Who would have thought that a flaky animated sitcom about a hack superhero who calls himself Koala Man would offer a relatable, authentic portrait of Australian suburbia? The protagonist of Michael Cusack’s skittishly entertaining series, Kevin (voiced by Cusack), is a middle-class slob in the familiar ilk of Peter in Family Guy or Homer Simpson. As these things often go, he has a supportive longsuffering wife, Vicky (voiced by Sarah Snook), forever playing second fiddle to her outrageous husband. This balding buffoon sets himself apart from his loafing contemporaries by donning a koala mask and embarking on (mis)adventures as a pseudo crime fighter.
Kevin is like a less violent version of Rainn Wilson’s unhinged avenger in James Gunn’s underrated comedy Super, whose idea of fighting crime is assaulting people who cut in line at the movies. Koala Man’s missions, if you can call them that, tend to be trivial: his first scene shows him clumsily jumping out of a tree then confronting a pair of rough-as-guts derros, Damo and Darren (both also voiced by Cusack), who are merely loitering on the street. These Beavis and Butt-Headian figures (who reminded me of the layabouts and bongheads from Abe Forsythe’s film Down Under) aren’t intimidated, so our “hero” throws eucalyptus oil at them, before being admonished by a shopkeeper for going “way too far”.
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The locals have had a gutful of Koala Man’s galumphing do-goodism. But soon he has an actual foe to fight: a massive flower monster that rises from the garbage dump to look for food after the people of Dapto (an actual suburb, located in Wollongong, New South Wales) fail to put their bins out. This enemy is indicative of the show’s “anything goes” zaniness – the only rule binding the various plots together is that they’ve gotta be a bit ’strayan, mate.
In the second episode, Kevin takes on the job of investigating who is smuggling soft drink cans into the local school, not realising his kids – Liam (Cusack again) and Alison (Demi Lardner) – are the ones who’ve formed a cartel dealing carbonated contraband. Which isn’t particularly Aussie, but wait for the villains: a group of tradies, who secretly control all of Dapto. The fifth episode involves a kids group called the Tigglies (the Wiggles), who retain their youth by eating musically talented children. Like I said, zany and Australian.
There’s a healthy number of laugh-out-loud jokes, though too many of them boil down to the uttering of Aussie vulgarities like “fuck me dead!”. The animation, obviously influenced by shows such as Family Guy and Rick and Morty (creator Justin Roiland serves as an executive producer on Koala Man), is perfectly fine but lacks distinctiveness. Likewise, the vocal performances are strong but nothing to write home about, though that’s often the case with TV animation: if one comes out of such a show raving about the voicework over, say, the plot or jokes, that show is probably in trouble. In an odd twist, the voice of Kevin’s super ocker boss and head of the Dapto council, Big Greg, belongs to Hugh Jackman – the strangest part in the actor’s oeuvre since Peter Farrelly dangled testicles from his chin in Movie 43.
The production team combined Australian and American writers, the former putting on the table many local touches, from Australian kids’ love of showbags, sausage rolls as a cultural phenomenon, our preference for “tomato sauce” over “ketchup” and lots more. This is not a vision of Australia as seen by Hollywood, like the awful 2003 film Kangaroo Jack or Netflix’s Back to the Outback. Nor does the satire rely on countering foreign assumptions about Australian life and culture.
Rather than looking from the outside in – like the famous Australia-themed episode of The Simpsons, which portrayed the country as a backwater full of drunken rubes – Koala Man gives the impression of looking from the inside out, taking ’strayan humour and trying to place it into a broadly appealing comedy. It does feel authentically Aussie – so much so that one wonders whether overseas audiences will understand or laugh at it.
Season one of Koala Man is on Disney+ in Australia and the UK now, and on Hulu in the US