Buck House was an edgy cable drama wrapped up in a 70s sitcom
Buck House was an edgy sitcom from the 70s that manages to still be edgy and different now, though not for the right reasons. Sam Brooks muses upon the distinct pleasures of Buck House.
When I think of the 70s, I think of Yakety Sax, Mary Tyler Moore and a show where a guy had to pretend to be gay so he could live with two women.
I don’t think of a show where a dude tries to start a brothel in his flat.
Buck House, a New Zealand sitcom from the mid-70s that preceded the more famous floptacular homegrown sitcom Melody Rules, is a bizarre proposal. One, it has popular newscaster, personality and Shortland Street stunt cast member Paul Holmes in the lead role. Two, the actual content of the show aligns more with a wannabe edgy cable drama than a sitcom that premiered over forty years ago.
Here’s a few things that make it more like an acclaimed HBO show that all your friends watch but you just can’t bring yourself to because there’s so much TV to watch nowadays:
Paul Holmes’ hair
C’mon. You wouldn’t put that hair on network TV nowadays. That’s premium level hair. That’s pay-per-view hair. We should be putting this article behind a paywall, that’s how much this hair should cost.
One of the flatmates is trying to start a brothel
The central joke of Buck House, or at least the very first episode, and presumably the rest of the series, is that Reggie is the normal flatmate and Joe is the aggrieved flatmate. Reggie is normal in that he just wants to cook dinner for his girlfriend, answer the phone (seriously, about five minutes of this twenty minute episode revolves around Paul Holmes talking very unconvincingly on the telephone) and wearing a floral apron.
On the other hand, Joe wants to start a brothel. This is played for laughs. Full-on ‘oh look how naughty he’s being laughs!’. So much so that I assumed that it would all be a misunderstanding, he wasn’t actually trying to start a brothel but people had just gotten their wires crossed.
Don’t get me wrong, people get their wires crossed in hilarious sitcom fashion all the way throughout the episode, but starting a brothel is not the source of one of them.
Joe genuinely wants to start a brothel, with the very imaginative name ‘Escorts Unlimited Limited’ (which is a pretty funny joke, admittedly). The episode revolves around him interviewing women to work at the brothel. He thinks it’s a great business idea, and who am I to judge? What do I know about economic realities in the 70s?
You can guarantee if this show was made now it would be a half-hour show starring the Duplass Brothers and it would be very relatable for a certain part of the population, deemed problematic in our time by another part of the population and remain extremely unknown to a much, much larger part of the population.
Another character is assaulted by a police officer
This happens off screen and is brushed off, but one of the characters, Jo, has been squatting at a house and was forcibly evicted by a police officer. This is not quite played for laughs, which is weird because most things in a sitcom are played for laughs. Especially in the 70s, which was before the era of half-hour comedies where nobody laughs and people are just a bit sad for half an hour.
This wig is definitely auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race. The woman wearing this wig, Sheila Harrison, puts on a Cockney accent for absolutely no reason other than that it is a little bit funny. At one point, she breaks into famous Sweet Charity song ‘Big Spender’, and if this was made nowadays this would win her an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series because it would be oh so very sad.
The cop is clearly corrupt
One, he shows up at the house of a woman who he just ‘laid hands on’ (which they say a lot during this episode, and means a lot of different things, but in this context, I’m going to assume it means that he definitely assaulted her) at her invitation, which is weird!
Two, and this is less a sign of corruption and more of tremendous stupidity, but he briefly believes that these men are setting up a house for budgies, because this is from an era when men could refer to women as ‘birds’ and not be shunned by all reasonable society.
Three, he goes home with one of the women who are interviewing to be escorts at this new escort business, in a carefully implicit exchange for his silence. You can tell this was written in the 70s by a dude because the woman is like ‘yeah sure this is fine!’ rather than finding it gross and completely inappropriate for a police officer to do.
Who is she? Where does she come from? What’s her background? The episode introduces her as another escort who interviews for a place at Escorts Unlimited Limited, but everything about her vibe is straight out of Twin Peaks. She is bringing Grace Zabriskie in Inland Empire realness, and I am here for it.
