Inside ‘Soul Mates’ Season Two: How The Bondi Hipsters Are Tackling Satire In 2016
"Everybody ends up getting kicked in the nuts and nobody ends up with anything."
The team behind Bondi Hipsters have returned this week with a second season of Soul Mates — the TV extension of their satirical web series. It follows on closely from the format of the first: two best friends are bound together throughout history, unwittingly being reincarnated through time with their lives permanently entangled (often to the detriment of both).
As a collection, the characters are eclectic. The newest addition is a story in ancient Egypt that sees the pair meet up as slave and master building a booby-trapped tomb together; it’s two parts Game of Thrones satire and five parts workplace comedy. The regulars return too. The cavemen from season one are now in a small tribe, allowing them to poke fun at some deeply entrenched modern societal structures. The aggressively ’80s Kiwi assassins are now determined to break up a people-smuggling ring in which an Australian private school is snatching up New Zealand’s best up-and-coming rugby players. Then there are the hipsters: intent on finding a source of income that involves anything but the horrifying prospect of a 9 to 5 job.
It’s well worth checking out. If I’d known that it were possible to explain the complexities of banking by showing various men kicking each other in the nuts, I suspect that school would have been a very different experience.
Brothers Christiaan and Connor Van Vuuren share writing and directing responsibility for the show, and alongside collaborator Nick Boshier have created something weird, unique and undeniably bonkers. On paper the appeal of their most famous characters, the Bondi Hipsters seems like it should be extremely niche. Tethered to place by name and tied to a (frequently ridiculed) subculture by look, instead of disappearing back into the internet leaving only a cloud of nostalgia and novelty in their wake, they’ve maintained an incredible longevity as characters. This new work shows them continuing to push boundaries and navigate new formats, while retaining the original humour that drew their audience in the first place.
Yes it’s pun-heavy and swings from subversive satire to queef jokes in the time it takes a mammoth to crush someone to death, but as we talk to brothers Christiaan and Connor, it’s clear that the show quietly packs more of a punch than a quick glance would lead you to believe.
The Endurance Of Good Satire
It’s possible to draw a hazy line separating Soul Mates plot-lines into two categories. While all the storylines are satirical in their own way, the more narrative-driven ancient Egyptian thread and Kiwi assassins find their comedy through exploration of film and television tropes alongside references to well-known series and film. The cavemen and the Bondi Hipsters, however, provide an opportunity to use humour to shine a light on how ridiculous many of our closely held ideas really are.
“Now that the cavemen have a society it does lend itself towards really clear social satire,” Connor tells us. “The tribe acts as a little microcosm and so we play around a lot more with societal ideas [such as] careers, jobs, politics, and the financial system,” adds Christian. The best example of this is when the characters invent high finance — starting out by trading a shell for some grapes with the idea that the shell can later be exchanged for a kick in the nuts.
“The idea is that you take something that is happening now and peel it back to its most basic level. I suppose shells are to the dollar as the nut kick is to gold or silver or whatever currency was originally built on — back when currency had an actual value and wasn’t just a random number in a bank account,” Christiaan says, teaching me more in a sentence than a year studying accounting at school did.
“We wanted to explore how starting out with something simple can become incredibly complicated and convoluted in order to benefit certain people but not others. And that gets us to the right ending — that everybody ends up getting kicked in the nuts and nobody ends up with anything, but also that nothing’s changed.”
The much-loved Bondi Hipsters also allow the show to explore a lot of current issues. In one storyline we see the pair accidentally get drawn in to a racist campaign against Brazilians in Bondi. “That just continued to evolve because of all the news we were seeing of all the Reclaim Australia stuff happening,” Christiaan explains. “There’s always so much fodder to play with comedically because of new trends and the different things that make their way into the zeitgeist. I see a big part of it as negotiating modernity and manoeuvring around trendy culture.”
“It’s essentially making fun of trendy people.”
Tackling Cultural Cringe
Soul Mates and the web series Bondi Hipsters is also part of a wave of new Australian television that is helping to tackle the cultural cringe that makes viewers hesitant to consume home-grown content. Getting viewers to watch Australian-made shows and films can be challenging because of the irrational but subconscious idea that anything you watch will slowly but insidiously morph into a mashup of Skippy and Blue Heelers shot through a brown-toned 1970s lens (though just quietly, that is a show that I would really want to see).
Talking about cultural cringe, Connor views it as an integral part of shaping our uniquely Australian humour. “I think it kind of defines us in a way. We’re very self-conscious people, and I always think Australians are hyper-aware of being humble. We have a really self-deprecating sense of humour which I really like. I think there is a level of cultural cringe in Australian comedy that extends to everything, but I think that is part of our sense of humour too.”
With the first season being picked up on Australian, New Zealand, UK and Irish Netflix, it seems that the appeal of this Australian comedy is far-reaching. This is a fact that’s feeding back positively into the industry.
“I do think people are becoming a lot more positive about Australian content generally, but it’s a bit of an uphill battle,” Connor says. “Things are shifting slowly — and I think there’s a bit more variety in terms of styles of comedy now.”
For anyone in the creative fields, in the current climate of uncertainty hanging over the arts, providing developmental opportunities and taking risks on emerging professionals is huge. The success of season one allowed the team to have more autonomy over their cast and crew decisions, and they used this to help give newer voices in the industry a platform.
“In general, we had a much younger crew — a lot of heads of department who had a lot to gain from this being their first long-form TV series,” Christiaan says. “All the different departments were really passionate about their work and working together on a really kind of cool level and doing lots of great stuff.”
“I think we backed ourselves more in a few ways,” Connor adds. “We really benefitted from some good hires of young enthusiastic people who are really talented, like our director of photography, Aaron McLisky and our production designer Ella Carey. They really helped the production value.”
Soul Mates is a show that’s enjoyable on multiple levels. Maybe you’ll like it simply for the recreation of the famous scene from Entrapment, where the lasers have been swapped out for velvet ropes, or perhaps you can make a game of spotting how many times ‘pineapple lumps’ are surreptitiously referenced. Either way, both on the screen and off-, the show is asking important questions. And silly ones.
The first season of Soul Mates is on Netflix now, and the entirety of season two is on ABC iView. Time to start filling the gap that Stranger Things has left in your life.
Elizabeth Flux is a freelance writer and editor with a focus on film and pop culture. She previously edited Voiceworks magazine, and her work has been published in The Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings, Metro, Film Ink and more. She tweets terrible puns at @ElizabethFlux.