Over the past week, I have learned that Ed Helms’s real name is Egg Helms and that Jerry Seinfeld’s wifi name is, hilariously, “pretty fly for a wifi.” I learned these facts and much more from “Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun,” an absurdist sketch show by the Australian musical comedy trio Aunty Donna. I had no knowledge of the nearly decade-old comedy group until their new show was released on Netflix. Since my discovery, their show has become one of my favorite sketch comedies ever.
This show is hard to summarize, as all absurdist shows are. It basically follows three Australian housemates, Broden, Zach and Mark, in Los Angeles, as they do activities together, like finding a new housemate or training for the 2000 Sydney Olympics in order to win a bet with pro-wrestler Awesome Kong. Fans of “Portlandia” or “The Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” will be familiar with the format of this show. Each episode has a general theme and there are a series of characters and sketches that loosely fit that theme. “Big Ol’ House of Fun” has a central plot within each episode that provides the show a tad of logical structure.
An aspect of this show that made it stand out is its array of musical numbers. In a manner similar to “Flight of the Conchords,” sometimes songs just break out. They rarely affect the plot at all. Two musical highlights are “Relatable” and “Tiny Man.”
“Relatable” is a song about quirky relatable things, such as buying beans when you already have beans at home, that gets ambushed by a royal time traveler from the French Revolution who is not that relatable to the modern-day listener. “Tiny Man” on the other hand is the tragic tale of a tiny man/Wall Street stockbroker who lives under the kitchen cabinets and is financially ruined by the stock market crash. These songs feel as well-composed as they were written, as any good comedy or parody song should feel. The music has funky rhythms that do not become repetitive nor boring, supporting the odd lyrics sung on top of them. The songs provide an entertaining base from which this show can differentiate itself from similar sketch comedies.
The atmosphere of the show is another great aspect. Whenever a scene becomes sad or intense, the mood always remains light and goofy. Some of the funniest parts of the show are when characters have these feuds or moments of ardent anger inside a universe of talking dishwashers and computers that fly away whenever you receive a notification. The show radiates silliness. It constantly jumps between realities, with actors becoming self-aware or switching personas at a moment’s notice. It is fast-paced, full of energy and manages to evade any lulls, all while keeping a certain goofiness.
“Big Ol’ House of Fun” cannot really be critiqued in the ways more straightforward television shows are. The acting, writing and plot must be observed differently than if one was watching a more conventional comedy. Personally, as a lover of absurdism and sketch comedy, this show is a top tier example of the style. If you are not a fan of other shows in these genres, I cannot imagine you will like this one. The comedy in this show is not satirical, situational or cringey, the styles most prevalent on television now. The jokes do not often have set-ups nor would anyone consider them particularly highbrow. They take advantage of wordplay, misdirection and ludicracy. Bouts of randomness and puerility help maintain the aforementioned wacky atmosphere without the guise of tropes or relatability.
Full-fledged comedies are one of the hardest things to give accurate reviews on, as comedy is massively subjective. If you know yourself to be a fan of absurdist content like “Wilfred,” basically anything on Adult Swim or if you are a fan of sketch shows, I would highly recommend this six-episode series. If you are unfamiliar with these formats, “Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun” is an inoffensive, slightly juvenile, cameo-filled show that you may want to try out.