The world can never have enough Karl Stefanovic in it. His larrikin charm and boisterous goofiness just part of what makes Australia… well, Australia. But King Larrikin Karl dancing the salsa with an unimpressed and unwilling Sean Penn (who is playing himself) while making tacos to fundraise for a charity on The Today Show will absolutely go down as one of the boldest ways to open a show, because even us Aussie’s would watch that while saying: “What. The. Fuck. Is. This?”
And the ride only gets wilder from there in the new Australian comedy series, C*A*U*G*H*T, which follows four dim-witted and far from special and forceful Australian soldiers who are tasked with an extremely covert mission from the Minister of Defence (Erik Thompson): to retrieve a ‘secret file’ that was ‘accidentally’ sent by the Minister to the Princess of Behati-Prinsloo, a small island nation who has a peace treaty with Australia despite being a conflict zone.
However, after the successful retrieval of the file, the four soldiers (played by Kick Gurry, Ben O’Toole, Lincoln Younes and Alex England) are kidnapped by freedom fighters. Now hostages, the soldiers attempt to prolong what may be left of their lives by coming up with a plan to create a hostage video that will go viral, capturing the hearts of the world and telling the true side of the freedom fighter’s story. But fame doesn’t come without hard work, and a bit of dumb luck to go with it.
C*A*U*G*H*T is one of those comedies that just doesn’t get made anymore. No, it’s not blatantly offensive or mocks stereotypes or won’t “age well” in 20 years. It is just incredibly goofy. In fact, it is at times far too goofy for its own good, but there’s a sense of admiration that must be given to series creator and director (and star) Kick Gurry for committing 110% to the unashamed absurdity of this premise.
The first 15 minutes of this new comedy series is a direct parody of every 1970s and 80s spy show. A rogue soldier (O’Toole) sits in a dark and hazy prison cell as he’s approached by a commanding officer (donning an awfully funny aristocratic British accent) asking him to put a team together for a special job. A team of which the special requirements needed (bomb expert, language expert, charmingly muscular expert) just so happen to be the talents that this particular group of dummies entail.
C*A*U*G*H*T sets is ridiculous tone early, and when the show sticks with it, there’s a fair few laughs to be had. Comical bad guys, cartoonish violence, tastefully tasteless male nudity, demeaning banter between Australian and US soldiers, and pop-culture references to boot are just a taste of the comedic styling this show is going for. It helps that the insanely stacked cast are also just as committed to the craziness, which is somewhat surprising considering the stars that grace the screen, for a long or little as they do.
Matthew Fox (Lost) plays a cocky US soldier who also gets taken hostage with the Australian gang, of which there is more tumultuous tension between them than not. Aussie acting legend Bryan Brown plays an Ian Thorpe obsessed Prime Minister who isn’t afraid to call the US president a ‘see-you-next-Tuesday” on more than one occasion. Which brings us to the US president who is played by Susan Sarandon! And then we can’t forget the salsa dancing of Sean Penn as the leader of a bankrupt non-for-profit that gets entangled with the virality of this scandal. It’s oddly satisfying and endearing how committed these actors are to their roles, and it does add a nice sense of globality to this very dry, Aussie styled humour show.
The comradery between the main four Australian soldiers’ grounds the show slightly, but there isn’t a lot of substance to most of these characters to have them be the main draw. There are a few flashbacks for context, one of which also involves Karl Stefanovic and an on-air animal incident gone terribly wrong serving as one of the shows sincere laugh-out-loud moments based on its shock value alone, but the lack of depth for the main characters leaves little room for care, but lots of room for heightened goofiness. The inclusion of a new character at the end of episode 3, and the shocking line of dialogue that rounds out that episode is incredibly well placed within the show to keep audiences engaged, especially if they’re feeling that the show is losing them at the halfway point.
There is an attempt to create some genuine drama regarding O’Toole’s character and the reason he accepted the mission in the first place, but the seriousness of his backstory and the frequency that he brings it up throughout the series creates a real tonal whiplash. The show is too insane for this level of drama, taking away it’s feeling of seriousness. And when these emotional scenes play out, they feel more awkward than moving.
There is a certain audience for this style of humour, and you do have to be a fan of it to really want to stay invested for the entire 6 episodes. The fast-paced, 30-minute episodes make for an breezy binge watch that doesn’t require much (if any) brain power to enjoy, and the committed performances from our home grown actors, and those from Hollywood too, do just enough to make C*A*U*G*H*T a reasonably enjoyable experience.
All 6 episodes of C*A*U*G*H*T will be available to stream on Stan from September 28.
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