For fans of the mockumentary style of comedy, Australian multi-hyphenate creator Chris Lilley is probably one you are already familiar with. Lilley's been doing his own irreverent style of comedy for quite some time now, and after the great success he had with 'Summer Heights High,' the writer, director, producer and actor decided it was time to not only expand on the world as he sees it, but to alter the direction of his comedy as well.
As a result, Lilley, in collaboration with HBO, the BBC, and ABC (that's the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), brought about 'Angry Boys'; a 12-part series focusing on some familiar Lilley characters, like twin brothers Daniel and Nathan Sims from his 2005 series, 'We Can Be Heroes,' and a whole slew of new, and possibly controversial creations, like SoCal rapper S.mouse and the ultimate Tiger Mother, Jen Okazaki – but more on those characters later. Also along for the ride are Ruth "Gran" Sims, a juvenile prison guard/matron, and former pro-surfing-champion-turned-shiftless-lay-about Blake Oakfield. Lilley not only created these characters, he co-wrote/co-directed nearly every episode, and co-wrote the music used in the series. So, as you can see, 'Angry Boys,' like everything else Lilley does, has his fingerprints (and face) all over it.
What sets this new series apart from everything else Lilley has done is not just the larger scope (the series follows characters from Narmucca Bay to the fictional South Australian community of Dunt, all the way to the United States and Japan), but also the tone of the series as well. You wouldn't know it to look at the advertisements, or the sight of Lilley as Gran, showing off her sewing skills by dressing juvenile offenders in superhero pajamas, but there is actually an interesting, thoughtful premise running though all six hours of the series.
Judging from the title alone, it's clear that Lilley is focusing his comedy on what makes young guys do and say the mostly moronic, self-aggrandizing things they do. But the series is really about adolescents (in almost every case) adjusting to the world around them and finding out ways to accept and express their burgeoning manhood – or, as with Blake Oakfield, stunted maleness. The story is spread fairly evenly across the various characters, but the Sims brothers are really at the heart of the series.
And it is upon the wall of Daniel and Nathan's shared bedroom that the seemingly unrelated characters manage to coalesce, and the series finds its throughline. Other than Gran – who is actually related to the Sims boys – everyone maintains a hero or "legend" status in the form of posters hung over the Sims brothers' beds. And as Nathan prepares to leave his brother for the first time, so that he can attend a special school for deaf children, Daniel attempts to bring these legends together for Nathan's big farewell bash. Well, those guys and a really attractive model – they are adolescent males, after all.
In that regard, most of what Lilley is doing here is subtle variations on the theme of masculinity – which is then wisely changed up with the additions of Gran and Jen Okazaki being outsiders looking in, or, in the case of Okazaki, dictating the course of her teenage son's life with rigorous, and excessive precision. In the case of Daniel and Nathan, they're two 17-year-olds facing separation for the first time in their life, which, in addition to all the other thorny emotional issues young people face during that time period, is something the siblings have incredible difficulty expressing their feelings about. So, most of the time, emotions are conveyed through the raising of middle fingers or by hurling verbal abuse at anyone within earshot.
The character of S.mouse isn't much different from the Sims boys in terms of emotional maturity. He's a wannabe gangster rapper, who drew the short straw when it came to talent, and although he sees himself as someone in league with Jay-Z or Kanye, his record company has him rapping for kids with ultra-clean songs like 'Slap My Elbow' and 'Animal Zoo.' Even thought the crux of the segment is the disingenuous nature of the entertainment business, and how it perpetuates stereotypes as a means of turning a profit, there's undoubtedly going to be some who are put off by the idea of a white guy portraying an African American. The same goes for whenever Lilley dons a black wig and eyeglasses to become Jen Okazaki.
Of course, it feels a bit like courting controversy, and Lilley has admitted that it's come very close to being not okay, but he's also confessed a part of him enjoys inciting a little anger, now and again. In watching the scenes with S.mouse and Mrs. Okazaki, I can't say I found it to be purposely offensive – though your experience may differ – but it certainly was a bit distressing since, in the moment, all you can really think about is how the public will perceive what Lilley's doing. It seems most understood his performance to be satirical and over-the-top, but you'll have to judge for yourself.
Perhaps what's most surprising about the series is that for all the potshots, insults and general ribbing that the characters give to one another, 'Angry Boys' resists the urge to regard them similarly. Lilley is most certainly making fun of all his characters, but he's not going at it with the same kind of bite or stinging wickedness as, say, Ricky Gervais would his creations. There's a sincere regard for each individual and their situation that, although often times very funny, and sometimes cringe inducing, an underlying sense of kindness grants the series a surprisingly emotional core. While it's most discernible in Gran's treatment of the boys in her care (despite her penchant for racial slurs), it's also present in Daniel's regard for Nathan.
