On the Easter long weekend, I binge – watched Chris Lilley’s Netflix mockumentary Lunatics. It premiered on April 19.
Lunatics follows the lives of six main characters.
- Becky Douglas: an abnormally tall teenager that starts college in the U.S. with her “non – identical” twin sister, Jess
- Keith Dick: a fashion retailer who deals with object sexuality towards a cash register he refers to as Karen.
- Gavin Mcgregor: an obese isolated twelve – year – old who moves to Gayford Manor in the UK and aims to become an Instagram star
- Joyce Jeffries: an ex – porn star who struggles after retirement and suffers from hoarding disorder
- Jana Melhoopin – Jonks: a “pet psychic to the stars”, who falls in love and becomes jealous of her female assistant
- Quentin Cook: a failed real estate agent who becomes a DJ, ‘DJ Q*nt.
All the characters are ostracised by society. They not only embrace their ‘quirks’, but are also able to succeed despite challenges.
Criticisms from the media
Lunatics hasn’t been overly popular among commentators in the media. Criticisms vary in severity, with Michael Idato from Sydney Morning Herald saying:
His [Chris Lilley’s] characters are grotesque and frequently intentionally unlikeable. There are laughs to be found, though they are often interspersed with long spells of observation
Idato theorised that Lilley tried to avoid outrage after his 2014 show Jonah From Tonga, hence playing it too safe.
Some critics were less sympathetic.
Stuart Heritage from The Guardian Australia attacked the series as “boring”. Heritage also found the end of the series as not redemptive, likening it to a bully convincing the victim he was joking.
However, not everyone was critical of Lunatics.
Jay Bedi attacked Lilley’s critics in The Spectator Australia, calling them “self – triggered screen critics”.
Bedi argues that pushing the limits, like Lunatics did, was a necessary thing. Australia has to compete in an international market that’s often dominated by content from the U.S.
Interesting premise, flat plot
Lunatics didn’t meet my expectations. The premise; people achieving despite physical and emotional challenges was an interesting premise. However, it fell short in a number of areas, especially compared to his previous work.
Characters were under developed and too little backstory was given
In my view, characters were under developed: While thinking and talking about this, I came up with a conclusion. Comedy characters should be either relatable (like in Kath and Kim) or completely absurd (like Basil in Fawlty Towers).
For me, the characters in Lunatics were neither. It was hard to sympathise with the characters, yet, you couldn’t dismiss them completely because of their outsider status.
A lack of background didn’t help. Why did the Cook brothers feel the need to be so sexist and narcissistic? How did Gavin Mcgregor’s loneliness really affect him?
In contrast, Jonah Takalua’s background was clear in Summer Heights High and Jonah From Tonga; he was a teenager from a troubled family and having to overcome behavioural and mental issues. Summer Heights High failed to help him, despite the efforts of teachers and Student Welfare Officer, Doug Peterson.
The closest Lunatics got to adding complexity to a character was with ex-porn star, Joyce Jeffries. Her mental health was clearly declining throughout the series. Yet, it was so caricatured that it was hard to feel anything for her.
Nothing held the characters together
Aside from their oddities, there was very little linking the main characters in Lunatics together. They were all in different places; even in different parts of the world. Having a central setting would have made more sense.
Lunatics could have been much better. Allowing people to develop empathy for the characters would have helped. Ironically, I think Chris Lilley achieved his aim. He got people talking, sometimes laughing, other times outraged. So, you could argue 5hat Lilley did something right.
Did you see Lunatics? What did you think about it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.