Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Over-funded and on your YouTube

Last week we looked at Screen Australia’s latest round of funding approvals and wondered if these upcoming productions would make us laugh. Many of the productions, we’ve since discovered, are intended for online release, through platforms such as iView or YouTube, with most being new ideas.

One which isn’t is These New South Whales, which has received funding for both Production and Story Development for its second season. Having seen its first season, help with story development is something this series desperately needs.

In the first season, we met Sydney-based punk band These New South Whales, consisting of four guys in their 20s who live in a share house in the Inner West and cover their nipples with black gaffer tape when they’re performing. These New South Whales are a pretty ropey outfit, not highly thought of by their peers, and somewhat full of themselves about what they can achieve. The series follows them as they play gigs and launch their new film clip, which they hope will precede the announcement that they’ve been chosen to play support for Black Lips’ upcoming tour. [SPOILER ALERT!] You can guess how that all goes…

If this all sounds a bit like This Is Spinal Tap or The Comic Strip Presents… Bad News Tour, you’re right: all the rock mockumentary tropes are present and correct here. Except the laughs. Part of the problem is that the band members are largely characterless, spouting bland musician clichés and interacting awkwardly with each other on camera. Many of the laughs in This Is Spinal Tap or Bad News Tour came from the band members’ try-hard rock star on-camera behavior, whereas in These New South Whales the band members are just sort of…there. And/or possibly trying to effect a sort of awkward The Office-style dynamic.

Interestingly, one of the Executive Producers behind These New South Whales is Laura Waters, Chris Lilley’s key collaborator since We Can Be Heroes. So, if you’re not a fan of the meandering/cringey mockumentary style she’s perfected over the years, avoid These New South Whales.

Oh wait, it seems people have been… When we went into researching this series, we assumed that it had received funding for its second season based on the reaction its first season got. After all, other Screen Australia-funded productions which had been released online have done well:

  • The second season of Plonk, which received funding from Screen Australia last year, consistently got around 7,000-8,000 views for each episode on YouTube, a dip on the five-figure viewing figures its first seasons got, but still respectable
  • Versus, a series based around the world of gaming, got millions of views per episode
  • Paul Fenech’s Dumb Criminals Motorcyclists Club got between 34,000 and 100,000+ per episode

So what did These New South Whales season one get? Well…the first episode was viewed around 10,000 times, and then subsequent episodes got between 2,500 and 4,500 times. Oh.

And while it’s nice to hear that viewing figures aren’t the only thing Screen Australia take into consideration, none of this adds up to These New South Whales getting funding. We mean, it’s not like anyone who watched episode one and thought “this is crap, I won’t watch anymore” got it wrong, or anything.

Gina Minehart Has Risen From Her Grave

If you thought the Australian television comedy scene was dead at the moment, well, sometimes dead is better:

Get patriotic on the Aussie comedy day with Open Slather (Seasons 1 & 2), Just for Laughs Australia 2015, Best of the Sydney Comedy Fest 2016, and Melbourne Comedy Festival’s Big Three-Oh! 2016.

If you missed Open Slather the first time around you’re… well, 99.9% of the Australian population for starters. Advertised as a return to the “good old days” of sketch comedy, it was neither good nor old, though each hour-long episode did seem to run for days thanks to an endless supply of Downton Abbey sketches.

Slightly more interesting was the fact that it employed every single comedy writer in Australia – its wikipedia page lists at least 60 writers – and yet somehow seemed to be written almost entirely by the cast. Oh, and also that the final few episodes were only half an hour long because they ran out of money. And it wasn’t very funny.

Actually, that last one isn’t really that notable for an Australian sketch comedy.

Basically, this is the kind of car crash sketch show that’ll never be released on DVD and no-one bothered torrenting in the first place, so if you’d like to consider yourself a fully rounded connoisseur of Australian comedy you should probably find a mate with Foxtel and invite yourself over.

Make sure to bring a lot of snacks with you though – they’re not going to be happy with you once it starts.

Line? Line?

For those of you eagerly anticipating the Australian version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, big news!

New Foxtel series Whose Line Is It Anyway? Australia announces its ensemble cast of seven exciting and talented performers. Comedy superstar Rhys Darby is joined by comedy festival favourites Cal Wilson, Tegan Higginbotham and Susie Youssef, along with world-class improviser Steen Raskopoulos, and newcomers Bridie Connell and Tom Walker.

It’s no Thank God You’re Here, is it?

Still, unlike that overly controlled exercise in celebrity hand-holding, Whose Line Is It Anyway? has – in the US version at least – always been much more about actual improv. It’s a format that allows those who’re skilled at improv comedy to really shine, while providing not a whole lot in terms of a safety net for those who aren’t up to scratch.

But still, improv comedy? Part of the success of Thank God You’re Here was down to it smoothing out the bumps – you rarely got something insanely funny (Bob Franklin aside), but there weren’t all that many segments that were a dead loss either (Rebel Wilson aside). No doubt some decent editing could manage a similar result with “real” improv. Eventually. If they spent days filming it.

