In a world-wide environment of such angst about racism, ‘Here Come the Habibs’ is an Australian comedy tv series which shows us all how silly we are. In typical Australian laconic style, this show is reminiscent of “Upper Middle Bogan”, “Acropolis Now” & “Crocodile Dundee”: human drama, romance and lots of laughs.
In the very first scene, Fou Fou Habib arrives at a beach in a dingy, with his new neighbour Olivia O’Neill watching in disgust, complaining, while the headline on a nearby newspaper reads “Refugee Crisis”. The juxtaposition is no less effective for being obvious.
Rob Shehadie, one of the program’s creators, explains how the show uses steroetypes to create comedy in this video (1:08)
There are plenty of bonus short clips of the characters on the same page, if you want some more laughs! If you haven’t seen the show yet, all of Season 1 (6 episodes) are available on 9Now (in Australia) at the time of writing, and galleries, character profiles and more, are available on the show’s homepage.
In only six episodes, the series touches on many serious contemporary issues, in a lighthearted way, making fun of both English-descent and Middle-Eastern-descent Australians, and what happens when their lives collide unexpectedly. The series helps to normalise some aspects of Lebanese/ Arabic culture for those of us less familiar with it, for example, the ‘shoulder dancing’ (or was that just me?).
At the same time, it reminds us just how similar Australians are, regardless of their racial background.
One of my favourite exchanges is Maddison O’Neill driving fast, with the Habib brothers in her car:
“Are you sure you’re not Lebanese?”
“We have to rescue your sister, don’t we? You sure you’re Lebanese?”
There are common struggles for the young people, regardless of their culture of origin: parents, romance, study and career. A main difference, however, is in the parenting style and relationship between parents and children. The Habibs want their children to stay at home, while Mrs O’Neil turned her daughter’s bedroom into a walk-in shoe cupboard while she was away on holiday.
The relationships that develop between the O’Neills and the Habibs in just a short time provide plenty of opportunity for drama, comedy, embarrassment and even romance.
Jack’s awkwardness in Episode 1 mirrors the very awkwardness that some of us hope to avoid. By not meeting people from other cultures, we don’t have to negotiate potentially tricky cross-cultural misunderstandings. FouFou, the Arabic man, suspects his white neighbour of being behind the Cronulla riots, and his wife replies: “Jack’s not a rioter. Honestly FouFou, not everyone’s a racist.”
Cleverly switching the roles from what might be “mainstream”, highlights both how easily such incorrect conclusions can be drawn, and also how easily we can overcome such thinking.
If you think about it, some of the events are really very serious: destruction of property (several times), a death, a ruined business due to sabotage, kidnapping, standover tactics, racial profiling by Police, Prejudiced government officials, framing people as terrorists so that they are deported…yet (nearly) all of it is hilarious because of the way that it’s portrayed.
My favourite characters are probably Elias and Layla. Elias because he’s the nerdy, responsible “good boy”. However, the bonus clip, Elias’ advice for kids (1:25) kind of destroys that a bit…
Layla was a surprise. In many ways her character is predictably immature: she’s a teenage girl. She is also a thoroughly modern woman who demonstrates that she can take care of herself, for example: the tasering! She has some of the best one-liners:
“Dad: social media is for telling lies about yourself, not other people!”
Mind you, Maddison also has her fair share:
Olivia: “All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing!”
Maddison: “Or gullible people to take action.” (and she was right!)
Thinking about it, it dawns on me that every female character is strong. They might have their dysfunctions, but they all have their moments as admirable women. Chalk one up for feminism, and from male writers, too!
The men also have their moments of heroism and depth of character, but generally are slightly more ridiculous characters. Despite their many flaws, they are all adorable – perhaps sometimes adorkable?
Toufic’s crazy business ideas provide endless opportunities for humour. Seeing him idolise Olivia’s troublemaking brother Bobby shows another surprising commonality between the families.
Amidst all the humour, though, there is also character development. Toufic’s realisation that his “Party Terrorist” entertainment business was causing other people difficulty was touching (if a little contrived): “I didn’t know my act would be affecting real people like you.” He sounded sincere.
I was particularly impressed with the acting performances of the cast: they were all spot on. It’s not often that I can’t find something to nit-pick about: a slipped accent, a badly delivered line…none of that! (Having thought hard to find something to complain about: maybe the Commodore wasn’t perfect all the time.) They’re also unfailingly nice to look at, in a realistic way. It made me wonder why these actors are not seen in more programs, and I’m glad they’ll be busy with Season 2! Their imdb profiles could use some beefing up!
In the last episode of Season 1, we learn that “habib” means beloved (or “darling”) in Arabic. Mariam refers to several members of her family as “habibi” during the show. I think it’s entirely appropriate that this show is “Here Come the Darlings”, as these whacky characters and their ridiculous lives will warm your heart. They’re certainly welcome in my living room…well…in the TV screen, anyway…
‘Here Come the Habibs’ is the brainchild of Tahir Bilgic, Rob Shehadie & Phil Lloyd, Directed by Darren Ashton. It stars Michael Denkha, Camilla Ah Kin, Sam Alhaje, Tyler De Nawi, Kat Hoyos, Helen Dallimore, Darren Gilshenan, Georgia Flood, Rob Shehadie & Tahir Bilgic.
Images and videos from Channel Nine (Nine Entertainment Co.) Australia