Both shows were created by and star beloved comedic talents, with Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor behind Rosehaven and Shaun Micallef behind The Ex-PM. Stylistically, the two comedies are chalk and cheese.
The Ex-PM is a character-driven political satire about the people at the top of our nation’s political and social ladder, whereas Rosehaven settles into a gently funny groove among the ordinary, if eccentric, people of a small Tasmanian town.
So what is it in both of these shows that compelled the powers that be at the ABC to give the green light to second seasons?
That question might seem easier to answer when it comes to Rosehaven, even though The Ex-PM was the ratings winner of the pair.
From the very start, Rosehaven has been a delight, driven by the sheer charm and interpersonal dynamic of Pacquola and McGregor.
The series features one of the rarest things in TV comedies: a completely platonic friendship between a straight man and a straight woman. Not even Elaine and Jerry had that on Seinfeld.
In the first season of Rosehaven, Daniel (McGregor) returns to his small Tasmanian hometown, after several years living on the “mainland” in Sydney, to run the family real estate business.
All of a sudden, he’s forced into a world where he’s infantilised. The people he grew up with can only see him as the shy and awkward young redhead boy who grew up in their town. His best friend Emma soon shows up on his doorstep, after leaving a very short-lived marriage.
The second season sees Daniel and Emma still living in Tasmania and still finding a way to deal with the problems that come with running a real estate business in a small town.
Although there’s very little that’s Seinfeldian about the series, there are a few conversations about navigating the world and relationships that bring to mind the best of Jerry and Elaine’s chats: how often you need to say “I love you” to your partner after the ice has been broken. Is the “I love you” the oil in the car of your relationship? Do you need to keep topping it up?
The show absolutely maintains its warmth and effortlessly funny qualities in this second season. If anything, it feels a little more relaxed and assured, now that the creative team know they have a product that works.
Daniel and Emma live in a small world with small problems — like being banned from the only shop in town, or needing to solve a dispute between neighbours via a pub quiz — but there’s a massive amount of heart in its depiction of small-town life and friendships.
Daniel is meticulously careful but severely lacking in confidence, whereas Emma has a seemingly carefree and careless manner, but needs the grounding and focus Daniel gives her. These are two characters who push and help each other to be better, but love each other exactly as they are. It’s an absolute joy to watch.
The Ex-PM certainly has a compelling premise: Shaun Micallef plays a clueless former Prime Minister called Andrew Dugdale, who struggles to deal with his growing irrelevance. That transition has proven hugely difficult for plenty of former leaders, and there’s plenty of comedic potential there.
You can stop far short of depicting Mark Latham’s extraordinary decline as a politician, commentator and human, and still come up with something hilarious. You don’t even have to go that far.
The show never quite delivered on its promise in its first season, but that’s true of plenty of new comedies. Parks and Recreation eventually rose to great, great heights, but its first season was decidedly underwhelming. And you couldn’t say that the first seasons of Friends or Seinfeld were total genius.
Micallef is one of our finest TV comedians, and his take on the world of politics is consistently sharp and irreverent. So it’s only natural that the ABC would want to give the show a second shot at finding its feet. Micallef drew an intriguing world and some wonderfully larger-than-life characters in the first season, and the premise for the second — with Dugdale on the comeback trail — is particularly intriguing.
But the show still can’t quite deliver on its potential, and despite the best efforts of a great cast, still fails to build a consistent comedic world.
Micallef’s unique and free-wheeling style seems to be stifled in this particular format, even though many of the gags are good: Dugdale’s campaign slogan, subtly altered from a famous line from The Castle — “Tell them they’re not dreaming” — is very funny.
The second season also marks the final TV appearance of the late John Clarke, playing a backroom powerbroker doing what he does best.
Clarke’s presence reminds of the rich history of political satire that’s been core to the ABC for decades. Even if The Ex-PM isn’t the best of the bunch, it builds upon and adds to an important part of Australian screen culture.
Rosehaven airs on ABC TV on Wednesday at 9pm. The Ex-PM airs on ABC TV on Thursday at 8.30pm.
This article was first published on The Daily Review. Read Ben Neutze’s review of new ABC comedy The Letdown here.