Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Fancy Fest

In news that will surprise no-one – mostly because it seems to have been announced then ignored months ago – sketch comedy group Fancy Boy were one of the big winners out of the ABC’s Fresh Blood program:

ABC has a new sketch comedy series in production, Fancy Boy, which was part of the Fresh Blood iview initiative.

The six-part series, produced by December Media in association with Checkpoint Media and Fancy Boy TV, commenced production in Melbourne this week.

It features writer / performers John Campbell, Stuart Daulman, Greg Larsen, Henry Stone and Jonathan Schuster, joined by Anne Edmonds. The iview series also included guest appearances by names such as Luke McGregor, Celia Pacquola and Ronny Chieng.

A press release describes Fancy Boy as living somewhere between the moody and the downright dark: “The show finds comedy in the stranger corners of suburbia: in the couple whose communication breakdown leads to a kidnap; in the artist who loses everything over his obsession with fart sounds; in the mum who struggles to accept her missing teen back into the family, mainly because he returns with a full beard and a foreign accent.”

Due to premiere later this year on ABC, it will also get a run on NBC-Universal’s SVOD comedy platform Seeso.

Ah, co-productions. Where would be we without them? Watching a lot less Please Like Me, for starters.

We really wish we were more surprised by this result, especially as we were only mildly impressed with Fancy Boys’ Fresh Blood effort:

So while this isn’t always kicking goals, it’s doing a decent job of serving up fresh jokes even when it keeps returning to various set-ups. We’d still rather that some – most – of the sketches were one-offs (having the shit-in-the-sink set-up turn into one of those “exasperated lead is the only person who can see the obvious” sketches so beloved of The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting was a big let down, even for a sketch that started out with someone shitting in a sink), but if you have to keep going back to sketches this is the way to do it.

But as Blind Freddy could see that the ABC’s online comedy department was only ever going to be interested in sketch material because sketch material is what works online, the news that a fairly average sketch show got the nod (twice, if Skit Box really did also get the green light) is no surprise at all.

That’s why we’ve been so anti the ABC’s current fondness for selecting comedy programs by competition. You know what, guys? Sometimes it’s okay to say “we’re only interested in sketch shows at the moment”. We’d also prefer you to say “we’ve got enough series featuring vaguely arrogant white guys in their 20s killing time before their advertising careers take off”, but that’s up to you. You’re the people running the network: you’re allowed to pick what types of shows you want to put to air. Especially when quotes like this reveal a natural talent for getting laughs:

ABC’s Head of Entertainment, Jon Casimir, said “Fancy Boy made their name as a transgressive and weird live act, willing to go to places others wouldn’t. But what really marks their work is not just the boldness of their intent, it’s the heart and insight that underpins it. Fancy Boy sketches make you laugh but surprisingly, they also make you feel.”

We’ll leave it up to you to guess what we’re currently feeling.

The fact is, when you need a two year-long public competition to give Fancy Boy six episodes, it looks a little too much like everyone involved is more interested in covering their arse than presenting the viewers with a product that management can stand behind. And from the way Fancy Boy hammered a handful of uninspired ideas into the ground in their Fresh Blood pilot, who can blame management for wanting to have their excuses ready?

Of course, Fancy Boy are all up-and-comers, so there’s still a good chance that their actual sketch show is going to be a tightly focused effort packed with ideas and not some endlessly meandering snore-fest involving a gaggle of forgettable reoccurring characters and one-laugh ideas dragged out across three or four segments. But they’re not all up-and-comers, are they? While the new guys get to do most of the heavy lifting, both their original Fresh Blood sketches and their longer second round pilot have featured more established names – most notably Luke McGregor.

So wait, let’s get this straight: the winner of the ABC’s totally random, let-the-best-show-win online comedy competition was a): a trad sketch show that was b): featuring a comedian already appearing in two separate ABC shows in 2016? Why exactly did they need to spend two years running a public competition to get that result?

Clip Joint

Over the last decade or so, Australia has failed to develop an international – or even local – reputation for quality cinematic comedy. Could Down Under be the film to change that? Has Australian comedy finally moved beyond ethnic stereotypes and bogans doing stupid shit?

Oh well, there’s always cutting edge comedy on the small screen, right?

Ha ha, it’s funny because they’ve got a long desk and the elections been going for so long! Only they’re not actually starting until the election’s halfway over, so… yeah.

