Television Review: “Koala Man” — Rowdy Aussie Hijinks
By Sarah Osman
The animation itself is akin to what you will see in familiar domestic cartoons, such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob’s Burgers. So it’s the quirky humor that makes Koala Man uniquely Australian.
Americans do not always understand Australian humor. While I was living down under, I noticed many Americans who were not only baffled but offended by the Aussies’ habitual use of swears, which aided and abetted their uncanny ability to take the piss out of others. Unlike us, Aussies seem to delight in gallows humor. For example, a radio station once reported how a couple won the sailing trip of a lifetime around the eastern coast only to be hit with the biggest storm of the decade. The DJs cackled at their misfortune.
So, when Aussie comedic fare makes its way to the states, it is not always fully embraced. Hopefully, that won’t be the case with Michael Cusack’s latest cartoon on Hulu, Koala Man, which is one of the most unhinged animation series to ever air. Cusack, who also bought us the bizarre Smiling Friends and YOLO: Crystal Fantasy, voices the titular Koala Man, a 40-something suburban dad named Kevin who dons a Koala mask and fights what he perceives to be evil, from a trash-eating poppy to the local meth heads who loiter around the convenience store. Koala Man is a superhero who is determined to enforce the rules. He’s the type of dad who reminds everyone when it’s garbage day (or in Australia, bin day). He starts off every episode by reciting part of the Koala code. (My personal favorite among its strictures: remember kids, art is a hobby, not a career.) Even though he’s Australian, Kevin could easily be an American macho man. The rest of his family parallels the figures in standard American sitcoms: his wife Vicky, wants her husband’s attention and often ponders if she made the right decisions; his daughter, Alison, who’s determined to become the most powerful girl in school, and his dorky and endearing son, Liam. The animation itself is akin to what you would see in familiar series, such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob’s Burgers. So it’s the quirky humor that makes Koala Man uniquely Australian.
Cusack set the series in Dapto, an actual Australian suburb of Wollongong. (It is Cusack’s hometown.) It’s this specificity that makes the series so funny, especially for those who know the particulars of Australian culture. There are amusing digs at Adelaide, sausage rolls, and Aussie slang, such as “knobheads,” “sunnies,” and “wankers.” Despite that, there are also plenty of jokes Americans will appreciate. Nicole Kidman is the “Queen” of Australia, it’s illegal for Australians to tell Americans what will happen in the future (or risk being arrested by the time bobbies), and kangaroos mug people. One of the best episodes mocks the differences between the US and Australia, setting up such battles as chips vs. fries, ketchup vs. tomato sauce while satirizing America’s love of “freedom.” Yes, there may be words and jokes Yanks are not familiar with, but Cusack and his writers insert enough context for the punch lines to come across. In one episode, “tradies,” aka those who work in the trades, are treated as gods, a form of worship that is distinctively Australian. That is clearly established in the episode. Spot-on gags about Australian stereotypes abound, such as that everything in the wild can kill you (emus start a war) and Australians can wrestle crocodiles (a Crocodile Dundee parody is called ‘Big Greg’).
The cast and crew behind Koala Man sport an impressive resume. America’s favorite Aussie, Hugh Jackman, voices the muscle-bound Big Greg; Flight of the Conchords Jemaine Clement voices Bazwell; Succession’s Sarah Snook voices poor Vicky. It’s refreshing to hear these Aussies and Kiwis speak in their natural accents, dropping c-words in a way only those down under can. Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland and Pokemon: Detective Pikachu writers Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit serve as the behind-the-scenes Americans, no doubt helping to bridge the gap between Aussie and Yank humor. In an interview the trio admitted to being unsure if certain elements in the series were actually a part of Australian culture — or imaginary. Ironically, that sort of confusion is a prime example of peak Aussie humor.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman