Australia, are you ready for the Habibs?
They are moving in next door, and if early episodes are any indication, they are here to stay.
Put aside the endless promos and tabloid articles stirring up racism. Have we forgotten our long history of ethnic comedy: They’re a Weird Mob, Acropolis Now, Pizza, Home Sweet Home, Legally Brown, Effie, Con the Fruiterer, Kingswood Country‘s Bruno and All Together Now‘s Wayne?
Here Come the Habibs has all the ingredients to work: a strong ensemble, a dead simple premise, good gags and nicely shot. Yet comedy is also about timing: whether the viewing public is ready for a broad comedy and it can withstand heated competition is another question. I reckon it can.
I also think Channel Nine should be thanking Auburn’s deputy mayor Salim Mehajer for making Lebanese-Australians dripping in excess part of popular culture. While this comedy bears no resemblance, it has certainly put the concept into the zeitgeist.
When carport builder FouFou Habib (Michael Denkha) and wife Mariam (Camilla Ah Kin) win $22m in the lottery they move the family into a mansion in Sydney’s Vaucluse to live the great Australian dream.
“My Queen has a palace,” he will declare.
“It has a toilet bigger than our whole house!” adds daughter Layla (Kat Hoyos).
Yet the affluent white Australians living next door, the O’Neills, are reeling in shock.
Olivia O’Neill (Helen Dallimore) sends husband Jack O’Neill (Darren Gilshenan) to make an offer on the house. But the managing director of Bonza Biscuits makes a right mess of it.
“Just because you’re Lebanese it doesn’t make you a criminal,” Jack awkwardly tells FouFou, before going on to mention the Cronulla riots. Oops.
However FouFou and wife Mariam (Camilla Ah Kin) have also not told their three children where they got the money. Cue lots of gags about drug-running and money laundering.
Buff, sea-doo riding son Toufic (Sam Alhaje ,pictured) isn’t especially bright, while youngest son Elias (Tyler De Nawi) has eyes for Madison (Georgia Flood), who also happens to be the daughter of the neighbours. Young love will blossom despite the cultural war across the fence.
There’s also the obligatory sitcom hanger-on, a character seconded to the family for no meaningful reason. In this case he is taxi driver Mustafa (Tahir Bilgic), clearly a sidekick and ally for our central character, FouFou.
The script by Phil Lloyd riffs on plenty of contemporary topics about multiculturalism, refugees, Sydney’s west, gang wars, mosques, terrorism and private schools.
Director Darren Ashton has ensured a sparkling bright template for this series, making it easily accessible and the suped-up score by Kyls Burtland is especially good.
Amongst a very tight ensemble, Helen Dallimore and Darren Gilshenan are perfect as snob and hen-pecked neighbours, whilst Michael Denkha and Camilla Ah Kin create Lebanese-Australians a broad audience can warm to. Tyler De Nawi also plays it straight as the juvenile lead amongst larger-than-life siblings.
In some ways this Jungle production is a modern day Beverly Hillbillies, with a low-class family moving into the high-class neighbourhood as fishes out of water. Whilst it isn’t yet in that league, the choices by co-creators Rob Shehadie, Tahir Bilgic, Matt Ryan-Garnse, Phil Lloyd and Ben Davies certainly tick the boxes.
And although we may well be laughing with the Habibs, it’s their rich neighbours who come off second best. Humour helps us to laugh at ourselves -an Aussie trait no matter where you were born.
Here Come the Habibs premieres 8:30pm Tuesday February 9 on Nine.