It’s no wonder we’re constantly being accused of living in the past…

Ok, so “unseen” Roger Explosion isn’t all that different from good old regular “seen” Roger Explosion, mostly because Roger Explosion was designed to be a reoccurring sketch on Full Frontal. One dimensional characters, repetitive jokes, hammy performances, and nothing to say about how we currently live our lives.

And yet somehow it’s still a whole lot funnier than 95% of current Australian comedy. Who would have thought it?

Bleak House

The most surprising of the six sitcoms in the ABC’s Comedy Showroom pilot season, for us, was Bleak, Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney’s show focusing on all-round loser Anna’s forced return to her weird family home. What surprised us most about Bleak was that it was such a contrast to their smash hit, The Katering Show. Allow us to explain…

The Katering Show showed its makers had a real understanding of the medium they were making comedy for: online. To keep viewers’ attentions on platforms like YouTube, narrative comedies need to be fast, and consistently really funny. The Kates achieved this in The Katering Show by throwing everything they had at it comedically; they didn’t just do gags about food trends and parodies of cooking shows, they gave their characters a solid dynamic (two frenemies on the edge of a breakdown) which they could exploit comically. It worked brilliantly.

But while the character dynamics in Bleak are equally well-drawn, particularly Anna’s parents and brother (how did they get to where they are in life?!), in the medium of a full-length sitcom, well, in this pilot at least, these well-drawn characters didn’t generate as many laughs as The Katering Show. Why? To answer that, let’s step back a bit…

The Comedy Showroom pilot Bleak wasn’t bad by any means – for us it was one of the better shows in this series – it’s just that we’d put it in the “could do better” category. Could it be that McLennan and McCartney’s strength is writing sketch rather than sitcom?

This theory is kind of borne out if you watch Bleak: The Web Series, the online predecessor to the Comedy Showroom pilot. Episode 1 (duration: 6:32) is basically a short version of that pilot, centered around Anna’s return to the family home, and her strained re-acquaintance with her parents and brother. It’s a pretty good short-form piece of comedy, and we think it really works.

Subsequent episodes in the web series go beyond what we saw in the ABC pilot, and we see Anna trying to party through the break-up with her boyfriend, and re-connecting with her odd family. In one very funny and strangely moving scene, Anna and her Dad bond over rodent control, and we discover why he’s so keen on documentaries about Nazi death camps.

Maybe the problem here is one of tone? It’s fine in sketch comedy if the tone is funny but unrelentingly dark, but in a half-hour sitcom there need to be some lighter scenes to break things up a bit. These were lacking in the half-hour version of Bleak.

As we said in our original review of the Comedy Showroom pilot:

this will have to become a lot funnier fairly quickly to justify taking this to a full series, but there are good indications that it could do so.

Based on it, and the web series, there’s definitely a lot of potential for this show. And if Jean Kittson and Shane Bourne can’t be in it, Denise Scott and Dennis Coad (who play Anna’s parents in the web series) would make brilliant parents. Fingers crossed we get to see more of Bleak.

Winners & Losers

It’s been a big week in Australian comedy, as sports reporters say… only they say “sport” instead of “Australian comedy” thus rendering this opening sentence pretty much useless. And having set the tone for this post, let’s move on:

WINNER: Gristmill and Little Lunch, at least according to this press release:

Little Lunch returns with a special trick or treat or two …..

Friday, May 20, 2016 — The hugely successful Australian children’s series, Little Lunch, will commence filming 2 x 30’ Halloween and Christmas specials for ABC3 in Melbourne next week.

Based on the popular books, written by Danny Katz and illustrated by Mitch Vane, and adapted by Gristmill Productions, both new episodes will feature all original cast members including; Rory (Flynn Curry), Atticus (Joshua Sitch), Battie (Oisin O’Leary), Melanie (Madison Lu), Debra-Jo (Faith Seci), Tamara (Olivia Deeble) and Heidi Arena (The Librarians, Nowhere Boys and Heidi’s Kitchen) as Mrs Gonsha.

Both stories will be written by Gristmill’s Robyn Butler, who will also make her directorial debut shooting the Christmas special.  Tim Bartley will direct the Halloween episode.

Producers Butler and Hope say, “We missed the kids, we missed the school, but mostly we missed the cheese sticks. It will be great to be reunited with all of them.”

Little Lunch wasn’t exactly to our taste – which is only to be expected really, what with us being old farts and so on – but Gristmill generally do good work (let’s just forget Now Add Honey, shall we?), so anything that keeps them in work is good news.

