The fictitious Lebanese Habib family from the outer suburbs of Sydney exploited a rich vein of ethnic comedy in primetime commercial television when they emerged last year.
Produced by Jungle for the Nine network, Here Come The Habibs! returned to television this month week its successful run with season 1.
The first season laid the foundations for all the characters on the show. On the Friday before season 2 premiered, head writer Phil Lloyd told Mediaweek that this season allowed the writers to explore and play around with them more.
“It’s all on the shelf ready to air,” Lloyd said. “It’s about the general publicity now and raising awareness about when the program goes to air.
“As a storyteller, the reason you do a second season of any show is to get to know the characters more and drill down more into them. In the first season, you’ve only just met these people. You are getting to know them. When you do the second season, you know who they are and you know their world. You are about to tell more specific stories about who they are, what they get up to and there is more room to move.
“The second season of the Habibs has more stories and is funnier and more exciting than the first season.”
This year, the show has a lead-in audience from True Story With Hamish and Andy, which had 1.282 million people watching in the overnight figures.
“The lead-in is important for any show. What’s exciting this time around is that you have the Hamish and Andy show, then the Habibs, so there is a real chance to build a one-hour comedy block there,” Lloyd said. “We haven’t seen much narrative comedy on commercial networks in a long, long time. We were able to do that with the Habibs first time around, and now we are doing that in conjunction with Hamish and Andy’s program. Obviously, they have a great fan base, so hopefully that will redirect some viewers who may have not watched our show otherwise.”
The first episode from season 2 of Here Come The Habibs! had 826,000 people tuning in on Monday night. The show focuses a comedic lens on migration and multicultural Australia. This involves playing on some stereotypes to perfect character nuances for the members of the Habib family.
As previously reported in Mediaweek, when the first promo for the show aired in 2016, it received mixed reviews. Many people accused the makers of the show of stereotyping its Lebanese characters. This helped create some curiosity around what the show is about. This is something that would have helped drive the initial success of the show, Lloyd said.
With Australian TV viewers having watched season one, the initial opinions have changed.
“That is always the case. The way things are promoted, you are trying to get maximum attention,” he said. “I would never judge a program based on the promos. I would always watch it. In our case, that was certainly true. People found that there was actually more substance to the show. It really became more about the characters.”
It can be difficult to get certain speech nuances and humour correct, Lloyd admitted. As an example, he mentioned the way the character of Toufik pronounces “don’t” with the emphasis on the T sound. To ensure the characters are portrayed correctly, Lloyd relies on the show’s creators Tahir Bilgic, Rob Shehadie, and Matt Ryan-Garnsey.
“The Lebanese community in Australia has been super supportive,” Lloyd said. “One of the biggest compliments we’ve had about the show is hearing from Lebanese Australian viewers who have comments like, ‘You’ve captured my childhood’ or ‘My cousin’s just like that character’. Those kinds of bits of colloquial feedback are the best sort – you feel like you are getting things right. There is obviously a big fan base among the Aussie Lebanese community, but hopefully the Habibs speak to a greater migrant experience. That way it would speak to a very broad part of Australia.”
Lloyd said he doesn’t like to look to the audience numbers to measure the success of something he has worked on. It’s more about the feedback he gets from the viewers – good ratings are a nice by-product. Following on from the success of the first few episodes from season 1, TV writers and experts had already predicted that Nine would renew the series for a second season.
“I absolutely never expected that to happen – I never do,” Lloyd said. “That’s dangerous in TV, from my point of view, to expect that you’ll automatically get renewed, unless you are working on a long-running series like Home and Away or something.
“When we got the news, it was exciting and a vote of confidence in people wanting to see more different types of shows and comedy on commercial TV.”
Acting v writing
Phil Lloyd has many writing and acting credentials to his name. Apart from the Habibs, he has also penned for The Trophy Room, At Home With Julia, Home and Away, Neighbours, Winners & Losers and The Moodys. Lloyd has also acted in some of these productions, along with other shows like Review with Myles Barlow and The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting.
“Writing and acting are two sides of the same coin for me,” he said. “When you are writing a character, you have to put yourself in their shoes and feel what they feel and go through and imagine what it would be like and how they would react.
“It’s very similar to what you have to do when you are an actor. With acting, you have to physically bring it to life. Writing is more the intellectual exercise in many ways.
“I love both things for different reasons. Writing can be hard and sometimes I get sick of it and I don’t want to do it any more. [Laughs]”
Writing the season climax
Having a successful first series doesn’t guarantee another. According to Lloyd, it’s dangerous to expect that. Therefore, writing the end of each season can be difficult.
“You have to write it in a way that it is the last episode that everyone will see. So it would still work as an ending. But it has to be open ended enough that you can continue on from there,” Lloyd said. “It certainly can be hard.”