In a time when disinformation and flat-out lies spew forth from the mouths of politicians, newsreaders and so-called celebrities and onto the cesspool of social media, it’s undeniably rewarding to hear the honk of the ‘Bullshit Buzzer’ blast repeatedly throughout goofy good, pulls-no-punches web series Plausible Deniability.
Created by Ian Crittenden and produced by Random Pictures, this sharply comic reckoning eviscerates the empty platitudes that are rife around the homelessness discourse in Australia (and beyond). In its sights are the grown-ups who have manifestly failed to address the root causes of a scourge that sees north of 120,000 people experience homelessness on any given night, or even understand what that looks like. If it sounds like a tough ask for a ‘comedy’ series, think again.
Co-written by It’s Fine, I’m Fine producer Crittenden in tandem with author and theatre director Claire Christian, Plausible Deniability is a snort-fest of savage takedowns, all delivered from the mouths of babes AKA 11-year-old highschoolers Abeba (Naomi Ejigu), Tron (Lennox Lee) and Harriet (Mae White), each with zero tolerance for adult’s bullshit.
They’ve hit on the idea of creating a short doco addressing the crisis that sees one in seven people experiencing homelessness being around their age or younger. Inviting six (fictional, but you’ll recognise the type) high-profile Australians to enlist their help tackling it, the kids soon tire of the self-centred disconnect they’re hearing over and over.
Hence the buzzer, and you’ll soon wish that the interviewees honked by this harsh horn also experienced a minor electric shock to boot. Which segues neatly to first ep interviewee, clueless footballer Jaxn ‘JJ’ Jones.
As played by Toby Derrick, who popped up in Of an Age, he’s accompanied by Surviving Summer actor Jane Allsop as his micro-managing club president who’d rather he kept his mouth shut, despite her being the one who addresses Tron, of Vietnamese heritage, with a Japanese welcome. ‘Yeah so I’m in the ballpark then.’
Epitomising the magnetic pull of z-listers to kids who have gone viral on TikTok, it soon becomes clear this pair want to ride off their public profile, rather than offer any concrete help to homelessness charities. JJ is, after all, wearing a black armband not because anyone he loves has died, but because it elicits sympathy for him when he’s facing DUI charges.
And, no, honking (car horns) for homelessness won’t help, any more than clapping or frontline workers during the pandemic. HONK goes the Bullshit Buzzer.
Things can only get better?
Crittenden and Christian are joined on writing duties by Amal Awad, Samuel Gebreselassie and Meg Mundell, with Grace Fang Juan Feng and Victoria Thaine sharing directing duties across six roughly ten-minute episodes, slyly delivering the message that homelessness isn’t just about folks sleeping under bridges, but also couch surfing, bunking in their cars, in short-term crisis accommodation that’s already buckling or other insecure options.
We’ll also meet Milo Hartill and Zenya Carmellotti’s pitch-perfect ‘social entrepreneurs’ in season-highlight episode two, hoping to harness the kids’ social reach with a collab and spewing a near-constant stream of right-on language that’s horribly (hilariously) wrong.
Yes, they went on a ten-day trip building schools with an NGO and feel they connected with the culture. Yes they want to empower people through wristbands using applied colour theory, but don’t ask where the $5 per band is going. ‘Bad choices lead to people leading bad lives,’ they parrot.
There’s also a constantly ‘pivoting’ politician played by The Hollowmen actor David James, living up to that series title with his management speak and inability to address why, when in government, he funnelled money to property developers who not only didn’t build social housing, but also bulldoze existing stock. The ABS are apparently ‘Commies’.
If Emily Taheny’s married-to-a cricketer children’s author and influencer is a bit too much like the social entrepreneurs, it’s worth it for her disgust when presented with a non-almond milk chai latte. ‘Oh my god, how poor is this school?’
Wellmania’s Keegan Joyce is spot on as a white rapper who sings about the homelessness he didn’t experience because no one will buy love songs, and the final ep does not miss when Darren Gilshenan’s Archbishop is pressed on why his church doesn’t use more of its multimillion dollar property profile to actually house folks.
Through each ep, Ejigu, Lee and White are a joy to behold as they deadpan roast each wannabe. As the interviews go on, we come to realise each of the kids has had their own experience, but their travails have not dulled their comic timing when it comes to expertly lobbed barbs.
The insights they share are delivered in a hilariously simple but devastatingly effective fashion in a way that your average big bucks dollar government awareness-raising campaign could never. Which is what makes Plausible Deniability a must-see, no-bullshit buzz!
Plausible Deniability is free to watch online from 20 November.