This Fresh Blood series recasts the infamous scourge of Sydney as a lovable underdog.
Well, lovable might be a stretch once you’ve gotten to know them. As explained to non-Aussie viewers in our preview of the show, Bin Chickens takes its name from my homeland’s nickname for its subject, the humble ibis. Seriously, foreigners would likely be baffled if they were to see how the meme has escalated. In just 3 short episodes, the audience is presented with an impressively nuanced view of the birds, and this clear idea of what it wants to be is arguably the show’s greatest strength.
The 3 main characters, Derek, Janice, and Clive, are each dumb, depraved and inadvertently destructive; Sam Campbell, Veronica Milsom and Dave Eastgate give the kind of effortless, instantly likable vocal performances that suggest the grime of Darling Harbour is hardly new for these birds. As such, I would’ve been content enough if the show had simply focused on them seeking out ‘bin juice’ and wreaking havoc through sheer stupidity. If those scenarios appeal to you, don’t worry, every episode features one or both of them.
However, just beneath Bin Chickens’ surface lies a commentary on modern Sydney itself, encapsulated in the setting of Darling Harbour, once described to Bubbleblabber by series co-creator Nikos Andronicos as a “tourist hellhole”. This is a clever move that gives the show additional purpose and substance; indeed, the idea is clearest in the first half of the episode Egypt, where it informs the direction of the entire plot to come. Although Sydneysiders dismiss ibises as pests, the show doesn’t shy away from the fact that destruction of the natural landscape forced the birds into an unfamiliar urban habitat.
Alongside Koala Man, Bin Chickens is one of the more relatively low-concept Fresh Blood series, and it quickly becomes obvious that this is an advantage given the limitations of its format. Dave Carter and Andronicos’ scripts all follow similar beats of misadventure befalling the trio but are distinct and amusing enough to avoid feeling overly repetitive, as well as subtly developing the audience’s picture of a surreal alternate Sydney throughout the course of the season. Despite there being few laugh out loud jokes, the characters’ constant bickering, coupled with this setting, had me smiling and chuckling regularly. At one point, there’s even an appearance by Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of ibises, which is bizarre but worked thanks to my understanding of the show’s world. Perhaps the best compliment I can give is that the show feels Australian, which some Fresh Blood series neglect to demonstrate.
The level of care and thought put into building the show’s identity extend to its animation, and I even became able to quickly tell the characters apart without ever being explicitly taught how. While I love the colorful, cartoony style, the movements of some objects were occasionally a little rough. This is overall the one area in which Bin Chickens would clearly have benefitted from some additional polish, although I’m sure it was a decision made due to budget constraints. The other minor problems I had were much more subjective, and largely amounted to some jokes simply not working for me (the ‘heavy-handed anti-gambling satire’ alarm from Egypt being one).
Looking to the future of the Fresh Blood program, in my opinion, Bin Chickens requires little to no changes in order to make the jump to a longer pilot. Whether you’re curious about the show’s Australian feel, or simply looking for a short, surreal series to binge, it’s definitely worth your time. I’ll be interested to see if ABC takes a risk on animation with any of its funding decisions, but this surprisingly affectionate portrait of an infamous Sydney inside joke would be a worthy candidate for a follow-up or more.
All 3 episodes of Bin Chickens are now streaming for free on ABC iView.