Series Review: ‘Mr Kiasu 2.0’ Is an Absolute Joy Brimming With Wit and Side-Splitting Humour4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Mr Kiasu has been fired, but true to his never-say-die, die-die-never-lose, lose-lose-must-still-win attitude, he aims to bounce back, improve himself and possibly even fall in love.
Director: Cheng Chai Hong
Cast: Jaspers Lai, Joey Pink, Farah Lola, Dasa Dharamahsena, Mark Kinoshita, Jo Tan, Jalyn Han
Runtime: Average 16 minutes each
The beloved Singaporean icon returns to the small screen with a brand new live-action adaptation. Last seen in the early-2000s series starring Chew Chor Ming, Mr Kiasu 2.0 presents an overhaul in comedic tone. Laugh tracks and quick gags poking fun at Singaporeans’ natural fear of losing out are swapped for deadpan humour and a smaller scale. Backed by an excellent cast, these choices would be a clear upgrade to the formula. The series swings for the fences and knocks almost every joke and gag out of the park.
Averaging at about 16 minutes each, the series details the misadventures of the titular character across six episodes. Kiasu (Jaspers Lai) stays with his mother Ah Ma (Jalyn Han) and works at tech startup Sabotech, managed by overly-eager boss Danny (Mark Kinoshita).
The first episode sees Kiasu butt heads with new hire Blake (Dasa Dharamahsena), and teams up against him with his colleague Rina (Farah Lola) in a game of corporate one-upmanship. Along the way, Kiasu falls for his gym partner Ai Swee (Joey Pink) while surviving a peculiar gym programme headed by Sasha (Jo Tan).
Compared to the original television series, the ‘kiasu-ism’ showcased here is a lot less over-the-top. Mr Kiasu doesn’t pull out a stack of vouchers to save money at a food court nor does he attempt to steal air conditioning from his neighbours. It’s a lot more grounded here, going as far as for a large portion of the season dedicated to understanding and commenting on the mental weight cast by the national fear.
This mature approach resonates in the series’ humour as well. The comedy is tuned towards the 9-to-5 yuppie, poking fun at the idiosyncrasies found in familiar haunts: at the office space, while dating, and at the gym. However, Mr Kiasu 2.0 completely avoids relying on comedic shorthands and soon-to-be-dated references to draw laughs. Instead, it leans on deadpan humour, physical gags and delightfully exaggerated personalities, with these approaches never overstaying their welcome thanks in part to each episode’s fresh and quirky set pieces.
Fans of dry humour especially will have a fantastic time. The batting average on the jokes is astonishingly high. One major reason is with the series’ subtlety in delivery, both in the performances and framing. Cheap visual nudges — crash zooms, lightning-fast cuts, and the likes — are practically non-existent, allowing for the performances to lead the comedy. There are plenty of playful audio cues that are invaluable to the jokes. All these speak of the series’ confidence in its audience to identify the gags, read between the lines, and be weirded out enough to appreciate the overall kooky tone.
The other reason for the series’ success is its superb cast. There are no weak links, each with fantastic comic timing. Departing from his more well-known comedic stylings of loud slapstick, Jaspers Lai is superb in the lead. He presents a subdued take on the iconic character, being an entertaining foil to the rest of the zany cast while remaining charming despite embodying selfishness.
Farah Lola, Jalyn Han, Joey Pink and Dasa Dharamahsena all provide hearty belly laughs with their straight-faced characters, while the camera can hardly contain Jo Tan’s endearing free-spiritedness. Meanwhile, Mark Kinoshita practically radiates this-could-have-been-an-email energy, yet still becomes an inseparable part of a very homely comedy series.
The cosiness is partially due to the series’ small scale, with a larger part of the equation found in how, despite there is attention in fleshing out every character despite the season’s brief runtime. Each is deeply flawed, and there’s a sense of completeness and belonging that radiates when all these misfits compete against each other in ultimately inconsequential competitions and unite against issues far beyond their grasp.
Mr Kiasu 2.0 is a long-term sitcom just waiting to happen. Through a delightful cast, sharp writing and — most importantly — its confidence in the audience, the series’ only notable low points is in its short span. It is, perhaps, one of the best local comedy series’ to emerge in quite some time.
The first season of Mr Kiasu 2.0 is now streaming on meWATCH.