This post was written in 2011.
Angry Boys is the latest project from writer, director, comedian and character-actor Chris Lilley. It follows the mockumentary style of his previous series’ We Can Be Heroes (2005) and Summer Heights High (ABC 2007, BBC and HBO 2008), although on a much larger scale. Angry Boys is an ambitious production – filmed in over 70 locations in Australia, the United States and Japan, it certainly takes Lilley’s unique brand of comedy to the next level. And while the series has received some criticism for its often politically incorrect and potty-mouthed characters, it is at its core an intelligent, funny, confronting and heart warming production that deserves to be hailed as Lilley’s best work yet.
Angry Boys follows six different characters and loosely revolves around the theme of boys and men struggling to find their place in society. Ruth Sims (a.k.a. Gran) is an officer in a juvenile detention centre for teenage boys. Daniel and Nathan Sims (recurring characters first seen in We Can Be Heroes) are teenage twins growing up in rural Australia. S.mouse – whose real name is Shwayne Jnr. – is an African-American rapper currently under house arrest in L.A. for defecating on a police car. Blake Oakfield is a world champion surfer from the fictional Australian town of Narmucca Bay, and the head of the ‘Mucca Mad Boys’ (a gang reminiscent of Sydney’s Bra Boys). Finally, there is Jen Okazaki, a Japanese mother and businesswoman managing her teenage son Tim’s skateboarding career. Jen is possibly Lilley’s meanest and most confronting character to date – in her first appearance in the series she remembers how she once told her son that “if he did not succeed at skateboarding I would kill myself”. These characters are loosely connected through Daniel and Nathan – Ruth Sims is their grandmother, while Blake, S.mouse and Tim Okazaki (Jen’s son) are “Legends” that Daniel invites to his brother’s farewell party.
One of the most incredible things about Angry Boys is how completely Lilley and his team (the same group that worked on his previous two projects, including producer Laura Waters) have managed to bring each character’s world to life. The series took three years to create, and involved 89 main roles and 1228 extras. Lilley wrote the music for the show (arranged by Bryony Marks) which included fully produced S.mouse singles, complete with music videos. The attention to detail is what makes Angry Boys a wholly developed work of art, rather than a sitcom with a few odd characters and funny jokes. Lilley did huge amounts of research for his characters – interviewing kids from country Australia, prison wardens, and Japanese matriarchs about everything from what kind of beer they drink to whether they use Facebook. He watched countless surfing documentaries and visited juvenile detention centres. From this research the worlds of Lilley’s characters were meticulously assembled, right down to composing childhood photographs that are only glimpsed for a split second on screen. Lilley clearly has a great talent for observing – and recreating – people, as well as a great passion for it. The effect of Lilley’s performance is so genuine that I had to keep reminding myself while watching that all of these people were in fact played by the same actor.
I was thinking, like, we’re not really like men yet, we’re still a bit like kids
So says Daniel Sims in the final episode of Angry Boys, standing by the tree where his father died in a car accident. Lines like these – coming from the mouth of a character that has spent much of the series calling his brother a fag and making penis jokes – are incredibly poignant, and seem to embody what Angry Boys is really about. Each character is confronting in some way – exaggerated and larger than life – but they are also very human. Gran is tough and often racist toward the boys under her care, but is almost brought to tears when an inmate gives her a key ring that he made. Nathan, a bored and isolated teenager who loves giving the finger, is shown giving his Gran an Eskimo kiss over Skype. Blake Oakfield, a man in his thirties who often behaves like he is fifteen, discusses using “the blink method” to stop himself from crying. And Shwayne Jnr, a spoilt rich kid pretending to be a rapper from the ‘ghetto’, is visibly upset when his father doesn’t like a new track he has written. Lilley has said himself that he is not trying to make any big statements about society – what matters to him is the human connection. It is not surprising that Lilley gets so many comments from fans about how watching his show makes them feel better when they are depressed or down. Much of what is confronting about Angry Boys lies in the fact that these characters are flawed – they are confused, selfish, mean, scared, and very real. They strike a chord with the viewer – we see ourselves in these vulnerable people. Seeing the unpleasant aspects of our own nature exaggerated and reflected back on us can be hard to stomach, but Angry Boys is non-judgemental. This series reminds us that nobody is perfect. There is a genuine humanity about Lilley’s characters that is relatable, hilarious, and relieving. As Gran says of the boys at Garingal Juvenile Justice Centre – “they may be the worst boys in the state, but they’re still boys”.
Angry Boys first aired on ABC1 on the 11th of May, 2011, at 9pm, and on BBC Three on June 7th, 2011.