We Can Be Heroes
HBO // Unrated // $29.98 // December 4, 2012
Review by Nick Hartel | posted December 27, 2012
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The worst kind of comedy is bad comedy and the worst kind of bad comedy, is comedy that thinks it's intelligent or witty to begin with. "We Can Be Heroes" is unequivocally guilty of the crime of attempting to be witty and intelligent and only proving to be insufferable and in some instances, offensive. The series is the brainchild of Australian comedian Chris Lilley, who has built a career based on mockumentary-based humor. Apparently a critical success in his native country, his series' have had small releases from HBO here in the United States and in the case of "We Can Be Heroes," a solid seven years after its initial debut. Running for the course of six, 25-odd minute episodes, "We Can Be Heroes" will test even the most easily entertained's patience as Lilley plays six separate characters, five of whom are in contention to be named "Australian of the Year."

Unfair or not, the minute the word "mockumentary" gets thrown around, my thoughts shift toward the stellar work of Christopher Guest who has made a career off the genre, starting with "This is Spinal Tap." The big difference (aside from overall quality of writing), is the targets Guest likes to lampoon, are for the most part fictional members of the entertainment community and the humor comes from the absurd, often delusional antics of said characters. Lilley's humor is much more grounded in reality and very clear, a cruel tone emerges that generally persists throughout the series. Lilley's characters are all very delusional in their aspirations, but a lot of the laughs are intended to be drawn from the sad ignorance or in one horrifying case, cultural differences. To make matters worse, the characters are entirely un-compelling and the series just becomes uncomfortable (and not in the good Ricky Gervais uncomfortable approach to comedy).

To Lilley's credit, there are times he does manage to impress by disappearing into these characters, which run the gamut form an average middle aged man, to a ditzy high-school teenage girl, all the way to a middle-aged housewife. Visually it's always obvious it's Lilley playing these characters, but he does manage to create a unique persona for each, even if the situations they're placed in are clumsily crafted. However, one character in particular, Ricky Wong, a Chinese physics major made me question just what I was supposed to be laughing at. The character, unlike the others in the series, is based around tired stereotypes involving Asian immigrants and their familial relationships; Wong's involvement in the theater community adds another layer of uncomfortable feeling to the proceedings as he and a hapless amateur theater group put on a musical about the history of indigenous Australians. Ultimately, I'm unable to fully nail down what Lilley is going for: is it a poorly executed attempt at wit involving ignorance or is a mean-spirited jab at two cultures. The evidence is strong for both cases and perhaps, in the hands of a stronger writer, things would be more clear.

The final episode of "We Can Be Heroes" does make a feeble, albeit equally sloppy attempt at injecting some much needed heart into an otherwise dull, ill-spirited series. I applaud Lilley's earnest intentions here, but still feel great frustration for a series that looks cheaply made and sounds cheaply written. I could chalk it up to some jokes being lost cross-culturally, but even then, comedy should have some universal element and I saw little if any of that universal element in 'We Can Be Heroes." Either way, Lilley seems to be finding success at his shtick in Australia, but controversy over racially motivated humor continues to follow him and part of the reason I find it hard to stomach the Ricky Wong character, comes from seeing footage of Lilley in blackface, poorly lampooning rap music, in his most recent series "Angry Boys." Ultimately it's up to the viewer of the program to make their own interpretation, however, if one values their time and intelligence, I'd suggest you skip "We Can Be Heroes" altogether.


The Video

The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is passable, featuring average detail, iffy color balance, and minor digital noise. The visual look of the show is incredibly cheap and if that was the desired effect, so be it, but frankly, the series looks like something produced a decade or more, not something from 2006.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio is serviceable with strong, clear dialogue and natural sound reproduction. The show is dialogue driven and the mockumentary approach of the series fits the sound mix. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.

The Extras

Disc two features three sets of bonus features including an approximately 30-min "behind-the-scenes" featurette, a cringe worthy live performance at the Logies in character as Ricky Wong (doing the embarrassing musical number from the series), and nearly two-hours of deleted scenes that add more to the characters in many aspects, but are honestly just as unfunny as the series proper.

Final Thoughts

Poorly produced and poorly written, "We Can Be Heroes" is only notable for some genuinely good performance from Lilley himself, even if at times the characters he's portraying are insulting, boring, or offensive. Skip It.

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