Jack: I cannot articulate how much I regret this decision.
I was completely unaware of The Wizards of Aus until a week ago, when I first read a review in The Green Guide. By the time the Tuesday premiere rolled around, I’d heard enough on Twitter to check it out. I had no idea what The Wizards of Aus was about, I just assumed it was a children’s show, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. A creation of Michael Shanks, known for his work on YouTube (I’ve been out of the YouTube loop for so long, and to quote Jack, I cannot articulate how much I regret this decision), The Wizards of Aus was originally conceived of and filmed as a webseries with funding from Screen Australia before it was picked up by SBS 2, which is its perfect television home. With six episodes varying between 11 and 17 minutes in length, SBS 2 aired 2 episodes a night from Tuesday to Thursday at 8:30 pm, and all six episodes became available on SBS On Demand on Tuesday night:
— Michael Shanks (@timtimfed) January 19, 2016
The Wizards of Aus is a show about refugees, love, magic and a love of fantasy pop culture. I didn’t get every joke (aside from the most obvious ones, Lord of the Rings references go right over my head – my brother got it), but I loved The Deciding Hat, and I made the connection to Wildlings in the fourth episode as well. Our main character is Jack (played by Shanks), who is sick of all the fighting in the Wizard Realm and decides to move to Footscray, because it’s affordable. The first day he’s in the Human Realm he sneezes and turns a train station into smelly fish, so we know exactly what we’re in for with this show. The Wizards of Aus follows Jack and Kylie (Menik Gooneratne), his friend/local government case-worker who helps him fit in, as well as his nemesis Skulldritch (Mark Bonanno, who steals the show), who moves next door to Jack and torments him in an effort to make him use magic again and/or move back to the Wizard Realm.
As well as being fun, The Wizards of Aus is a biting satire of Australian immigration policy. At the beginning of the first episode, we see Jack on a Bolt Report-esque show called The Wright Perspective, with Guy Pearce in the role as Wright. It’s the very definition of scenery chewing, but Pearce is clearly having a great time in this role. Meanwhile Mark Mitchell, Australia’s That Guy, plays Senator Quinn, a conservative politician who owns a Fish and Chip shop, loves Australia, and wants to Stop the Cloaks. The fourth episode, which was my favourite, features a campaign ad for Senator Quinn, which eventually devolves into a series of clips with him just saying words that have an Australian connotation to them, like “Kangaroo,” “wallaby,” “bilby,” and “Beaconsfield miners.” So Jack goes on a grassroots campaign to get the people of Melbourne to accept magical folk. As far as I’m concerned, all he needed to do was introduce them to Terry the Shark.
This show is weird and funny and fun. There’s a trend of webseries moving to the small screen, including Broad City, Teachers and Australia’s The Katering Show. If The Wizards of Aus hadn’t been on SBS 2, I don’t know whether I would have found it. There are only six short episodes, but it’s evidence of how well you can tell a story in such a format. There’s continuity. If you turned the television on and just saw snakes come out of Jack’s shower, it’d be weird, but there’s a reason why it happened! I would like to thank Screen Australia for funding this series, and SBS for making me aware of its existence, I had a great time watching it.
Other thoughts (some spoilers at the end):
- I first became aware of Mark Mitchell as Mr Fish in Lift Off, and he’s gone on to be in many Australian shows. He’s probably best known for his role as Mr Gribble in Round the Twist, but he was also in The Genie from Down-Under, which I loved, and my favourite Australian show of all time, SeaChange.
- SBS made it really difficult to choose what to watch tonight, scheduling The Wizards of Aus and The Family Law at the same time.
- I would definitely be in Nerd House. My favourite part of that scene was the discussion of whether putting all the mean kids in Evil House is a good idea.
- If Jack is waterproof, how is he able to shower anyway? Do the snakes actually improve his showering experience? I guess he never needed to shower before he abstained from magic.
- If that’s how new wizards are born, doesn’t it mean that the wizard population is shrinking? Is that why Jack married a unicorn?