So just who is this Chris Lilley anyway?
That's the question many American viewers are going to be asking, for better and for worse, with the premiere of the 12-episode miniseries Angry Boys.
The talented Melbourne comedian/ actor/ writer/ director's latest project gets a prime HBO slot beginning Sunday. Lilley has made waves before with We Can Be Heroes (a.k.a. The Nominees when it was shown on the Sundance Channel) and the wickedly smart Summer Heights High, semi-improvised mockumentaries about Australian life, in which he played the three main characters, effortlessly disappearing into the skin of a tough Tongan kid and an airhead teenage girl, to name just two.
The performer is working on his biggest video canvas yet with Angry Boys, a comedic meditation on testosterone and manhood filmed in three countries (Australia, Japan, the United States). Lilley takes on six different, loosely connected identities. They include sparring teenage twin brothers Daniel and hearing-impaired Nathan Sims (first seen in Heroes), the Simses' grandmother Jen (who's a guard at a boys' juvenile-detention center), and Nathan's bedroom-poster idols: surfing god and overgrown kid Blake Oakfield and ambitious but untalented African American rapper S.Mouse. Finally, he is also Jen Okazaki, the controlling, Japanese tiger-mom to another one of Nathan's heroes, Tim, a kid she's marketing as the world's first openly gay skateboard champ - even though he's straight.
But, based on the first five episodes, Lilley may have bitten off more than he, or viewers, can chew this time. While intermittently hilarious, Angry Boys - which is being shown in back-to-back half-hour episodes for the next six weeks - doesn't quite rise to the subversive brilliance of Summer Heights High, as wonderful an evocation of the absurdities of high school life as has ever graced the small screen.
With its three-way cultural focus and crowd of characters, Angry Boys is more fractured and forced. Lilley's at his best when some subtlety is allowed to emerge from his characters, as in grandma Jen's maternalistic relationship with her troubled charges.
As with Heights, it takes a while for things to get going; not all of Lilley's alter egos are even introduced in the first couple of episodes. Still, there are some very funny moments throughout, like the video for S.Mouse's hit single and dance craze, "Slap My Elbow" (Lilley's obviously been listening to a lot of Soulja Boy and Flo-Rida).
If nothing else, Angry Boys may send the curious to check out the underrated Summer Heights High (its eight episodes as well as the first episode of We Can Be Heroes can be viewed at hbo.com). If it does nothing else, it will have been worth it.