Try not to picture Rob, Santo & Tom in Comedy Channel's procedural pastiche.
It takes a brave -some might even suggest foolhardy- mob to tackle an animated series and to stride into a genre where an audience is anything other than ready for the taking.
Behold the Comedy Channel’s new 13 part series Pacific Heat from Working Dog. The Gold Coast squad are nothing like the short-lived The Strip, but are possibly a little bit in awe of Special Squad with echoes of their very own Funky Squad.
This undercover outfit is headed up by Special Agent Todd Sommerville (voiced by Rob Sitch), a gung-ho alpha-male with a tad more bravado than nous. His sidekicks include big-and-stupid Special Agent Zac Valentic (Santo Cilauro), the cluey Special Agent Maddie Riggs (Rebecca Massey) and the alluring Veronica “V.J.” Delane (voiced by Lucia Mastrantone).
Together they work for The Chief (Tom Gleisner) who oversees assignments from a building that looks remarkably like a nod to the classic Russell St. headquarters as seen in Homicide. This bunch take it all in their stride: busting crystal meth scourges from Asian drug lords one minute, pursuing Eastern Europeans over stolen uranium the next. Drawing upon their best Starsky and Hutch action scenes, they get the job done in spite of the straight-faced wisecracks.
Along the way in this procedural pastiche they manage to mock as many ethnic stereotypes as they can (Mr. Bang Choi, anyone?), which risks being offensive were it not for the fact that it’s a homage to a genre full of stereotypes, and that nobody escapes unscathed.
“I’m running out of racially-based put downs,” Todd says at one stage.
To digress, I was always pretty relaxed about Paul Fenech’s work insulting minorities because he delivered it to everyone in equal measure, and it’s a bit like that here.
But I did have difficulty in separating the voices of Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner from the characters on screen here. They are so indelible in our TV minds that I found it hard to watch muscle-guy Zac without picturing Santo, for example.
They also did slip into the familiar Working Dog hierarchy of Sitch as lead and others as support, which would be good to shake up at some point as a true ensemble.
The Archer resemblances are hard to overlook given the visual style, and this is “adult animation” with a small “a” -not that there’s anything wrong with that. But they have jammed the script with gags that keep things moving when they are not all hovering around the intel screen commandeered by the geeky girl (thank you NCIS, Bones, 24, et al.).
The gags are where it counts in a show like this, moving rapidly so that if one doesn’t fly with you another is about to land. On that front Working Dog has form, and the humour is stronger than the procedural plots, which are essentially a vehicle to explore exotic backdrops. Hopefully we’ll see a little more Gold Coast flavour other than skyscrapers and strip clubs -maybe not a Dreamworld episode just yet, thanks.
Pacific Heat is a promising start to an ambitious genre -really, just getting the job done is an achievement in itself.
Sundays from November 27 at 8.00pm on The Comedy Channel.