Improv appeals to people who like the “anything can happen” element. Unfortunately, once you record something for television you’re adding in a whole bunch of layers where “anything can happen” turns into “enjoy this processed product”. Which is great when those layers are used to add in more comedy: when you’re working with improv nothing is funnier than the version shown live. And often that’s not very funny at all.

The US version worked for so long because they had really, really really funny people on a show that felt throw away enough that anything really could happen. Hopefully the Australian version will be taking similar risks.

An Obscure Reference to the Song “Simply Irresistible”

It’s the start of a new financial year, and we all know what that means: Australia’s various film and television funding bodies reveal where the money went!

Considering how often we’re told that funding is essential to the development and production of film and television in this country you’d figure these lists would be a rock-solid guide to the laughs we can expect to be getting in the months and year to come. And yet, year after year, at least 90% of these projects come to nothing – and we’re not just talking about the ones with Marieke Hardy’s name attached. It’s almost as if the funding system was akin to a giant rort funneling money to pushy chancers, people with the right contacts, everybody’s mates and The Usual Suspects rather than something designed to help the best ideas get in front of the most people.

Of course, we could just be being cynical [who, us? – ed]. So let’s just take a look through who’s been lucky enough to score a slice of government pie.

First we have Screen Australia’s most recent round of approvals:

Q-SCHOOL
One Stone Pictures Pty Ltd
Genre
Comedy, Crime
Producer Georgie Lewin
Executive Producer Nathan Earl
Writers Veronica Milsom, Nicholas McDougall, Nathan Earl
Synopsis Before you’re a golf sensation, you have to make it through Q-School. Every golfer has a Q-School story. This series is about the class of 2017 – a killer year.

THESE NEW SOUTH WHALES SEASON TWO
Born In The Sauce Pty Ltd
Genre
Comedy
Producers Todd Andrews, Ben Timony, Jamie Timony
Executive Producers Jeffery Walker, Laura Waters
Directors Ben Timony, Jamie Timony
Writers Todd Andrews, Ben Timony, Jamie Timony
Synopsis Four even cockier underdogs from Newcastle become the bonafide lords of the road they always aspired to be.

Z-BULB
Studio Moshi Productions Pty Ltd
Genre
Action adventure, Comedy
Producer Andrew Davies
Director Christien Clegg
Writer Scott Edgar
Synopsis Waking from a coma into a modern world of celebrity heroes and villains, Z-Bulb must regain his rightful place while putting history right to expose the truth of his former greatness.

HEAVEN INC
Crankyfish Pty Ltd, Monkeystack & Cameralla
Genre 
Animated Comedy
Producers Julian Vincent Costanzo, Jonathon Dutton, Justin Wight
Director Alex Brett Graham
Writer Carl J. Sorheim
Synopsis God is having a hell of a time. He hardly believes in himself anymore and has outsourced the afterlife to the celestial company DestaCorp, leaving him twiddling his thumbs and pondering the meaning of life. Meanwhile, outspoken atheist Michelle meets an oddly well-timed death – and the last place she expects to end up is Heaven.

RUPERT
Goalpost Pictures Australia Pty Ltd
Genre
Comedy, Drama
Producers Andrew Spaulding, Rosemary Blight, Doug Mankoff, Mike Marcus
Writer David Williamson
Synopsis Based on David Williamson’s bitingly satirical stage-play, Rupert will chart the rise of global media’s most powerful player: Rupert Murdoch, the arch-manipulator of public opinion, dynastic warlord and Mama’s boy.

And then under Gender Matters: Brilliant Stories funding recipients we found these guys:

THE ELEMENTALS
8 x 30 min
Snap Pants Productions
Genre
Action adventure, Comedy
Producers Diana Glenn, Katherine Stewart, Jane Harber, Andrew Walker
Director Sian Davies
Writers Diana Glenn, Katherine Stewart, Jane Harber
Synopsis Three washed up, co-dependent ex Superheroes living in a share house wrestle with their responsibilities to save the planet and their desire to do very little. Things heat up with the emergence of a new uber villain and news that they are about to lose their government super hero payouts.

HOLY COW
6 x 1 hr
See Pictures, Bliss Bomb, Jungle FTV
Genre
Comedy, Drama
Producers Ester Harding, Radha Mitchell, Chloe Rickard
Directors Alethea Jones, Daina Reid
Writers Liz Doran, Lally Katz, Greg Waters
Synopsis When media commentator Sarah runs to foreign correspondent Jonathan’s New Delhi doorstep, she keeps her reasons secret. A romantic adventure through India’s extremes is not what she expects, but it may turn out to be what she needs.

JUMPER
6 x 30 min
Porchlight Films
Genre
Comedy
Producers Tanya Phegan, Sylvia Warmer
Executive Producers Anita Sheehan, Vincent Sheehan, Liz Watts
Writer/Director Kacie Anning
Synopsis A big-hearted comedic underdog sports series where a working class university student forms a jump rope team to protest the repeal of free tertiary education in 1980’s Australia.

PUBLIC RELATIONS
6 x 30 min
Revlover Films
Genre
Comedy
Producer Martha Coleman
Director Sarah Bishop
Writers Claire Phillips, Sarah Bishop, Ainslie Clouston
Synopsis An outrageously funny and biting satirical ensemble comedy set in a PR firm that struggles to keep its clients out of the papers and their dick pics offline.

