As a Kiwi, I am shamed to admit that the worst sitcom in the history of the world hails from our clean green shores. I suppose that creating something this spine-shatteringly awful represents some kind of achievement, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who'll admit to that.
Back in 1993, NZ's third TV network was still a relative newcomer to the business and was keen to make its' mark in the ratings with its' own crop of original programming. 'Melody Rules' was something of a flagship show for TV3, and was accompanied by a considerable PR blitz prior to screening. The talent behind MR was, on the face of it, quite up to the task of making a half-hour sitcom, and locally produced comedy had always been received well despite its' faults. Thousands tuned in to watch the pilot...and when it was over, the sound of jaws dropping to the floor across the nation could be heard from space. Those thousands had witnessed something new: anti-comedy. Comedy utterly devoid of humour, pitched at the level of 4 year olds yet made for adults. The acting was terrible, too; someone should have realised that casting TV3 news anchor Belinda Todd, a woman who had (as far as anyone knew) never acted in any TV show before, as the show's lead was a bad mistake. But her dismally flat portrayal of single Mum Melody was basically the highlight amongst a cavalcade of amateurish and downright repulsive characterisations from the rest of the cast. These laughless grotesques were crammed into one tiny set for the entirety of the show's run. We occasionally saw the bedrooms of Melody and her family, but for 95% of the time they were crowded together in a lounge room set the size of a thimble that was so obviously fake it almost achieved Dadaist surrealism. And the comedy - oh dear Lord. TV3's laugh track machine had its' work cut out for it on this drossfest, as it gamely exploded with mirth at the hilarity-free banalities that tumbled from the lips of Melody and company. Most of the plots involved some stupid scheme to win a girl's love Melody's son had dreamed up, or the well-meaning silliness of Melody's chum (played by Alan Borough). The schemes were not humorous, the characters were not funny in themselves, and they *never left that damn lounge*. There was another character, a hideously filthy next door neighbour who had his own catchphrase. "Ya decent?!" he would bawl every week, entering the house Kramer-style with a load of fish or something equally vile-smelling. As signature phrases go, it makes 'Ohhhh Lucyyyyyyyyyy!' seem like a couplet by Ezra Pound.
I was a live sketch comedian at the time that MR was made, and met or worked with some of the people who worked on the series. Alan Borough, for example, compered a comedy competition my team entered around this time. From personal observation, I know that Borough and the others were capable of writing and performing good stuff. So, why MR turned out to be so unbelievably terrible is something of a mystery.
Part of the answer probably lies in the fact that a suicidally over confident TV3 commissioned two seasons of 22 episode apiece right at the start without having seen a frame of shot videotape. The makers promptly cranked out 44 half-hours as fast as they could. By the time the network realised they had created the worst comedy show since TV transmissions began in the late 1930s, it was too late. After a brief primetime run, MR was hauled off the air and TV3 tried to pretend it had never existed. In my student days, I fondly recall watching first-run episodes of MR, stripped two at a time, shown at 3 or 4 in the morning. I often wonder if they rated better then than they did in the early evening. Being college students, my pals and I would tape MR and watch it purely to make fun of it. Occasionally, though, I felt sad to realise that we knew we could *sneeze* better comedy than this show had produced, yet MR was the series that got the funding.
I am a lone voice in clamouring for a DVD release of all 44 episodes of Melody Rules. MR achieves a level of badness that even the worst American sitcom trash cannot even aspire to, and that sort of anti-brilliance is worth sharing with the world.
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