow, created by Lloyd and O’Donnell, was a critical triumph. It
aired on ABC2, got rave reviews and was snapped up for the American market by the
Comedy Channel. The American version, Review with Forrest MacNeil, will launch
later in 2013.
That was followed by A Moody Christmas, produced with Burrows, which was
another success. It screened on ABC1, with a second series expected to follow. It also
generated international interest, but Jungleboys held it back from sale to bundle it
with the second series, a move that will, ultimately, increase its value.
In the US, the company is repped by Mosaic, home of Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell’s
production companies. In Australia, meanwhile, it has evolved into something of an
Under its umbrella is an eclectic jumble of personalities: feature film director Wayne
Blair, Bondi Hipsters Connor and Christiaan van Vuuren and Tropfest-winning
writer-director Abe Forsythe. ”It’s about building up a collaborative culture of people
who don’t have such great egos that they accept great ideas can come from other
people,” Burrows says.
As for the future, anything is possible. Even a sitcom. ”We certainly are open to that,
if an idea or character is that strong.”