LOSER: Dirty Laundry Live:

ONE of the wittiest shows on Australian TV has been axed.

The ABC panel quiz show Dirty Laundry Live won’t be returning for a fourth season.

The show’s host, Lawrence Mooney, dropped the bombshell on Hit105’s Stav, Abby & Osher this morning.

Dirty Laundry Live has been officially axed,” Mooney said on the breakfast radio show.

“This is the first time I’ve said it publicly. I’m OK, I’m fine … It is not coming back on the ABC.”

This isn’t the world’s biggest surprise – it hadn’t been listed as one of the ABC comedies coming back for 2016 – but it’s still a bit of a sour note. After all, if various budgetary restrictions mean we must have panel shows, then Dirty Laundry Live was pretty much the best we could hope for: usually funny, occasionally informative and with solid chemistry between the regulars, it was the kind of show the ABC should have been able to keep running tucked away somewhere.

But as usual, that kind of thinking is avoiding the harsh realities of the world in which we live:

LOSER: Ben Pobjie:

Oh ho ho, see what we did there? But no, this is actual bad news: as part of their recent round of budget cuts, Fairfax have cut Pobjie’s daily television review spot. While obviously we’d have preferred someone else to be doing that coverage, Pobjie was better than nothing (and, when his word count forced him to be pithy, usually got to the point) and any major media outlet cutting back their daily television coverage is bad news as far as we’re concerned. Plus being sacked – well, being shunted over to The Green Guide, which really just means staving off unemployment for a year at most – as part of budget cuts sucks in general.

SIDEBAR: it seems clear that, as someone who we can’t quite remember already pointed out somewhere else, Fairfax is rapidly moving towards a two-tier model of journalism: a handful of “big names” at the top whose jobs are safe because supposedly they’re writers that people go to Fairfax to read, and then a bunch of badly paid newbies generating everything else that makes Fairfax look like a media organisation and not a joke.

The trouble with this hollowing-out is that it’s being driven by the same people who’ve been driving Fairfax into the ground for years, and so their judgement as to what constitutes their core readership is dubious at best. They sacked (though his Sunday column is still going for now) Leaping Larry L, for fucks sake:

What makes them think we’re going to keep buying their paper now?

LOSER: The Australian Tumbleweeds Blog:

Well, in a way we’re a winner, because recently the fine folk at the I Love Green Guide Letters podcast had Ben Pobjie on as a guest, and for around five minutes or so the topic of discussion was, well, us.

If you want to listen to their take on us, it starts at around the 25 minute mark – though you really should listen to the whole thing, if only to discover that Pobjie is quite confident of his headline-writing ability and the surprising news that Game of Thrones just might be a sequel to Taken.

Also it’s true, we really did say a nice thing (for us) about Dilruk that one time:

the main laughs come from the short interactions between bastard boss Borkman and his subordinate Michael (played by Little Dum Dum Club favourite Dilruk Jayasinha)

As for what Pobjie had to say about us… look, we’re not going to argue with “I’ve got Eric on side, so fuck those guys”. We will argue with us being “some very frustrated young men”, if only because we’ve been doing this for a decade and so clearly our (wasted) youth is long behind us (also: not all of us are men).

But Pobjie does do a decent job of defending himself against our regular accusations that he writes good reviews of Australian comedy shows in the hope that they’ll then employ him, by which we mean he points out that as employment strategies go that approach is probably “the worst way ever” to get a job in Australian television. We’ll leave it up to you to decide if this means we’re wrong as to his eventual goals or just that he’s going about it the wrong way.

And we feel for Pobjie when he says that it’s weird when people won’t just let you disagree with them about a television show – they have to assume you have some kind of “weird, ulterior motive” for having a contrary opinion. Like, we don’t know… assuming the writers are “very frustrated young men”?

Anyway, we answered all this when Pobjie said the exact same stuff back in 2011:

As for this bit from a fictional Angry Boys hater:

”You don’t really like that show. You think you like it because you’ve been hoodwinked by media hype and it’s politically correct and you think this is the sort of show you’re supposed to like. But actually, you hate it, like me, because it’s a bad show, so how could you not hate it?”

Yeah, we’d hate that too. And we’ve actually argued against that kind of lazy criticism before, so clearly Pobjie wasn’t talking about us with that crack, right?

Our completely unfounded and somewhat needy paranoia aside, we don’t doubt for a single solitary second that Angry Boys fans enjoy the show. We’d just like them to explain why without falling back on cliches that are wobbly at best and untrue at worst.