There’s really not that many jokes
Honestly, the only thing that really separates this from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which you can stream quite handily on Lightbox) has about as many mean-spirited jokes as you can fit into a half-hour, whereas this show spends a languid five minutes on telephone jokes.
You can absolutely feel the show reaching to be edgy and break boundaries, and while it’s hard to know exactly what boundaries it was breaking back in the 70s, you can feel the self-satisfaction oozing off the screen.
It’s the same kind of feel you get from some of today’s least successful cable shows, the kind that are one unsubtle gesture away from having a character look at the camera and say “Can you believe that we’re doing this?” Nowadays, it’s every death, every drug-take, every sex scene. In the 70s, it was Tony Barry smoking a cigar inside and being proud that he’d come up with the totally original and never-done-before idea of starting a brothel.
But the biggest thing I’ve learned from watching old New Zealand shows on NZ on Screen is how much style is tied into time – and sometimes that relationship can be unexplainable. Buck House, like Melody Rules twenty years later, still owes so much of the craft behind its production to stagebound theatrics. We weren’t making TV; we were making theatre on a small screen. Paul Holmes is playing to the back row here, and while he already has the charisma that made him the face of 7pm for an entire generation, when you give him lines and make him act jokes, it becomes flop-sweaty.
In the show’s defence, this was 1974! People were still afraid of the possibility of nuclear war! They weren’t distracted by their mobile phones! They could happily sit down and watch Buck House and wait for something that could easily be resolved in five minutes of open conversation be dragged out for twenty minutes excluding credits. The pace is excruciating in an age of bingewatching, of consuming everything as immediately as we possibly can, dissecting it quickly and moving onto the next thing.
Do I want to go back to the pace of Buck House? God no. You’d miss five news cycles by the time you got to the first ad break. But it’s enough to give me pause, and when you’re watching a forty-four year old sitcom, sometimes that’s all you need.
AND AN AUSSIE SITCOM OF THE SAME NAME FROM 1997
For the record…I missed this! Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how gay you are, you miss gay things! In my defence, I was a bit preoccupied with removing from a run- in with AIDS in 1997…which, I dare say, explains this gap in my gay consciousness. I would like to thank Lost Gay Sydney for drawing my attention to it.
What happens when a naive straight boy from the outback inherits a rundown terrace house from an unknown spinster aunt?
Plenty, when he discovers his aunt was a notorious lesbian with underworld dealings and the house he’s inherited is the queerest boarding house in Sydney.
A hidden stash, mafia connections, and bizarre interventions from beyond the grave all come together, providing non-stop entertainment in this highly original Aussie sitcom.
• GIVEN NAME: Elizabeth Beatrice Anne
• PREFERRED NAME: Liz
• AGE: 24
• SEXUALITY: Lesbian – Got a problem with that?
• MARITAL STATUS: Do not subscribe to this outdated patriarchal heterosexist enslavement of women – single, but could be interested if the right woman came along.
• OCCUPATION: Co-manager of “Buck’s Bargains”.
• HOBBIES: Practicing to be a DJ and writing a book – “A Feminist Manifesto for the New Millenium” – it will be a best seller!
• FAVOURITE FOOD: Anything fresh, fruity and vegetarian – and nothing that Ted cooks!
• FAVOURITE DRINK: Spanish beer with a twist of lemon or a “Naked Lady”.
• FAVOURITE BOOK: Gertrude Stein’s Biography.
• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “Orlando”.
• FAVOURITE SAYING: “I feel so sorry for men…”
• FAVOURITE SONG: Anything by kd Lang, Melissa Etheridge and Patsy Cline.
.:: played by KATE MONROE ::.
• GIVEN NAME: Bernard Felcher
• PREFERRED NAME: Dog
• AGE: 28
• SEXUALITY: Gay – out and proud.
• MARITAL STATUS: Happy to be single – not ready to settle down yet.
• OCCUPATION: Private trainer and I help out at Ipjana’s club on weekends.
• HOBBIES: With all my training I don’t get much time for a hobby, but I’m interested in bonsai, ikebana and I’d like to try my hand at interior design.
