Perhaps before I write about Outland I should admit that I might be a little biased. You see, this six-episode comedy series that screened earlier this year on ABC1 was co-created and co-written by my good friend John Richards. Still, if I didn’t truly enjoy it as much as I did I would instead remain nonchalantly silent like I do everything else I don’t enjoy quite as much as I am supposed to. I luckily don’t need to exaggerate about Outland because it is, quite frankly, one of the best Australian series I’ve ever seen. Oh sure, it’s hard to top Above the Law or Funky Squad, but I haven’t laughed with, and had this much fun watching, an Australian comedy since the heyday of Fast Forward. And really, is there actually much of a difference between watching comedian Adam Richard strut about in a Dalek costume and Gina Riley parading about as Cher from the “If I Could Turn Back Time” video of 1989? Maybe, maybe not. You decide.
What makes Outland so unique amongst the glut of TV sitcoms about groups of friends that spend 20-30 minutes together each week on our screen is that the five central characters here are so… well, unique. They occupy not one minority, but two: gay science fiction geeks (no, “enthusiasts”). Hell, one is even a disabled Aboriginal lesbian so she’s perhaps the most minority character to ever exist on publicly broadcast television. Gay viewers will probably be more at odds over the material than sci-fi fans, but that’s because we’re a finicky bunch. “Not enough gay characters on TV!” some will say before there actually are gay characters on TV, at which point they’ll say, “The gay characters on TV are too gay!” The only real anger that could come out of the sci-fi angle is whether they’re too heavily into Doctor Who as opposed to Star Trek and I think by now audiences have come to respect one another in that regard, haven’t they? (Oh lordy, am I opening up a can of worms here?)
As these five characters assemble each episode it becomes very easy to fall for them if you’re on their wavelength. Their humour and candidness is so catchy that one needn’t be gay or a sci-fi fan (or both!) to “get” it. Wonderfully poking fun at its subjects as much as it does lovingly stroke their idiosyncrasies. Like the best American comedy of the moment, Cougar Town, it can swing from wildly, gut-busting, fall-off-the-couch hilarity about confronting sex acts to sincere sweetness within moments.
With several key backstage names involved in other ABC programs like Summer Heights High, Laid and John Saffran’s Race Relations, it’s a suitably risqué piece of surprising programming from the national broadcaster. Hard to believe it passed the board, but here it is out now with all six episodes on DVD plus a slew on extras that fans of the series will cherish. It’s easy to see Outland becoming a regular rewatch staple on my TV viewing schedule with its compact runtime and an enviable joke-to-laugh ratio. My shoulder even gets its two seconds of fame in the background of one episode! Outland is an outrageously great series that rewards adventurous viewers.
Outland (season 1) is out now through ABC