After all, we’re not talking about having a chat with people down the office about a television show. We’re talking about professionals writing thought-out pieces for major newspapers. Pobjie is totally right to say arguing over television is pointless and ugly – when you’re doing it down the pub. When you’re actually writing about television, it’s your job.

Not that Pobjie would agree. This is his final argument:

It’s only TV, after all – it’s important but it doesn’t matter.

An attitude which can be reasonably extended to cover roughly 85% of Western Civilisation and 99% of issues covered in The Age.  So this is a man who’s just written that the sole reason for him being in the paper “doesn’t matter”? Sorry, we didn’t realise we were reading his farewell column.

The really telling bit is when Pobjie says we hate everything “except Shaun Micallef”. Sure, he’s wrong – shit, our last review of Mad as Hell was literally part of a post praising Have You Been Paying Attention? – but that fact that we clearly do like some things kind of sinks the whole “ooh, don’t read those guys, they’re just haters who hate everything”. boat.

Seriously, for haters we sure do seem to like a bunch of stuff. In the last few months alone we’ve given the thumbs up to The Katering Show, Aunty Doona, and the Ronnie Cheung episode of Comedy Showcase alongside usual suspects Mad as Hell, HYBPA? and the work of Clarke & Dawe. The problem seems to be that, unlike the vast majority of Australian TV critics, we tend to point out that a lot of what we’re being served up isn’t as good as those shows. Which, let’s be honest, isn’t news: good luck finding anyone who’ll tell you with a straight face that The Weekly is as good as Mad as Hell, for example.

We all know that every single show on television is the result of weeks of hard work and effort from human beings who are desperately trying their best. We also all know that sometimes the end result is rubbish, and sometimes that’s because the people responsible clearly set out to create rubbish in the first place. Who benefits from pretending otherwise?



The Weekend Shift: The sitcom of the online persona of Lee Lin Chin

Over the years, there have been less surprising media revelations than the one that Lee Lin Chin doesn’t write her own tweets and that her hilarious media persona is, to be blunt, fiction. According to Benjamin Law’s article published last year on The Monthly, her tweets are written for her by Chris Leben, one of the writers of The Feed, the show which has done much to establish the cult of Chin through having her on to make regular cameo appearances.

…the official Twitter account that bears her name and is written in her Feed character’s voice. It has amassed more than 42,000 followers on the back of such tweets as “There’s no point in acting your age. If I did I wouldn’t be at the pub right now with two 25 year old models” and “I’m going to the Logies for the first time tonight, which one of the @HomeandAwayTV boys is most likely to put out?”

Or, at the height of the Bronwyn Bishop expenses scandal: “Seems like parliament needs a new fashionable lady. Guess my time has come #LeeLinforSpeaker”.

In real life, Chin doesn’t even have a mobile phone (“I see it no less than the potential destroyer of human civilisation,” she tells me) let alone use Twitter. Instead, Leben manages the account and composes most of the tweets – some of which are based on things Chin has told him. He says Chin approves everything he writes. Later, when I ask her to confirm this, she widens her eyes at him.

Now with more than double the 42,000 followers she had six months ago when the above article was published, Chin, or Chin’s online persona, is now the star of The Weekend Shift, a sitcom pilot available on SBS On Demand. And if you’re already raising a sceptical eyebrow at the idea that you can base a sitcom on some tweets, then read on to have your scepticism confirmed.

Set in the SBS newsroom, The Weekend Shift centres on producer Nick and his team, and their trials and tribulations in getting a bulletin to air. When one of the show’s reporters annoys the government with a badly-phrased tweet, Nick pulls a potentially Walkley Award-winning exclusive story because it might annoy the government, then orders social media manager and office arsehole Craven to take over everyone’s Twitter accounts, and has to convince the difficult Ms Chin to apologise for the tweet on air. Oh, and the building’s security guards are on some kind of OH&S drive, and there are some new recycling bins.

All of the above sounds potentially quite funny – a satire on government interfering with the freedom of the media, parody of social media, hyper-real media bigwig behaving badly and getting what she wants, office bullshit about bins and health and safety – except it isn’t. There aren’t many laughs to be had with “government leans on the media” unless you’re John Clarke it seems, plus the whole Lee Lin Chin persona thing when you boil it down, is basically “LOLZ a serious newsreader type actually spends all day in the pub and is obsessed with weird clothes”. A comic conceit that may fire in 140 characters, but in this sitcom at least, doesn’t even getting going before it’s become tiresome.

