by Jayden Leggett, Assistant Editor
What do you get when you combine a satirical look at multiculturalism in Australia with over-the-top comedic racial stereotypes, crass humor and offensive language? That would be the SBS series Swift & Shift Couriers, without a doubt a television show that is sure to have a 50/50 split of adoring fans and disgusted haters. Intrigued? You should be…
Written, directed and produced by Paul Fenech (previously known for Pizza, another SBS television show of a very similar style), the series is set in the fictional (and appropriately named) suburb of Hashfield (which according to the show seems to be located somewhere in Sydney, New South Wales). The first episode follows the first day of new Swift & Shift employee Leanne, who serves as the narrative tool that allows the viewers to be introduced to the various characters who work at this particular courier company. And there are a heck of a lot of different characters, representing a majority of different light-hearted stereotypes, most likely taken from everyday observations of people’s behaviors and opinions and then multiplied by ten.
Need some examples? Brace yourself. There’s Jackie the token Asian who speaks terrible English and always gets lost while driving; beer-swilling Maori warehouse workers with “thuck” New Zealand accents who rarely actually do any real work; “proper Aussies” with nasally accents who pronounce the word “hi” as “hoi”; a simple-minded mentally disabled worker named George who urinates on his own shoes; a horny dwarf with a bad temper named David; Abdul the incredibly-hairy Muslim who refuses to deliver pork and alcohol because it is against his religion… this list could fill up an entire essay.
Accompanying the huge cast of unknown actors are a few recognizable B-List Australian celebrities, featuring Angry Anderson (front man for Australian rock band Rose Tattoo), the late Ian “Turps” Turpie (host of Australia’s The New Price Is Right) and Amanda Keller (media personality, regular cast of Australian quiz show Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation). Let’s just say that my personal favorite is the morbidly-obese dispatch worker named Jim (played by Jim Spooner, yet another “unknown” actor) who mumbles his words so incomprehensibly that he requires his own subtitles, which are often vastly different to what he is actually saying.
One particularly memorable conversation about downloading pornography between Jim and his co-worker Leonard is as follows:
Jim: “What’s taking the pussy so long?”
Subtitle: Why is the pornography downloading so slowly?
Leonard: “Did you just say ‘what’s taking the pussy so long’?”
Jim: “Don’t you speak Australian? You f#$%ing coconut!”
Subtitle: Don’t you speak English? My Pacific Islander friend!
Leonard: “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a bit hard to understand sometimes?”
Jim: “Has anybody ever told you you’re a f#$%ing goose?”
Story-wise, while each episode (sometimes very loosely) revolves around an overall theme, plot point or event (such as the staff attending a compulsory management training course, their depot being visited by a safety inspector, the end of year Christmas party and so on), what drives the show is the series of numerous accidents and mishaps that occur leading up-to and during these main events. Viewers can expect to see numerous punch-ups, car crashes, thefts, arguments and so on, all cementing the fact that you would have to be out of your mind to trust these guys with the safe delivery of your precious cargo. Some of the writing for some of these skits is quite clever, and stand-out scenes usually include physical or slapstick comedy, like when a driver is accused of beating up women because he has been observed slapping around a lifelike sex doll, or the morbidly obese Jim falling over and crushing David the dwarf in hilarious slow motion, complete with over-the-top facial expressions. The fact that this series revolves around a courier company that has drivers in multiple locations means that anything can (and evidently will) happen.
However while some of the specific scenarios that play out are often quite funny, it is the interactions between the characters and their ridiculous stereotypical representations that generate the most laughs, similar to the way that the funniest moments in a Judd Apatow movie are a result of the character banter.
There are two reasons why these stereotypes work so well and don’t come off as being offensive or racist (at least to me). Firstly, in a similar vein to South Park, no one minority or majority group is safe: everybody is fair game, no one ethnicity is picked on more than another. In fact the majority of my favorite gags were at the expense of “skips” (white Australians) like myself, particularly those portrayed as filthy-looking ice-addicts who are nothing more than “bogans” and criminals (thankfully unlike myself) who think that the world owes them a favor and that they are never to blame for their actions. This could be because it brought back fond memories of many of my loyal customers from my pawnbroking days (people familiar with the Victorian suburbs of Melbourne or Frankston will know exactly what I am talking about here), as some of these character representations are, in my opinion at least, absolutely spot on.
Secondly, these stereotypes are the individual ingredients that make up the pie that is a satirical look at modern Australian culture and opinions towards multiculturalism. Everybody at the Swift & Shift Hashfield depot participate in riffs on Australian workplace traditions such as ceasing work for “morning smoko”, indulging in meat pies and hot chips from the “tucker truck” and holding Tuesday barbecues (ironically on any given day of the week). Also present are piss-takes and cheeky digs at many of the ignorant values and notions towards multiculturalism held by self-proclaimed “true Australians” (white, non-native and non-aboriginal people who are too naive to realize that their ancestors came to this country on convict ships over a century ago), like when Jackie the Asian delivery driver tries to ask somebody in the street for help and is greeted with the suggestion to “Learn f$#%ing English!”, or any time Abdul the Muslim screams to his God for always being tested, whether it be because he has been touched on the arm by a married woman or people are making a game out of a minefield when his cousin in the Middle East was killed by a landmine. Not painting enough of a picture for you? Another highlight was when Renzo reveals to his wife that he is afraid of disciplining one of the loading dock workers because “He’s a Maori, he’ll probably punch me.” The outcome? Yeah, he totally ends up getting punched.
Speaking in terms of production values, the show obviously has a lower budget than that of many other local television shows out there, but is possibly made all the more endearing for it. Upon watching the show for the very first time, I was initially put off by the over-the-top acting, but by the time that the second episode had come around I had fully adjusted to it, and found that it added to the outrageous nature of the show. Visually the shots are often very busy, with the main action happening in the foreground and often something quirky or hilarious happening in the background within the same shot. Scenes quickly cut back and forth from one location to the next, and a lot of attention to detail has clearly been paid to the set design and props that are on display.
Music and sound design is another area that has been given a lot of time and attention, with lots of quirky sound effects adding to the many bizarre actions that occur, and music from Aussie hip-hop artists like Drapht and The Funkoars being put to great use. Another nice touch is the re-occurring use of the same pieces of music as motifs for certain characters, such as Abdul’s Middle-Eastern tunes and George’s children’s television show-styled music.
In contrast to the main show itself, the extra features are a lot more varied in quality. Some of it is very good, such as behind-the-scenes looks at the production set and how the show is made. Other parts however, such as bloopers and the actors performing jokes and routines in character are a lot more hit and miss, and unlike watching the main episodes I found myself bored with a lot of the extra content.
This series probably isn’t going to win any awards, nor is it “must see before you die” television. It is what it is, and makes no apologies about it. What results is an entertaining, competent and above average series that is good for a laugh and is a great satirical look at life and multiculturalism in Australia. The quality of the writing and content stayed strong and consistent until about halfway through the second season where it seems like Fenech started to run out of ideas, as the show began to lose some of its impact.
All in all I enjoyed Swift & Shift Couriers, and would recommend it to fans of Housos, Pizza or people who are interested in Australian TV and aren’t easily offended! Australian and New Zealand residents can pick this up from the Madman Entertainment website. International readers may want to check out the Amazon link below.
ComicsOnline gives Swift & Shift Couriers Series 1 + 2 Box Set 3 out of 5 horny dwarves.
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