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Books, blokes and booze: ‘Ronny Chieng: International Student’ sitcom sums up Aussie campus life

Trinh Le

Fri Apr 29 2016

Ronny Chieng International Student

THE PILOT of Ronny Chieng: International Student involves a book, some blokes and lots of booze – which pretty much sums up a typical campus life in Australia, or at least that from an international student’s perspective. Trinh Le reviews this ‘moderately pumped’ sitcom that any student can relate to.

Ronny Chieng International Student

Ronny Chieng, a former international student, stars as Ronny Chieng in International Student. Photo: Supplied

Meet Ronny Chieng, a Malaysian student who’s come to Australia to study law. He’s smart, driven and competitive, but his candour and ‘outsider’ mindset soon puts him at odds with a few people on campus.

Written, produced and starring the Malaysian-born comedian, the pilot episode of Ronny Chieng: International Student aired on ABC television on April 27 and is currently available on demand through ABC iView. This is one of six sitcom pilots in ABC’s Comedy Showroom – an initiative that allows audiences to give their feedback and champion the pilots they think deserve to become a full series.

The show opens with a familiar scene: Ronny, a freshly arrived international student, navigating his way around campus on his first day at Melbourne University, bombarded with invitations to several clubs and events – and a video call from his Mom back home. Ronny plays a heightened version of himself in the series but according to the comedian, it’s definitely not autobiographical.

Being an international student myself, I could relate to the overwhelming nervousness of that first day, the suspicious looks towards anyone who tried to lure me into their club, as well as the struggle to understand the Australian accent, as Ronny does (I even have the same shirt that he wears!). However, I also remember the overwhelming joy of going around collecting gift bags and free stuff from clubs and sponsors, which was lacking from the show. But I digress.

Ronny picks up a call from his mum and is basically given a pre-lecture lecture:

“Don’t talk to girls. Don’t get drunk. Don’t tip. And don’t get anyone pregnant, lah.”

Later in the episode, he successfully achieves two out of those four goals and in the process makes an enemy – one who dresses like a member of a barbershop quartet.

The show continues and we see Ronny’s first law lecture, his befriending of other international students, his first 1,000-word assignment (which is not true at Melbourne University: all of our essays are over 1,500 words!), and… well, I don’t want to give too many spoilers.

A screenshot from 'Ronny Chieng: International Student'

A screenshot from ‘Ronny Chieng: International Student’.

Overall, the half-hour pilot is filled with laughter with jokes varying from the wry ones to the very stinky (spoiler: ‘the smell of success’). Its characters are lovable and have a lot of potential to further develop – should the show be given a chance to be turned into a full series – and also does a fantastic job at portraying international students without making fun of them.

More importantly, it’s a show that could have great potential in reflecting the diversity of Australian culture (and more screen time for the mum please!).

Given Chieng’s stand-up comedy background, I can understand how this show largely relies on stereotypes to relate to the audience (the tiger mum, the rice-eating Asian, the ruthless lawyer, to name a few). However, I hope that in future episodes, it can take the initiative to target international students’ bigger issues such as the language barrier, work exploitation, the ‘cash cow’ perception and so on.

But for now, you’re probably not going to get a better show about international students on Australian television than this one, as Chieng (the real one, not the TV character) told The Weekly Review earlier this month: “It’s a story that hasn’t been told and should be told, only because there are so many international students here. And it’s the only story I can tell that someone else couldn’t tell.”

Watch the pilot of Ronny Chieng: International Student (closed caption available) and tell ABC if you think this show should come back as a full TV series. The pilot is available to watch online until 9.35pm on June 14.