As for the bins and OH&S stuff, Utopia does that so much better. Largely because it threads those types of plots throughout the show, making them increasingly ridiculous and hilarious as the episode progresses, rather than abandoning them after a couple of scenes.

Which just leaves the social media parody plot as the bit where The Weekend Shift gets its time to shine. But wait, that plot is basically an office bully tweeting out offensive things from his colleagues’ accounts against their wishes, i.e. making it look like they’re quoting from Hitler. And then…the Hitler quote gets re-tweeted by Cory Bernardi! A joke which lands with such a thud that a BOOM TISH might as well have been overlaid.

Oh, and speaking of comedy sound editing, the show ends with some harrowing news footage which has been overlaid with “Yakety Sax” (the song which accompanied Benny Hill’s chase sequences) accidentally going to air. OH NOS!!! And yet, that too isn’t funny. It just left us wondering if anyone under 30, presumably the target audience for this nonsense, has ever seen a Benny Hill chase sequence.

Except that, wait, there’s a chance to redeem this show comically! As the credits roll, we see Charlie Pickering and Tom Gleeson dissecting the Yakety Sax incident on The Weekly, followed by Lee Lin Chin’s reaction to their commentary. It’s probably the funniest thing in the show, but it doesn’t save it. It’s more that it’s what many of us have been thinking for ages.

Conclusion: despite a small number of good things, this is a sloppy and wrong-headed idea for a sitcom. And largely feels like a kind of branding exercise for The Feed or the Lee Lin Chin Twitter account or SBS, or some combination of the three, gone way too long. We could maybe overlook the bad scripting and the crap gags if Lee Lin Chin herself was a brilliant, hilarious comedic performer, but she can’t act and has next to no comic timing. Something that doesn’t matter in the context of the parody Twitter account she’s lent her name to, and can be overlooked in her cameo appearances on The Feed (it could even be argued it makes them funnier) but does absolutely matter if she’s the lead performer. Great lead performers can take a mediocre script and make it great, but mediocre performers? No hope. You can’t base a 25-minute sitcom around one of them.


Rebel Outside The Law

We’re not sure which is funnier: this news item, or the fact a whole bunch of people sent it to us:

Actress Rebel Wilson is suing a glossy magazine publisher over a series of articles she says defamed her.

Wilson, a comedian and actress who has starred in blockbusters including Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, says print and online articles in Woman’s Day, The Australian Women’s Weekly, NW and OK Magazine made her out to be a serial liar.

According to a writ filed in the Victorian Supreme Court, Wilson says her reputation and credit has suffered, and she has been humiliated and embarrassed.

But what horrible lies could they have published that could have caused her such distress?

Wilson says the stories last year accused her of lying about her age and her background, using a fake name and creating stories to make it in Hollywood.


Now, at first you might be thinking “hang on a second, haven’t all those stories been, you know… proven? Rebel did change her name between school and Hollywood (it seems at school she went by Melanie Elizabeth Bownds), she did “forget” to tell Hollywood that her actual age was six years older than what she claimed (going so far as to say Rose Byrne was in an “older group” of actresses when Byrne is actually a year younger than her), and once you start leaving years out of your past then the stories about your awesome past fairly quickly stop adding up.

It’s not even like it’s hard to figure out: the article says “As a girl, Wilson was studious and, at 17, she was voted an Australian Youth Ambassador and sent to South Africa to represent her country”… but if her publicised birthday is correct she would have been 17 in 2003, the year Wikipedia says “she moved to New York after winning the ATYP International scholarship”. Busy girl.

But on closer inspection – and asking some people who know more about this stuff than we do – it seems likely that her case relies more on the way they revealed these facts than the fact that they’re, you know, facts. To wit: it’s one thing to say she told lies – we all do that. It’s another to suggest she’s some kind of serial liar.

Which we for one would obviously never do: as Rebel herself has pointed out , the “Australian system” is the real villain here.

John: Have you heard of this thing called Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Rebel: Yes.

John: Is that a real thing? Is that something that –

Rebel: That is a very, very real thing, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to come live and work in America. So what it is, it’s a cultural phenomenon. It’s where if you get too good or too successful in Australia, so if you’re a poppy and you grow too tall, essentially, people want to cut you down. [laughs]

Craig: Really?

Rebel: Like yes, that’s what happened to me in Australia. So I was on all these different television shows and people like, she’s had a go, let someone else. And I’m like, what do you mean? I’m now like experienced. I’m now like really experienced. I’m now ready to go the next step and have my own movies, or maybe. And the Australian system is like, no, you think you’re so good now, why don’t you go and be unemployed. And I’m like, no.

