Aunty Donna Are Back on Your Screen — and 'Coffee Cafe' Is Your Next Absurdist Comedy Obsession

After taking on sharehouses in 'Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun', the Aussie comedy troupe now tackles cafe culture — and the results are just as hilarious.
Sarah Ward
April 12, 2023

If comedy is all about timing, then Aunty Donna have it — not just onstage. In 2020, Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun was the hysterical sketch-comedy series that the world needed, with the six-episode show satirising sharehouse living dropping at the ideal moment. While the Australian jokesters' Netflix hit wasn't just hilarious because it arrived when everyone had been spending more time than anyone dreamed at home thanks to the early days of the pandemic, the ridiculousness it found in domesticity was as inspired as it was sidesplittingly absurd. Three years later, heading out is well and truly back, as are Aunty Donna on-screen. Their target in Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe, which streams in full on ABC iView from Wednesday, April 12 and airs weekly on ABC TV: cafe culture.

When we were all staring at our own four walls for months, Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane helped us to laugh about it — talking dishwashers, tea parties with the Queen of England, silly wi-fi names, Weird Al Yankovic and 'Morning Brown' sing-alongs included. Now, with stay-at-home orders relegated to the past, they've returned to make fun of one of the simplest reasons to go out that there is. During lockdowns and restrictions, how folks were allowed to patronise their local cafe, or not, was a frequent topic of conversation. It was also a bellwether for how strict the rules were at any given junction. Grabbing a cuppa is such an ordinary and everyday task, so much so that it was taken for granted until it was no longer an easy part of our routines. Unsurprisingly, now that caffeine fixes are back and brewing, Aunty Donna finds much to parody.

With fellow group members Sam Lingham (a co-writer here), Max Miller (the show's director) and Tom Zahariou (its composer), Aunty Donna's well-known trio of faces set their new six-parter in the most obvious place they can: a Melbourne cafe called Morning Brown. The track itself doesn't get a spin, however, and neither does fellow fan favourite 'Everything's a Drum'. Indeed, the show's central piece of naming is its most expected move. As demonstrated in episodes that turn the cafe into a courtroom, ponder whether Broden might still be a child and riff on Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt's 1967 disappearance, nothing else about Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe earns that description. Pinballing in any and every direction possible has always been one of the Aussie comedy troupe's biggest talents, with their latest series deeply steeped — riotously, eclectically and entertainingly, too — in that approach.

Anything can happen in this Mark-, Broden- and Zach-owned coffee house, and does, just as everything could and did when they were sharing a home on-screen. Of course, anything can occur when Aunty Donna are involved anyway — they recently played corpses revived from the dead in Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves, and also released Aunty Donna's $30 bottle of wine and the Always Room for Christmas Pud picture book, after all. So, although Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe embraces its its sitcom packaging more heartily than Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun did, its main setting remains a backdrop and a launchpad for as many random skits as they can dish up. When that court takes over, for instance, Richard Roxburgh (Elvis) plays Rake, even though that's not his Rake character's name. In another episode, stanning Gardening Australia and skewering unreliable streaming services get ample attention, complete with jokes at ABC iView's expense.

Elsewhere, bucks parties earn their own lampoon. So does the Is It Cake? trend, working in hospitality, shoddy landlords — a particularly timely topic during a cost-of-living crisis — and the nightmare that is dealing with real estate agents when you're a tenant. Gaming bars, kidulting, food reviews, restaurant theming: they're all thrown in as well. If it stems from the culinary and hospo world, Aunty Donna have likely touched upon it. In fact, Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe's debut episode begins with a pitch-perfect summary of cafe trends of late. The show's overall setup sees Mark, Broden and Zach desperate to make their laneway haunt a success, and determined not to let their lack of skills and experience get in the way. So, they survey all the current gimmicks, including axe-throwing, hurling abuse, selling vinyl and only serving cereal. They learn of spaces that devote their menus to popcorn and show a movie while it's consumed, and of spots to nab free books as you sip (and yes, the fact that these are just cinemas and libraries is the point).

Playing fictionalised and heightened versions of themselves, Mark, Broden and Zach have a teenage employee, Stephanie (Gaby Seow, Young Rock), who is interviewed in the first instalment — which gives Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe's plenty of material about outlandish bosses. Sally-Anne (Sally-Anne Upton, Neighbours) is the resident chaotic landlord, while Michelle (Michelle Brasier, Why Are You Like This) is the kind of devoted customer that Morning Brown wants more of. With its key cast established, this is a workplace comedy, like everything from The Office, Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock to Party Down, Scrubs and Cheers before it. Swapping slinging beer and spirits for lattes and blueberry muffins, and keeping things on the lighter side of anarchic — although a recess skit gets dark, fast — Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe resembles an Australian spin on long-running absurdist great It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, too.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has aired 15 seasons now, becoming the longest-running American TV comedy, and also has at least three more to come. That's a feat achieved in no small part thanks to its ability to keep pouring out the most out-there, OTT, nonsense situations it can, and boasting the gamest of casts. Across their television slate, Aunty Donna share the same traits. They might be notching up their screentime across different shows, but they're having just as wild, uproarious, farcical and astute a time. So is the company that Mark, Broden and Zach keep here, spanning not only a committed Roxburgh, but also Miranda Tapsell (Christmas Ransom), Looking for Alibrandi's Pia Miranda making tomato day jokes, and everyone from Shaun Micallef and Tony Martin to Melanie Bracewell, Nazeem Hussain, Steven Oliver and Sam Pang.

When Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun became one of 2020's best new shows, no one watched it a mere once. Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe demands the same response, with its gags flying so thick and fast that laughing at one joke or bit of banter usually means drowning out the next with your own chuckles. In any skit-heavy series, it's impossible to ensure that every single moment lands, but Aunty Donna's shows come I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson-level close. Maybe don't watch it on your phone in your local cafe, though — no matter how trendy it is, if it's in a laneway, whether it's open till 5pm, if there's a criminal trial going on inside or ghosts are haunting the place.

Check out the trailer for Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe below:

Aunty Donna's Coffee Cafe streams via ABC iView, and also screens weekly on the ABC at 9pm from Wednesday, April 12.

Images: Richard Lowe / Jackson Flinter / ABC.

Published on April 12, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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