Since House Party circumstances and a lack of enthusiasm have meant that I haven't been able to stay up on Friday for an episode of Double the Fist, and so I've watched them all today and yesterday when my brother gave me a copy. I've said for a while that, due to the intense weirdness of the current series and the fact that it's gone all story arc, I wasn't entirely sure if I liked it yet, and would rather wait for the last episode. Having seen the last episode, I'm still clueless.
The reason I became a fan of DTF is simple. It's funny - it takes the strange idea of what it takes to be a 'real man' in a modern testocracy, willful ignorance and fearlessness of lobotomal levels, to an even greater extent wherein the idea of performing stunts with the explicit intent of hurting yourself seriously, often fatally. Perfectly demonstrated when the 'weak' magician becomes 'fistworthy' by locking himself in a cabinet in a straight jacket he doesn't have the key for, having it set on fire and pushed down a hill so he can jump over a roundabout. Without actually having the cabinet on wheels and not being any kind of escape artist. Heh.
The latest series, though, feels like it has a whole different agenda. So much work has gone into the writing that I've been quite taken aback. So much work has gone into writing it, I would go so far as to say, that they've barely worked on making it funny.
I have a theory for why this is the case - the featurette on the volume 2 DVD, "How To Make Double The Fist" recounts in quite a lot of detail how dejected the team felt in the aftermath of their well-deserved AFI award win for Best Comedy. Why? Because as I remember all too well it caused an endless tide of bitching from TV gliteratti wannabes like Michael Idato, mindlessly saying that nothing could beat Kath & Kim and that the awards were thus a joke. And, as the team notes, some of the hacks went so far as to trash DTF even though their comments made it clear they'd never so much as seen an episode of the show. In their words, if you won an award for being the best carpenters in the country, you'd have no trouble getting work. But they did. After DTF was over, they didn't get renewed, they weren't invited back and Doug "Mephisto" Bayne was forced to whore himself out to The Chaser.
So now, after several years and a change in the ABC upper echelon towards a slightly less weak, spineless and/or canine configuration, when these talented mofos actually get the second series that they so rightfully deserved... they have something to prove. Even though the strength of the show is in brief, self-contained sketches with machine-gun absurdism and SFX-aided pratfalling, they want to show that they're better writers than anyone else in the country (A pretty easy feat for these guys, really, but it's one way to get noticed). At the same time, though, this means that DTF goes from being "An extreme lifestyle program" to... well, the most fucked up sci-fi ever. Complete with nu-skool character development, flashbacks, story arcs and whatnot.
But the thing is, to be truly Fist it all needs to be completely retarded. For example, Steve is given a shitload of character development, but break it down... trying to run a successful furniture company selling goods that indiscriminately kill the owners is an epic failure which gives him a full nervous breakdown, leading him to wire his fans with explosives and give the team impossible orders, ala Hitler In The Bunker. He then murders his best friend, realises his mistake, and retreats from civilisation, meeting a band of man-loving hermits who teach him to feel emotion. This journey makes him a changed man... until he learns that he has EATEN the corpse of his best friend and finds himself more assured than ever that the Fist is the only true way so massacres the entire tribe and decides to kill the Monks that taught him in an act of Oedipal rage involving tossing a small flower across the room. He uses their time-bending chainsaw to travel back in time and kill Captain Cook, reclaiming Australia for himself - however, he is essentially betrayed by EVERYONE in his team. After screaming in desperation to Womp that he loves him, which leads to the day being saved, he then shoots Womp in the head to cover up what can only be assumed to be repressed homosexuality and declares him the arch enemy of his new totalitarian empire.
And... I'm clueless as to what this is meant to achieve. We learn a lot about Steve Foxx... but did I want to? He's just a psychopathic fat guy in flannelette who gives the Fist Team their orders, right? Do I need to know any more than that? It's my view that this a comedy, and so writing for the characters should have entertaining the audience as its perogative and not really anything else if we're trying to make this an American style /drama show.
That's not to say that NONE of it is funny. I defy anyone to not laugh at "The way of the flower!", and the flashback scene to teenaged Steve and Rod playing at the empty canals was gut-bustingly funny, mostly due to flawless casting. But.. most of it isn't. In fact a lot of it, like the death scene of Panda, followed by the heartbroken scream of "THIS IS WHAT YOU GET FOR TRYING TO MAKE PEOPLE BETTER!" and a demand that he be burned on her funeral pyre, left me staring at the screen in dumb shock at what had just unfolded. I don't know, maybe the fact that the character was just whichever cast member wasn't on camera pissing around in a rented panda suit was meant to make the ultra-dramatic killing-off of a character funny, but said castmember-in-panda-suit was a big part of the show. It's like a symbolic burning of the bridge in terms of style..
The big problem, though, is that the arc dominates the series utterly and doesn't really have a satisfying pay-off. Again, maybe I'm missing the point and the idea is that it's a parody of sci-fi arcs, but this doesn't really come across. And I consider this quite a serious problem given the fact that TIMESAW is probably the best episode the show has done, with a brilliant premise, but can't really be watched or enjoyed without having seen three previous weeks' of shows, and ending with a lot of issues unresolved that you need to watch the underwhelming finale to appreciate.
I've said for a while that I'd have to see the final episode of the season to know whether I actually liked the series or not. Turns out I was wrong because I still have no idea what to think about it. I want to stress, though, the final episode is not bad. It's just ten times more bewildering than anything else in the show due to being roundabout 100% arc rather than the usual far more comfortable 50%.
Anyway, a quick summary of all the awesome stuff in the show that I wish had been used without the plot.
Episode 1: Mephisto's vampire slaves, Shauno the Naughty Hypnotist (also Rod's nemesis)
Episode 2: Bruce Spence as a shapeshifting dinosaur, Tara, the council worker's Autobot, ghost pokemon
Episode 3: Insane elf slaves, evil Swedish furniture makers, Tara doing accounts, international travel through jet-mounted lounges
Episode 4: CRACKBOT!!! And the text adventure bit, "The website came through this cable, we can find it by following it!"
Episode 5: Everything to do with the house party. Everything. Especially Rod getting raped and "A thousand lasers!"
Episode 6: Ballistic Man, the world losing gravity when it stops turning, Mephisto fishing for dolphins, the way of the flower, "One of us always tells the truth.." "The sky's yellow!"
Episode 7: Just about fucking everything, but especially the 3D chess game and Joseph Banks being an X-Man.
Episode 8: Everything to do with the Medieavals, especially the tapestry theme for the episode and Mephisto finally being awarded Double Fist for making the most retarded plan since Baldrick retired.
I guess I have no right to complain looking at the above list, because it's all moments of insane brilliance that you get on no other show on television... but I can't help but think that trying to give the series weight has confused the mix, and taken a joyfully frivolous show and turned it into an improbably surreal one.