When the Nine Network aired their first promo for their new ethnic comedy Here Come the Habibs in early January, the reaction was swift, with many accusing the network of resorting to racial stereotypes of Lebanese Australians for laughs.
The sitcom, co-created by former Fat Pizza stars Tahir Bilgiç and Rob Shehadie, follows the story of a Lebanese-Australian family who move from Bankstown to Vaucluse after winning the lottery, where they’re met with dismay by their snooty white upper class neighbours.
Many took to Twitter to voice concerns about the shows portrayal of and one critic, Lebanese-Australian poet and activist Candy Royalle, even launched a Change.org petition to get Nine to pull the show. She gave her thoughts here about what she hoped not to see on the program.
Well now the first episode has actually hit the airwaves, it seems that the program has proved a ratings success, drawing in an audience of 1.249 in Australian metropolitan areas according OzTAM preliminary ratings and receiving plenty of positive feedback on Twitter.
The program was not without its critics though, with many raising concerns about the show’s perpetuation of racial stereotypes.
Perhaps some of the strongest audience reactions so far though came directly from Lebanon where the show is yet to air, but a local current affairs program on the network OTV hosted a discussion based on the 40 second promo clip for the show.
Taking the clip to the streets, many members of the public seemed highly unimpressed.
“They have portrayed the wrong image, or have chosen a small segment of the community to portray,” one young woman said.
“The average Lebanese can speak up to five languages, show me the average Australian or American that can speak five languages. How can they say we are uncivilised?” another man said.
Of course, this reaction was not based on viewing a full episode of the show so it can’t quite be called a fair review.
For those that did sit through the show last night in Australia, one of the strongest critical reactions from audiences centre not so much on the show’s cultural stereotypes, but on its comedic ones. Many took to the Twittersphere to call out the classic fish-out-water format tired and unfunny.
Given the show's opening ratings, which exceeded Nine's hopes for an audience of 900,000, it seems that like it or not, the Habibs will probably be sticking around.