StarsStarsStarsStarsStars

Fisk Season 2 review: Australia’s funniest sitcom in years

Top quality casting, writing, acting and laughs raise the ABC's Fisk high above its competitors on Australian TV.

Australia’s history with sitcoms is dubious at best. Everyone remembers the handful of great ones: everything else is quickly brushed under the carpet. In recent years it’s been rare to find one even trying to be all that funny.

Dramedies where each week the comedy side gets thinner, half-heartedly disguised promotional videos for scenic stretches of rural countryside; when they fill the schedules, where’s the laughs?

Read: Savage River, ABC, review: let it flow

Enter Fisk. Well, re-enter Fisk: after an award-winning season one, the brown suit – and the socially ill-fitting lawyer inside it – is back for a second season on the ABC. It’s the funniest sitcom Australia’s seen in years, which would be even higher praise if there was any serious competition for the title.

Once a relatively high-flying lawyer in Sydney, Helen Tudor-Fisk (writer/ creator Kitty Flanagan) is now handling minor suburban civil cases from the Melbourne offices of Gruber and Associates.

The team of siblings Ray (Marty Sheargold) and Roz Gruber (Julia Zemiro) still run the show, though in the first episode back Ray is more interested in losing weight before a reunion and Roz is excited about her new purchase: a massive new photocopier-slash-furnace that she’s stashed in Fisk’s office. As for office assistant George (Aaron Chen), he’s got a big online session of a demolition simulator keeping him busy.

Fisk’s home life, which involves living in a backyard yoga studio belonging to her high-profile judge father (John Gaden) and his not exactly welcoming partner Viktor (Glenn Butcher), doesn’t provide a lot of relief. But being mildly exasperated by everyone around her is what Fisk does best: she’s like a low-key Larry David, if Larry David got excited at the prospect of buying a brown burkini online.

Putting others to shame

We’re often told that drama is supposedly somehow superior to comedy, and yet the character work in Fisk puts most recent Australian dramas to shame. The subtle way everyone – except for Fisk herself – in Fisk doesn’t quite get along but stays in their own bubbles just enough to make society work is the kind of characterisation that would win awards if it was happening in a scenic country town with a dark past.

Also, it’s very funny.

Read: Has Australian free-to-air TV given up?

The plotting is rock-solid, with subplots intertwining and building to pay-offs in a way that’s firmly satisfying without feeling forced. In a sitcom you can’t just find another dead body or reveal a shocking secret from the past to keep people watching; turns out bungled trust falls, erotic topiary and a bossy lawyer who can’t click her fingers can be even more compelling to watch.

A workplace comedy means lots of quality guest appearances, and Denise Scott in the first episode sets a very high bar (the way she says the line ‘do you think I’m senile’ is a classic).

Marg Downey, who was a highlight of last series, is back – seems her character is also an expert in mediation, as well as a ‘mum to three beautiful rag doll cats’, and Harley Breen as a shabby tenant trying to claim he was in a romantic relationship with a now-deceased 80-year-old is a classic comedy dirtbag.

Perfect casting

The core cast couldn’t be better. Sheargold plays Ray as down-to-earth but always just slightly distracted; Zimero is the kind of office manager who never makes things any easier, while always having a good reason why things have to be worse. Anyone who’s seen Chen on Have You Been Paying Attention? knows he’s a literal (perhaps not literal) comedy machine, and that tradition continues here.

Read: Severance reflects the modern office as a toxic hellscape

Flanagan has Fisk perfectly calibrated. She’s put upon but not beat-down: she just wants to go her own way while everyone around her would really rather prefer it if she went out of her way to suit them. She gets enough wins on the board to keep her from being a loser – the barely concealed glee with which she asks Viktor for a big slice of cake after her father tells him she’s looking thin is a delight – but if it’s not one thing it’s another.

The downstairs coffee shop that banned her is season one may be gone, but the blended drink establishment that’s replaced it rapidly becomes another thorn in her side. She’s a $1 convenience store coffee woman in a drink called the ‘greengasm’ world; long may her suffering continue.

Fisk airs weekly Wednesdays at 9pm on ABC TV and ABC iView from 26 October.

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.