Damn Australian system, always forcing the “really experienced” into unemployment.

Supposedly if Wilson can prove malice – that the magazines in question told those stories about her in an attempt to damage her career – then she may have a case even if the stories they told are all 100% true. It seems that intentionally setting out to cause harm to someone’s career is enough to win this kind of case.

Presumably she’ll be suing whoever let her go ahead with Super Fun Night next.

Every Day I’m Juggling

It’s taken us a few days to figure out exactly what there is to say about the returns of Have You Been Paying Attention? and Mad as Hell this week because… look, they’re not exactly reinventing the wheel this many series in, you know? There’s a few minor tweaks here and there – more segment graphics on Mad as Hell, more segment graphics on HYBPA? – but for the most part they both know they’re getting the job done so they’re happy to get on with it.

This is, to put it bluntly, not a situation we’re all that used to in Australian television. For most of the 21st century, long-running comedy hits have been few and far between (unless you count Spicks & Specks, which we probably won’t). The Chaser have been around for ages but they usually do a (somewhat) different show every couple of years; Gruen wanders around aimlessly trying to find new topics for its crack team of smug rich people to pontificate on. And for scripted shows, it’s two series and you’re done, the upcoming revival of Upper Middle Bogan aside; we’re guessing the fact that Mad as Hell falls under “live entertainment” and not “comedy” at the ABC has played some small role there.

Not every show should have a long run, of course. You could argue that we’ve had such a high turnover of comedies in Australia over the last decade because most of them have been shithouse and you wouldn’t find much argument here. But the fact that pretty much all the long-running shows – the work of Chris Lilley excepted, because c’mon, he’s been making the exact same show under different names now since We Can Be Heroes – have been shows that most reasonable people would accept deserved their long runs, suggests that there’s probably been a few short-running shows that deserved another series or two.

Lilley’s also been the only long-running creator to actively wear out his welcome: both Micallef and creators of HYBPA? Working Dog have been in the business for decades and are still doing well, while The Chaser and (this pains us to say it) Gruen have been at the very least consistent in achieving the goals they’ve set out for themselves with their various projects. In Lilley’s case, as we’ve been saying since Summer Heights High, the problem was always that he could only do a very small number of things well; once audiences got sick of that, he had nothing left to offer.

In contrast, one of the secrets of the success of all these long-running shows has been their variety. For Gruen and The Chaser, that’s been obvious: they’ve shifted formats and topics every year or so. But while Mad as Hell and HYBPA? have kept the same formats over the years – Mad as Hell is a news comedy with Micallef the same patrician newsreader he’s been since Newstopia; HYBPA? is a news game show – they’ve still found ways to mix things up.

In comparison with a show like The Weekly, which contains only the “news satire” ingredients you’d expect going in and nothing more, Mad as Hell is full to bursting with all manner of comedy, from Micallef’s expressions to wordplay to fake ads to character material to a swipe at The Project which (for at least one of us) was the funniest thing all week. The container is standardised: what’s inside varies from minute to minute.

Likewise, HYBPA? is a news quiz first and foremost, but – thanks in large part to coming from Working Dog, a group of producers who seem to really value working with people they get along with – it’s also managed to build up a decent sub-level of character comedy. Sam Pang is never going to win (unless he does); Mick Molloy is a sleazy drunk (in a family-friendly timeslot); Ed Kavalee is… well, it’s always fun to have him around. Unlike the endless series of failed ABC panel shows, there’s a sense of people who get along with each other having fun that operates above and beyond the (scripted?) gag answers, which helps the show stay entertaining when other elements flag.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Neither show would have stayed on air this long if they weren’t working on more than one level. But when you see how many shows make it to air here that barely even work on the one level they’re advertised as having, it’s not hard to be impressed by shows that make juggling multiple balls look this easy.

[no, we will not be ending on a “juggling balls” joke about Please Like Me – ed]

Meeting the (Kind-Of) Mavericks

Of some interest to comedy lovers has been the ABC arts series Meet the Mavericks, five half-hour conversations between five pairs of “mavericks”. The second program saw Magda Szubanski (Fast Forward, Kath & Kim) speak with UK artist Grayson Perry, while last week it was comedy-musician Tim Minchin (Matilda) gabbing with Late Night Live’s Phillip Adams. In the final episode, which aired last night, John Safran (Race Relations, Sunday Night Safran) and British journalist and author Jon Ronson, played pool and talked in the top room of a pub.

