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Queen of Oz on ABC review: irate Tate heads a show that’s not great

Britain's hapless Princess Georgiana has been sent abroad to become Australia’s new head of state in this BBC production.

Setting productions on more than one continent can be a tricky thing. The goal is to combine two (or more) elements that will appeal to the two (or more) countries involved – that way both sides think they’re getting something that chimes.

Usually that means getting a relatively famous star from one country and figuring out a reason why their character should be in another country. But if you’re famous enough to be the star of a show in one country, you’re probably going to want the show to be about you.

Which brings us to Catherine Tate and Queen of Oz.

After throwing up on a school child in public – twice – the UK’s notorious party Princess Georgiana (Catherine Tate) is given some exciting news. Thanks to her low public standing (as one person in a vox pop says, ‘She’s a bloody numpty, mate’) she’s being shipped off to Australia to somehow turn back a rising tide of republican discontent. How a woman who wears a sleep mask that says ‘Fuck Off’ is going to do that is a question best not asked.

Actually, the whole set-up is full of questions. For one, why is Australia’s new female PM (Rachel Gordon), who we’re told is a republican, going along with this? Princess Georgiana isn’t being sent here to just hang around down the pub: she’s going to be Australia’s new head of state.

Sure, this is a comedy, and boozy royals in formal situations are always good for a laugh. But as set-ups go, this one feels thinner than it should.

Once she arrives in Australia – in the middle of January, which throws her dim bulb lady-in-waiting Anabel (Niky Wardley) in a spin because why isn’t it winter any more – we meet the rest of the cast, including the new Queen’s bodyguard Marc (Marc Collins), her nervous assistant Matthew (William McKenna) and Zoe (Jenna Owen) who handles her PR and socials. Which is going to be a big job considering Georgiana’s two main skills are saying and doing the wrong thing.

Abusive nightmare

All this should be the stuff of decent comedy. We’re presumably meant to side with her as she struggles to overcome her basic nature as a PR disaster and turn her reign into the kind of success story that will get her back in her parents’ good books. But whatever your take on the monarchy (or comedy), if you were trying to come up with a pro-republican series, you couldn’t do much better than this. And not just because the Australian supporting cast are largely sidelined.

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Tate’s character is an abusive nightmare who feels no shame, only constant annoyance at everyone and everything around her. Which would be fine if she was a supporting character and the focus was on those who have to deal with her, or even if there was a subplot that didn’t revolve entirely around her.

Instead, she’s in almost every scene, and everyone else is lucky to get a handful of lines while Georgiana abuses or belittles them.

On the positive side, as the series develops she does get something slightly akin to a sympathetic character arc, as a royal wedding to Teddy (Rodger Corser) looms while she starts to develop feelings (kind of) for a commoner – no prizes for guessing who. It doesn’t really change the dynamic of Georgiana trashing everyone around her in scene after scene after scene, and it’s still a sitcom that pretty much resets after every episode, but at least we get a few different settings for the same one-liners.

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There are also a few set-pieces across the series that work: a wild party with Marc’s family is fun, and a stuffy dinner party that features a huge snake at least features a huge snake. And Tate herself is a forceful comedic presence throughout. It’s just that she’s largely a one-note presence, and everyone else barely gets a look-in.

There’s a long and proud tradition of hilariously monstrous characters in UK comedy: Rik Mayall’s The New Statesman comes to mind, though there’s plenty of others. But usually they manage to place their leads in at least one relationship with someone close to an equal comedy-wise, a Baldrick to their Blackadder.

Well may we say God save the Queen; if you’re not a fan of Tate, then nothing will save Queen of Oz.

Queen of Oz airs on the ABC 9.40 Wednesdays, and on ABC iview.

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.