Here are the funniest couple of sentences I've heard this week: "How could the Government possibly have known that Professor Murray was a cannibal? He's been a key economic adviser for the last two Federal governments ... his credentials were impeccable!"
That a ratbag politician said this to a media scrum only made it funnier. That the cannibal turns out to be a right-wing economist who failed to predict the 2008 global financial meltdown made it funnier still. Mind you, there is so much to like about TV One's Rake (8.30pm, Wednesday) I hardly know where to start.
This old-but-new drama (this first series was made in 2010 and has previously screened here on the Rialto Channel) is the sort of stuff I always hope to find on TV One but so rarely do. (Oddly enough, we will soon find it on TV3 too, though that will be an American incarnation starring Greg Kinnear). Anyway the Australian original is fair packed with terrific characters, its script is funny, clever and silly and, in the first episode at least, it seems to have a sharp comedic edge.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Rake is a drama about a Sydney defence lawyer, a lawyer who is, yes, a rake. He's also happily divorced, in love with a hooker, is a hopeless debt-ridden gambler, a raconteur and a smart-arse. He's a lawyer who is irretrievably badly organised, yes, but he's also very good at his job.
I liked Cleaver Greene (what a name!) from the moment we met him: attempting to sweet-talk a stand-over bloke representing his bookie. Cleaver had to be given a bashing because there were "new terms of trade ... 14 days" and Cleaver hadn't paid.
Played with a deceptive casualness by Richard Roxburgh - I've never heard of him but I'm reliably assured he made a wonderful baddie in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! - Cleaver is a well-known Aussie archetype: the larrikin. He likes trouble, he likes women, he likes a joke and definitely likes a glass of the grog.
I've also met his kind before on Aussie TV I think. Cleaver reminds me rather of a character called Michael Rafferty, a laconic but lowly State magistrate in the terrific 80s Australian drama-comedy Rafferty's Rules.
Rake is, however, a very modern sort of drama with a broader agenda. The first episode worked as pretty savage satire, mostly about the true but hidden nature of rapacious capitalists and the absurdity of the legal system.
As the episode opened, the aforementioned cannibal, one Professor Graham Murray (played with style by the wonderful Hugo Weaving) had put an ad on the internet ["is there anybody who wants to be eaten?"] and had found some poor fellow who felt so shit about himself that he literally wanted to become it. The fellow committed suicide, Prof Murray ate the fellow over a period of weeks (he tasted like chicken, apparently) and then, when Murray was caught, he was charged with murder.
This is where our rake entered. As there is - brilliant! - "no law against cannibalism in this State", Cleaver defended Murray on the basis that, although he ate the victim, he didn't murder him.
"I am not a killer," Murray wept despairingly to the jury, "I'm an economist!"
It got even sillier when Murray's wife revealed her 50-something husband, who had a international reputation as economist, had been a vegetarian since he was 23.
"From vego to cannibal without so much as a chop in between," observed Cleaver.
Cleaver got his man off but not before our rake's complicated love life and tortured financial affairs filled out a first episode that was more fun than I could have hoped.
I really do expect there's more to come, especially given the rather exciting bunch of supporting cast (including Danielle Cormack as the wife of Greene's best mate Barney) and forthcoming guest stars: Roy Billing, Noah Taylor, Sam Neill, Rachel Griffiths and Toni Collette to name a few.