Of the three episodes of Meet the Mavericks featuring comedians, Safran vs Ronson was probably the best. The two have met several times already, have similar backgrounds, and have had fairly similar careers, each known for spending time with people with strange and extreme views, and for delving into areas that few others do.

Minchin and Adams also had a number of similarities, and their chat spent a lot of time talking about comedy, the arts, offensiveness, pushing boundaries and the Australian cultural scene.

Even the least comedy-focused conversation, Szubanski and Perry, which spent much of its time on gender, identity and self-confidence, was pretty interesting. There are worse ways to spend half-an-hour than watching Meet the Mavericks.

Not that there aren’t negatives about this show. As people interested in comedy, we’d far rather have seen a more comedy-focused discussion. Maybe something along the lines of A Quiet Word with…, although that would have required an interviewer and a bit more planning and money, whereas Meet the Mavericks clearly had a budget of about $5 and was shot in half a day.

We weren’t expecting Meet the Mavericks to be like Kerry O’Brien’s interviews with Paul Keating, but, and this is getting a bit off topic, is this really the best the ABC’s arts department can do? Are they that cash-strapped that all they can afford to do is to set up some cameras in Philip Adams’ front room and hope for the best?

There Can Be Only One… oh wait, hang on a second

Now more than ever, Australian comedy is built around winners and losers. No, this isn’t some convoluted lead-in to a discussion about the Logies: pretty much the only thing of interest to be said there is that The Project won stuff while The Weekly, aka the ABC’s attempt to clone The Project right down to hiring a former host and cast members, won nothing. Which is pretty much what you’d expect from a popularity contest.

Trouble is, over the last few years the ABC seem to have been going out of their way to turn their comedy department into a popularity contest. First we had two years of Fresh Blood online, now Comedy Showcase is – supposedly, because Lord amercy do we have our suspicions about this one – a contest to find a pilot the ABC can throw money at. It’s almost as if they don’t have anyone there who can make a programming decision.

But of course, at the end of the day a decision is going to be made by someone at the ABC as to which shows are going to go to series and which ones are going in the bin. And without making the voting process transparent – as in, actually collecting and tallying up votes and then letting us know the results of that tally – people (us) will always suspect that the “competition” is just a promotional device and the end result is rigged as fuck.

Which why we raised an eyebrow when the Fresh Blood winners were… well, we’re guessing they were announced at the ABC 2016 upfronts, but this seems to be the only place that actually mentioned the winners:

In the Fresh Blood initiative with Screen Australia, two pilots will proceed to a full series: one from Skit Box , the Sydney-based trio of comedians Adele Vuko, Sarah Bishop and Greta Lee Jackson, the other the Melbourne collective Fancy Boy.

This result seemed a little odd because we, and pretty much everyone we know, figured Aunty Donna was easily the funniest of the five finalists. But before we could do much more than hoist an eyebrow at this somewhat suspicious-smelling series of events, all was revealed:

Hey there Australia! We like you, and you like us… we think. So it’s with great joy to announce our first local commission! Melbourne based sketch comedy group Aunty Donna. Aunty Donna will be making an excellent web series for our Not For TV platform.

This will be the first of several original Australian projects that Comedy Central will develop as part of Not For TV. Not For TV is Comedy Central’s platform for unique and fresh comedy and has birthed shows such as Broad City. We’re looking for the next hot potato, and we think the hottest potatoes (among many hot potatoes) here in Australia land right now are Aunty Donna.

First video? Right here.

This is pretty much the best of all possible worlds. The cream of the crop – that’d be Aunty Donna – are, um, creamed off by a commercial network; the up-and-comers now have a chance to hone their skills on the national broadcaster. One of the bigger problems with Australian television comedy over the last twenty years or so has been that once an act has had a run on the ABC there’s nowhere for them to move on to. This kind of thing, especially if it takes off, could be a solution to that.

It doesn’t hurt that Aunty Donna are pretty damn funny too.

Vale The Weekly season two

We’re just going to come right out and say it: The Weekly taking on Clarke & Dawe was perhaps the funniest thing we’ve seen on television this year. Not that the sketch itself was funny: oh no no no no no no fuck no. It was utterly pointless at best and bewildering at worst – so your typical Weekly fare really.

