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Review: 'Jonah From Tonga'

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Jonah from Tonga


The first time I saw Gallagher back in the 1980s, there was something really funny about watching a guy beat melons with a mallet. Yeah, it's stupid and juvenile. But the first time you saw pieces of juicy goodness flying into the audience, you had to laugh.

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The problem with Gallagher was that the joke only worked once. Sure, he tried to change up the routine, but in the end his act was a joke that didn't have much of a shelf life. Seeing him years later, still sleepwalking through the same jokes, wasn't just tired. It was sad.

I have similar feelings about "Jonah From Tonga," which premieres in the U.S. this Friday on HBO. Jonah Takalua was first introduced to audiences seven years ago in Chris Lilley's "Summer Heights High," and now he's brought the character back in his own series.

I'll leave it to others to debate whether appearing in brownface is racist, brave or just predictable. And it almost goes without saying that Lilley resembles a Tongan teenager about as much as I resemble Matthew McConaughey. The real important question is whether "Jonah From Tonga" is funny.

No. No. No. Did I mention, No?

"Jonah From Tonga" is the Gallagher of cult TV comedies. A single joke that is beaten into the heads of the audience until they lose the ability to change the channel and escape. Jonah's relentless (and often pointless) swearing loses all impact because it pretty quickly becomes apparent that the swearing isn't a part of the Jonah character. It's just there to be provocative and is devoid of any context or meaning in the show.

And that's the overall theme of "Jonah From Tonga." Chris Lilley has confused predictable brattish behavior with making a statement. Jonah isn't believable enough to resonate with anyone in the audience and so every scene just seems like part of an endless procession of predictable sketches that end with the word "Dick." It's not funny, it isn't believable and it doesn't even serve the higher purpose of exposing the world to an unfamiliar character or lifestyle.

Given all that, there doesn't seem to be any reason from "Jonah From Tonga" to exist. Other than the fact that it's a paycheck and when you watch the show, you can almost see Lilley mentally cashing them as he lumbers through every scene.

"Jonah From Tonga" airs on HBO on Fridays, beginning on August 8th, 2014.


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