As funny and occasionally cringe worthy as the series is, what's most impressive is the way it commits to the idea of being an actual documentary. Unlike programs like 'The Office,' 'Life's Too Short' or 'Modern Family,' the characters in 'Angry Boys' are constantly aware the presence of the cameras. That simple sense of awareness inevitably dictates their behavior – as we all know how differently people act when they know they are being watched. As such, any instance where the camera captures a rare private moment, it winds up feeling like something of a true reveal. That can't be an easy thing to script, or to act, but like the series itself, in the end, Lilley somehow manages to pull it off.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Angry Boys' comes as a 3-disc set in a standard case with a slipcover. The first two discs contain all 12 episodes, as well as various special features, while disc 3 is dedicated exclusively to deleted scenes – of which there are plenty. The collection's insert also acts as a somewhat abbreviated disc guide, giving scant information on what each disc contains. An episode guide might have been better, but given how little space was available, this works out just fine.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer on 'Angry Boys' creates an interesting conundrum in terms of any discussion on image quality. While the actual transfer looks quite good – the image is bright and colorful with decent detail throughout – it's also purposely shot in a documentary style, so most cinematographic concerns are more or less left at the door.
In that regard, the image that's presented on all the discs is quite good; it truly has the look and feel of a real documentary. For example, there is a great deal of handheld shots that leave a portion of the foreground in the frame and out of focus. Additionally, some scenes are deliberately filmed with inadequate light or are at the mercy of natural lighting, as is the case when filming takes place outdoors.
In terms of image quality that one would expect from a Blu-ray release, 'Angry Boys' (again, deliberately) comes up short. There is little to no fine detail present in most long shots; objects in the distance typically give way to grain or blur, and tend to mesh together. Close ups fare better with more fine detail present in facial features and with textures more visible on objects and clothing. As mentioned above, contrast is usually high – unless it's intended for there to be some blown-out lighting, or for a scene to come across as too dark.
Overall, the image quality on this series stays remarkably true to the documentary format, which is something other mockumentaries fail to do – here's looking at you 'Modern Family.' While the image quality isn't going to stand up to something with more cinematic value, it certainly wasn't intended to.
Again, although 'Angry Boys' has the advantage of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, other than the clarity it brings to the source, there's not much here to give it a real workout. That being said, the elements that require clarity and consistency come through sounding remarkably good and easy to hear. No matter the persona Lilley has taken on, or who is in the scene with him, dialogue is always clear, and is balanced well with ambient noises picked up during the recording of this "documentary."
While there's not a lot of surround sound going on, as much of the dialogue comes through the center channel, occasionally there will be an individual or object off screen that will make good use of the front or rear channel speakers. When this happens, directionality is usually very good, and the surround can have an immersive effect when more than one person is talking.
LFE is present primarily during the scenes where S.mouse is listening to or performing his songs. And while it is able to accurately convey the bass in his music, it is also intentionally toned down for the benefit of creating a more realistic, fake documentary experience. However, when S.mouse's videos are playing – or queued up by the viewer in the special features on Disc 1 – the DTS really comes through to create the feeling that a legitimate music video was actually produced.
Like the image, the audio on 'Angry Boys' has been deliberately manipulated to maintain a sense of consistency in the type program it is trying to be. While it rarely makes much strenuous use of the HD Master Audio, it utilizes it in such a way that still sounds quite good.
In addition to the blooper reel and S.mouse music videos, 'Angry Boys' comes chockablock with deleted scenes clocking in at roughly 5 hours and 52 – which is nearly as long as the series itself.
Deleted Scenes (HD) – Like disc 2, this disc contains a large assortment of deleted scenes for the other characters portrayed by Lilley.
Essentially, with 'Angry Boys' Chris Lilley is taking the concept behind his 'Summer Heights High' character, Jonah Takalua and running with it. Now that HBO has aired both 'Heights' and 'Boys,' it would seem Lilley's profile in the United States is on the rise. As he's now mentioned in some circles along with controversy-courting programs like 'South Park,' 'Family Guy' and whatever program Ricky Gervais is working on (to name a few), it seems like there's a pretty good chance this isn't the last we've heard of Mr. Lilley. It's likely that some elements of this series will ruffle a few feathers, but there is some genuine heart attached to the more raucous and dirty humor that on display, sometimes. In creating his characters, Lilley has a unique, chameleon-like gift, and 'Angry Boys' is a great way to introduce yourself to some of his creations, if you haven't already. This is a great set that makes good use of the documentary motif, and comes packed with extras. Recommended.