Seriously, what was the point? To show that Charlie Pickering and Tom Gleeson could do what Clarke and Dawe do – that is, be funny – if they really wanted to but they’d rather take a barely metaphorical shit on their viewers instead? Or did Pickering and Gleeson decide that enough was enough and someone had to finally step up and explain in laborious detail to the general public exactly what it is that Clarke & Dawe have been doing every week for the last 25 years? Fucked if we know: we’re pretty sure they didn’t know either.

No, what made the opening of the final episode of this season of The Weekly hilarious was the sheer cluelessness of it all. Clarke & Dawe may not be to everyone’s taste but they make a point, it’s usually a funny point, and then they piss off. Which is three things more than The Weekly has managed to do over 34 weeks. Way too often on The Weekly their idea of comedy seems to be “explaining things”: if that was an actual real approach to comedy then your third grade teacher would be touring with Hughsey as her support act.

What makes this so painful is that it seems – to us at least – kind of obvious that the writers of The Weekly know they suck. Why else would so much of their material be the kind of self-parody designed to say “don’t bother trying to tell us we suck, we’ve already made all those jokes ourselves”? The Clarke & Dawe bit literally stopped in the middle so they could let us know it wasn’t a parody but a tribute; arse-covering one, comedy zero.

So why did it all go so wrong? Why couldn’t The Weekly actually deliver on the promise of being a halfway decent news satire? Here’s a clue: it was put together by people who thought we really needed thirty-four weeks of Tom Gleeson.

That’s not a bitchy comment – well, it is, but it’s not just a bitchy comment. We’ve just had thirty four episodes plus an end-of-year special of a show built around three cast members, and out of those three all three were doing the exact same thing every episode. Shaun Micallef turns up out of nowhere in the final five seconds to dismiss the whole show as “left-wing drivel” and gets the biggest laughs of the entire series: maybe that’s a sign that you need to hire funnier people?

The Weekly had a lot of flaws – seriously, have you got all day? Buy us lunch and we promise we won’t shut up – but one of the big ones was that it never quite figured out how to make being weekly work. Part of why The Daily Show works is that it’s a show that’s on daily; doing four episodes a week means audiences are just that little bit more forgiving of a format that’s largely just a guy ranting while jokes are flashed up behind him. Only being on the air once a week makes you more of an event. One guy doing a couple Project-level monologues and an interview while his two sidekicks do the same segment each week? Non-event.

We ask again: why were there only ever two correspondents? Mad as Hell has a cast of six, not counting host Micallef, and those six often play two or more characters. Sure, Mad as Hell has sketches and fake ads and so on, but it also has a bunch of characters sitting across the desk from Micallef having a chat… you know, just like The Weekly does. Only funny.

It’s not that Gleeson and Flanagan’s segments were entirely lacking in comedic potential either. It’s that they were roughly the same premise every week: Gleeson would make some counter-intuitive argument (or worse, talk about his popularity), Flanagan would explain how some part of society was nutty. Week after week. For thirty-four weeks.

When The Weekly returned in 2016 basically unchanged from its 2015 form, it had the stench of death about it. Not because it was a terrible show at the end of 2015 – as lightweight news it was perfectly serviceable; it only sucked if you expected it to be funny or take a stand on anything even slightly controversial – but because there was clearly room for improvement and yet no improvements had been made.

Did anyone really think the core appeal of The Weekly was the fact it was Charlie Pickering, Tom Gleeson and Kitty Flanagan? That power-packed trio held together by the raw power of Pickering’s willingness to laugh at their jokes and… well, Gleeson and Flanagan almost never worked together on the show, did they? Seems slightly odd.

Pickering they couldn’t lose, though they really should have; charm, wit and righteous anger are what a Daily Show knockoff needs in a host, not smug self-satisfaction and the occasional deadpan stare. But even if you didn’t want to ditch Tom Gleeson, why wouldn’t you bring in a new comedian or two just to vary things a little? Did Charlie Pickering really cost that much to hire that they couldn’t afford another cast member?

It doesn’t really matter now, whatever happens with The Weekly. Pickering ended the show by shouting “we’ll be back!”, but he didn’t rule out in pog form. After two seasons of the same old, any major changes would look like desperation; smaller changes won’t be enough to save it.

… though by “save it” we mean turn it into something watchable, which almost certainly isn’t something the ABC is all that worried about. Charlie Pickering is a personality and they’re all about the personalities at Aunty these days. Well, that and shows they can put on for months at a time and just forget about.

And if there’s ever been an ABC show you can forget about, it’s The Weekly.