Sam Simmons, you are my hero. It is rare that a television personality has the courage to spawn something that is likely to have just as many people blinking in confusion as there are aching with laughter. It is even rarer that television networks let television personalities do this. And it is especially rare for Australian comedy to take a full-blooded plunge into the realms of outright surrealism. British comedy, sure: The Mighty Boosh, The Young Ones etc. But Australian comedy has always tended more towards observation, character, send-up and traditionally, of course, complete crap.
This is not so much so these days, of course: this year has brought a diverse array of high-class new comedy, including The Strange Calls, Woodley, Mad As Hell and A Moody Christmas. It's actually looking like quite a purple patch for Aussie comedy. But Simmons' new one, Problems, has taken it all in a completely different, and completely demented, direction. And it's exciting.
Of course, comedy fans had known for years Simmons was a unique voice on the stand-up scene, but it's quite another thing to see that voice translate to the screen. TV history is littered with talented comedians who struggle to hit the spot when exposed to the camera. And Simmons is such an idiosyncratic talent, that was a real possibility. But on the evidence so far, there was no need for such worries. Problems is brilliant.
It's a sketch show - sort of. And a sitcom - sort of. It's hard to describe. Basically, Sam struggles with the minor, yet momentous, problems besetting his life. Accompanied by his anthropomorphic talking cat, and interspersed with his surreal life adventures, proceedings flit wildly around a surreal sketch world in which the ongoing relationship drama of the moths living behind the couch is perhaps the most grounded in reality.
It defies genre, being in essence a tour through the beautifully fractured landscape of Simmons' mind. What a wonderful place that must be. A place where molehills are mountains, and mountains are molehills, and both are probably made out of jelly. A place where the sky's the limit, and it's also purple, and you can get there by strapping a kite to a unicorn. Basically, it's an odd place, and Sam Simmons is an odd man, and that's the whole point.
Now, when you're dealing with sketch comedy, you're never going to get a 100 per cent hit rate. But it's a lot easier to ride the fluctuations when the comedy is original, interesting and filled with ideas. And Problems is as idea-rich a comedy as you're likely to see: they tumble and cascade over each other, fighting for the prime spot in the front of your mind, bubbling and sizzling and rushing madly to an illogical conclusion. It's not so much a stream of consciousness as a waterfall. But, importantly, it's smart.
Simmons was clever enough to surround himself with stellar talent from among his brother and sister comedians, and clever enough to give them their own moments in the spotlight.
But most of all, he is clever enough to have stepped up and let his twisted comedic psyche roar forth among the masses. Whether Problems will be a hit, I have no idea, but it's a cool, refreshing drink of crazy in the comedy desert, and whenever something so uproariously different crashes our living rooms, it's worth applauding.
■Problems screens on ABC1 on Wednesdays at 9pm.