TV

With ‘The Angus Project’, We Finally Have A Show That Gets Comedy And Disability Right

"There's a lot of truly batshit absurd stuff that goes on in regional Australia, that people don't realise, and we want to bring that stuff to light, but with a comedic spin."

“There’s a lot of truly batshit absurd stuff that goes on in regional Australia that people don’t realise.”

Created as part of ABC’s Fresh Blood initiative, The Angus Project has evolved from web series into a full half-hour pilot, filled with laughs, action and — most importantly for a pilot — really good potential for a full TV series.

Co-written by Nina Oyama (Tonightly, Utopia) and Melina Wicks (The Weekly, The Checkout), The Angus Project is — in Oyama’s own words — “an odd couple comedy about two twenty-something drop kicks getting in trouble in regional Australia: one just happens to have cerebral palsy.”

Featuring her and TV newcomer Angus Thompson in the lead roles as ‘Nina’ and ‘Angus’ respectively (which I appreciate, it makes writing this piece much easier, thanks guys), The Angus Project is one of four web series to advance through ABC’s Fresh Blood initiative and be given the time, money and support to make a half-hour of television.

The team behind have by no means squandered this opportunity. While the lo-fi web version (still available to watch on iView) is filled with charm and lols, the pilot bumps it up a notch with an all-star cast, hilarious set pieces and a plot that sprawls across its setting of Bathurst.

The episode begins with Angus waking up to find his wheelchair is missing, only to crawl out of bed and discover that overnight his best friend/carer Nina has  — out of her mind on shrooms —  fashioned it into a Rube-Goldberg-esque automatic breakfast dispensing gizmo. Nina claims Angus needs to “get on [her] level” and tries to stuff some drugs in his mouth.

It’s this chaotic yet deeply unwavering bond that’s the emotional bedrock of the whole series.

When Angus nearly dies using the gizmo, his first words after being Heimlich’d back to life are “it worked!”

The realness of the on-screen friendship is no coincidence:  “My dynamic with Nina in the show is exactly the same as our real friendship — while shooting the episode we found it so easy to rip on each other and bounce off one another because it’s exactly how we would be if we were just hanging out” says Angus Thompson.

The Angus Project is loosely based on wild situations Nina and I would get ourselves into while we both studied at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst”.

Both Thompson and Oyama cite Broad City as a major influence on the genesis of the series, along with It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and HBO’s stoner dramedy High Maintenance.

All three can be felt in the finished product.

The Angus Project Trailer (2018)

It's official – The Angus Project trailer is here!Get a load of the fully cooked pilot episode in all its glory, Dec 4th, 9.30 on ABC TV***The Angus Project is funded by @ABC COMEDY's Fresh Blood Initiative & Screen Australia and you can binge the webseries on ABC iview now!#ABCFreshBlood #ScreenAustralia #ABCiView #ABCCOMEDY #TheAngusProject

Posted by The Angus Project on Saturday, 3 November 2018

Representation vs Good Representation

We are not living in an Australia cool enough that The Angus Project’s disability representation isn’t revolutionary.

“Angus and I used to binge-watch tonnes of TV shows when we were hungover as fuck,” says Oyama, “and we had this huge realisation that you never see people like him on screen.”

“Diversity on screen is gaining momentum, but slowly” agrees Thompson. “It takes a long time to change the public’s perception of anything, including the disabled community. Hopefully The Angus Project will add fuel to the fire and help show the talent that is on offer.”

The Angus Project has made a good start on this — but not just because it includes disabled people. Although we’re starved for representation as a community, simply casting a disabled person is still too low a bar to hit. Inclusion isn’t always good, particularly if you’re including marginalised actors in roles that reinforce stereotypes.

Importantly, The Angus Project includes disabled people in storylines that flesh out, rather than belittle, the complexity and humanity of the disabled community.

For starters, TAP explicitly skewers the infantilising abled-gaze that disabled stories are so often told through. The holier-than-thou boss of the local disability service provider, Kath (played by Veronica Milsom), is a pitch perfect send-up of a condescending abled person who does the bare minimum to absolve their nightmare personality.

One Is The Loneliest Number

Another trap that often befalls TV shows in regards to representation is the pitfall of ‘having one’.

Well-meaning abled creators will write one (1) disabled person in for progressive points, and then place the burden of an entire community’s representation on that single character — which can impede writing interesting characters. If you make them the villain are you saying all disabled people are villainous? If you give them flaws are you saying all disabled people have these flaws? Often, “boring” becomes the safe character choice to make.

The Angus Project circumvents this problem with a remarkable strategy I’d personally encourage more shows to try — it has more than one (1) disabled person.

There’s Angus, a loveable dickhead, and Wayne ‘Wizza’ Miller, who is just straight-up a dickhead.

The main thrust of the pilot begins with Editor of the Bathurst Gazette, Ron (played by Rob Sitch), tasking volunteer sports reporter Angus with getting an interview of a visiting para-athlete.

Played with smarmy joy by Adam Bowes (Jeremy the Dud), Wizza is a Paralympian-turned-motivational speaker, peddling self-improvement BS on a tour of regional Aussie auditoriums. Slick, vain and manipulative, Wizza agrees to give Angus an interview — in exchange for a criminal favour.

Showing that disabled people aren’t a monolith shouldn’t be groundbreaking, yet allowing the pure douchebaggery of Wizza to work against Angus’ endearing charm makes TAP feel remarkably fresh.

The Bathurst Is Real

So much of the joy of this series comes from it’s setting.

Allow me to descend into full TV critic cliche, because much like New York in Sex and the City, in many ways Bathurst is one of the main characters of The Angus Project.

The latter half of the pilot sees unhinged drug dealer Kane (played by Sammy J) take Angus and Nina to a Bathurst girls horse riding academy on Wizza’s illegal errand.

“It’s like The Saddle Club, except everyone’s Veronica,” says Kane. When Nina asks which one Veronica is, Kane replies, “the bad one”.

The regional setting never restrains what The Angus Project can do, instead offering new and exciting locations within a TV landscape typically focused on telling stories in metropolitan areas.

“Bathurst is also such a strange place, it seems really sleepy” says Oyama, “but one time I went to the Hungry Jacks there, and saw this cult (I think) having a birthday party — they were all wearing old Victorian garb, with super long plaited hair but they were wearing Hungry Jacks crowns and looked miserable. I thought I dreamt it, but it definitely happened.”

“There’s a lot of truly batshit absurd stuff that goes on in regional Australia, that people don’t realise, and we want to bring that stuff to light, but with a comedic spin.”

“If The Angus Project is lucky enough to be picked up,  Nina and I have a backlog of stories that we can take inspiration from,” adds Thompson.

The pair list countless (semi-)autobiographical ideas for future episodes, including: getting involved with scary bikies, Angus getting close to his dream of moving to Sydney, Nina answering to her strict Asian parents and how Angus and Nina would cope when the town is swamped by V8 supports on the Bathurst 1000 race weekend.

Given the episode is so full of jokes, and the talent behind it so full of ideas, it would be a crime for The Angus Project to end its journey with this pilot.

The Angus Project will be available to stream Tuesday November 20th on iView, and broadcast Tuesday December 4th at 9:30pm on ABC TV.

Alistair Baldwin is a writer and comedian based in Naarm/Melbourne. He has written for The Weekly with Charlie Pickering and the upcoming season of Get Krack!n. His work has been published by SBS, ACMI Ideas, un. Magazine, Archer & more.