• FAVOURITE FOOD: Steak Tartare – unless Ted cooks it.
• FAVOURITE DRINK: Banana Smoothies and Power drinks.
• FAVOURITE BOOK: Charles Atlas Biography – the man is a legend – the father of modern body building.
• FAVOURITE MOVIE: Anything that Big Arnie is in – not only does he have a great body but he’s also a really good actor – he’s one of my role models.
• FAVOURITE SAYING: “Life’s too short to dance with ugly men”.
• FAVOURITE SONG: “Wind Beneath My Wings” – Bette Midler
.:: played by IAN JOPSON ::.
GIVEN NAME: Edward Bruinsen
• PREFERED NAME: Ted
• AGE: 50…ish.
• SEXUALITY: Last time I looked, Gay.
• MARITAL STATUS: Still looking for Mr Right, however will settle for Mr Anybody-at-all-just-as-long-as-he’s-still-breathing.
• OCCUPATION: Handyman/caretaker. Also help Liz run “Buck’s Bargains”.
• HOBBIES: Cooking – however I get a little discouraged by culinary philistines who tell me that I have “colourblind taste buds”. Also enjoy cruising – mostly in Oxford Street, Kings Cross and several male-only establishments!
• FAVOURITE FOOD: Spinach Surprise – one of my own creations – spinach, baked beans and banana with scrambled egg in a blue cheese ‘n chilli sauce.
• FAVOURITE DRINK: Victoria Bitter Beer.
• FAVOURITE BOOK: “The Complete Works of Tom of Finland”.
• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “Top Buns – the Young and the Hung”.
• FAVOURITE SAYING: “So many men, so few offers”.
• FAVOURITE SONG: “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow” – Judy Garland.
.:: played by CHRIS THOMAS ::.
• GIVEN NAME: Ipjana Von Trapp
• PREFERRED NAME: Ipjana
• AGE: Old enough to know better, but young enough to
• do it again!
• SEXUALITY: Honey, if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.
• MARITAL STATUS: Someday my prince will come, but until then I’m available.
• OCCUPATION: Manageress of the fabulous night spot, “The Slimey Codpiece”. Although I predict that my part-time psychic consultancy will soon become my dominant occupation.
• HOBBIES: Costume design and singing (an old family tradition).
• FAVOURITE FOOD: Vienna Schnitzel (of course!) but nothing that Ted cooks.
• FAVOURITE DRINK: Peppermint schnapps, Dom Perignon.
• FAVOURITE BOOK: “The Sound of Music”
• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “The Sound of Music”
• FAVOURITE SAYING: “It’s not the men in my life… it’s the life in my men!”
• FAVOURITE SONG: The entire score of “Porgy & Bess”, everything that Diana Ross has done, and anything that I can really get down to.
• .:: played by KEITH WRIGHT ::.
• GIVEN NAME: Harrison Buck
• PREFERRED NAME: Harry
• AGE: 22
• SEXUALITY: Why do you need to ask?
• MARITAL STATUS: Single.
• OCCUPATION: Looking for work.
• HOBBIES: Playing “Supermarket Slaughter”, “Gates of Hell” and designing a video card to make them run faster.
• FAVOURITE FOOD: I’ll eat almost anything – except some things that Ted cooks (his vegetable curry is truly the grossest thing I’ve ever eaten).
• FAVOURITE DRINK: Iced weak tea with two sugars and a slice of lemon.
• FAVOURITE BOOK: The “Computer Superstore Warehouse Catalogue ” – it changed my life.
• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “Attack of the 50ft Woman” – I love old horror movies.
• FAVOURITE SAYING: “The computer hasn’t crashed… it’s just having a rest.”
• FAVOURITE SONG: Verdi’s “Requiem”.
.:: played by SCOTT HALL-WATSON
- Buck House was an edgy cable drama wrapped up in a 70s sitcom, The Spin Off, 16 April 2018, by Sam Brooks https://thespinoff.co.nz/tv/16-04-2018/buck-house-was-an-edgy-cable-drama-wrapped-up-in-a-70s-sitcom/
- Australian gay sitcom Buck House https://sites.google.com/site/ozsitcombuckhouse/home