Quite recently I saw a university guest lecturer discuss the current Australian television landscape, summing up all its combined strengths and flaws. Upon talking about what was currently in vogue, the lecturer made the acute observation that what Australia distinctly lacks in television currently is a situational comedy. And quite frankly, he was completely right. Flick open any T.V guide and one will struggle to see a single, homegrown, sit-com in the purest form, complete with laughing audience and one-room sets.
Somewhat of a reply to this is La Mama’s Workspace. An Australian sitcom filmed and performed in front of a live audience to be posted directly onto Youtube, this production centres on three creative individuals, Bob (Robert Reid), Eddy (Elliot Summers) and Vaughn (Verity Charlton) all working within the same shared workspace.
Devised by all three cast members but written by Reid, Workspace delivers to audiences what is doubtlessly a unique viewing experience. At first it feels as if you’re bearing witness to a play but this quickly changes when the on-site director yells ‘cut’ and gives the actors a quick three seconds to reshuffle before the camera start rolling again. The very first time this occurs it distinctly feels strange, but this is not to say it is necessarily bad. After all, while Workspace may be a theatre production for the live audience, it’s a television production for those watching online at home. Remarkably though, the very idea of watching the ‘cuts’ take place gives the production a fantastic energy and makes it feel dynamic. It helps make the comedy feel fresh, live and almost improvised. Rather than being kept at a distance, you are allowed to watch the process unfold and this encourages you to actually feel a part of the show- this is Workspace’s greatest strength.
The actual scripting of Workspace itself, while not necessarily mind-blowing, is certainly charming, witty and friendly to viewers. The feel of the humour is very much akin to Flight of the Conchords in which entire scenes of laughter are structured around the smallest of things. One scene in which the characters debate the splitting up of the centre desk is a wonderful moment in the script that perfectly captures the overall tone. Workspace’s pride and joy is its quick, speedy dialogue in which characters insult each other almost faster than you can react. Watching the characters sizzle and crack as they bounce off one another with both slander and banter is both enjoyable and very easy to sink into. While only one set piece is used in Workspace, this suits its sit-com feel perfectly and not once did I feel constrained or wishing for the action to move somewhere else.
The actual characters of Workspace are established quickly, as Vaughn is revealed to be neurotic but also smart, Eddy is conveyed as lazy but likable and Bob is self-centred but lonely. It’s difficult to judge the characters too closely, as the performance I went to was only the first two episodes of the series, hence more nuance may be revealed in later developments. None the less, each of the characters while being ‘sit-com’ characters, are able to garner your sympathy at different times and their reactions to one another are compelling enough to make their engagements entertaining.
If anything, the two episodes of Workspace that I saw just needed a little more structuring. The absence of substantial plotting in the episodes, while bringing the dialogue to the fore, does leave things feeling just a little empty. Some however, may interpret this as simply being indicative of the comedy style of the show. Similarly, there is no ‘straight-talking’ sit-com archetype character in the show (although it could be argued that this is Bob) meaning Workspace occasionally gets swallowed up in its own mayhem. However, this is a relatively minor criticism and on the whole it doesn’t detract in any major way.
Workspace is a very delightful and likable comedy that despite not stretching far with the complexity of its jokes is still an experience to be recommended for its sheer originality.