[Laugh Track blogger Matt Smith weighs in with his thoughts on the new ABC1 sitcom Woodley]

Long under development, Woodley is now hitting the screens of ABC1. While it might come in a little low on the radar, it was worth the wait. What Frank Woodley has delivered is something that builds on his established slapstick persona, but adds a lot of depth, and a lot of heart. While some may want to dismiss it as a poor man’s Mr Bean, it’s so much more than that.

Woodley (Frank Woodley) is an erratic, accident prone, and devoted father to seven-year-old Ollie. While recently divorced from Em (Justine Clarke), he very much just wants his family back together. Woodley and his elastic, expressive nature is the drawcard of the show, but his talented co-stars are wonderful and definitely sell it. Together they’re a believable, dysfunctional little family unit. While there mightn’t be much of a cast beyond that, I spied a mustached Lawrence Mooney in the trailer, which bodes well for an upcoming episode.

While on the surface it sounds like slapstick dressed up with a romantic comedy, it’s how it is played out that makes the difference. The first episode  gives us the entire background in a contained, heartfelt series of flashbacks. As Woodley tries to make it to his daughter’s recital (and hampered by a giant egg costume) we learn the story of his romance and marriage with Em, and where it all went wrong.

Given that the episode dialogue is kept to the bare minimum, it manages conveys a surprisingly large amount. Instead, it relies on clever filming and expressive inference to move the plot along. Scenes play out to a logical hilarity – a giant egg costume may be funny to begin with, but it’s even better when you add a flight of steps, a tight doorway, or a bicycle into the mix. This show adds some careful choreography to the story, and the results are impressive.

There’s a fine line that the show toes sometimes, where it almost becomes a live action Looney Tunes cartoon – or if we’re calling a spade a spade here, Home Alone. It manages to keep away from that though. A sizable amount of the second episode had four characters running around the same house, and never seeing each other. It’s impressively done, and doesn’t hesitate at really pushing the limits of it.

Much hangs on the moments of physical comedy – it wouldn’t be Woodley’s show without it – and they’re slightly jarring at times. The show is built around these, but manages to become more than them. Watch the trailer, but try to look past laughing at a guy who is apparently having a seizure.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0ovby4aiAg[/youtube]

The great shame is that it’s taken five years to get to our screens – which means that, if there’s a second series down the track, they could be potentially be another five years away. It’s hard to say exactly what the delay was, but the wheels at Aunty sometimes turn rather slowly. Hopefully they’ll recognise a great thing when they’ve got it.

Ultimately, years from now we’ll look back at Woodley as one of Australia’s great classics. Unbelievably touching at times, and hilarious to the point that I had tears in my eyes at others (he got on the wrong bike!), Woodley is an amazing achievement in understated television, a show with laughs, heart, and a grown man dressed as a giant egg being kicked in the balls.

Woodley commences Wednesday 22nd February at 8pm.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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