SEX IN THE WEST (SITW)
6 x 1 hr
Entertainment One Films
Genre
Comedy, Drama
Producers Troy Lum, Jude Troy
Executive Producer Fadia Abboud
Writers Fadia Abboud, Lina Kastoumis, Gillian Stein, Amal Awad
Synopsis A sharp, warm and celebratory story of three Arab, Muslim and Christian female friends living in contemporary Western Sydney. Their friendships and loyalties are tested as they balance community and family expectations with their own desires and ambitions.

SILVER LINING
8 x 30 min
Carver Films
Genre
Comedy, Drama
Producers Anna McLeish, Sarah Shaw
Director Mirrah Foulkes
Writers Mirrah Foulkes, Luke Davies
Synopsis Rose returns from her life overseas to convince her eccentric ageing parents to move into assisted living. As they dig their heels in, she suddenly finds herself parenting them and having to face the dysfunctional family dynamics that bubble to the surface.

SWEET JANE
10 x 1 hr
Cordell Jigsaw Productions
Genre
Drama, Romantic comedy
Producer Paul Bennett
Director Jennifer Leacy
Writers Samantha Strauss, Ally Burnham, Paul Bennett
Synopsis A contemporary workplace comedy set against the dramatic highs and lows of the book publishing industry.

And we’re not going to go through all the online ones but these did stand out thanks to the people involved:

SHEILAS
Giant Dwarf
Genre
Comedy
Producer Nikita Agzarian
Executive Producer Julian Morrow
Writers/Directors Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Synopsis A playful celebration of the forgotten and most badass women in Australian History.

GOOD GRIEF
Genre
Comedy, Drama
Producer Amanda Reedy
Executive Producer Nicole Minchin
Director Amanda Jane
Writers Natalie Harris, Jess Harris
Synopsis A funny and touching series on grief. Whether it’s mourning a loved one, your youth, or last night’s bottle(s) of pinot, grief is inevitable and never convenient.

Anything there to get excited about? Anything there you can say with any confidence “sounds funny”? Is it merely enough to describe a project as “outrageously funny” or should there be traces of humour in the log line itself?

Pretty much the only pre-tested material seems to be the adaptation of the David Williamson play Rupert, which many reviews referred to as being somewhat “resume-like”. Considering Williamson’s last foray into television comedy was the astonishingly shithouse Dog’s Head Bay twenty years ago (“We suggest you don’t bother”, 2.8 out of 10 – IMDb), Rupert might have some vague car-crash fascination. Anyone else think they’ll try to cast Max Gillies? He’s still the go-to guy for shit “serious” satire of this ilk, right?

But otherwise… Okay, to be fair some of these are the kind of generic set-up you’d expect for a comedy where the laughs are going to come from performances and dialogue. And some – well, all the ones involving superheroes for starters – seem like the producers are trying to throw an otherwise bog standard comedy onto a bandwagon that left five years ago.

Still, there’s an awful lot of names here that we don’t recognise for good or ill. Have we missed anything? Is there anything here we should be optimistic about? Anything? C’mon guys, we’re drowning…

The Firth Estate

There’s been a bit of talk in the past year about whether this country’s political journalists are doing a good job or not…

From New Matilda:

ABC journalist Annabel Crabb last night began her sickeningly sweet profile of former Immigration Minister and current Treasurer Scott Morrison like this: “People describe Scott Morrison as ambitious, hard-line, even arrogant. But I’ve also heard compassionate, devout and a rabid Tina Arena fan. Clearly the man requires some further investigation.”

Well, yes, he does require further investigation, but probably not on his infatuation with outdated popstars (no offence to Tina, of course).

And more recently, there’s been the Leigh Sales controversy. From Medium:

The frustration that many consumers of political journalism — citizens — feel about everyday political journalism can often be traced to a sense that journalists are working from an understanding of what the job entails, one that is fundamentally different to their own.

If you’ve ever watched a bunch of people yelling at a television while a journalist asks a politician questions, you will know what I mean. “Don’t ask that! Don’t let him get away with that! Make him answer! Can’t you see that you are being played!” You know the sort of thing. People can become incredibly angry that, in their opinion, the journalist isn’t doing his or her job properly, where “properly” is to do with their unspoken presumptions about what the role of journalism is.

That anger, about journalists not doing their job properly, about them not holding politicians to account, about them not asking the sort of piercing questions we’d like to ask them if we got the chance? We think that applies to political comedy too. Political comedy should ridicule politicians and rip their idiocy to shreds, as well as make us laugh. Shouldn’t it?

Interestingly, we learnt during the election campaign, this isn’t a view shared by some comedians whose job it is to produce political comedy…

Charles Firth, who returned to The Chaser a while back and was a writer for The Chaser’s Election Desk, appeared on the ABC’s The Party Room podcast during the election campaign to talk about comedy and politics, and he had a few interesting things to say about how The Chaser operate these days.

Firstly, he reckons The Chaser are wasting their time watching hours and hours of 24-hour news channels, looking for short clips they can make fun of. In his view, they should just go through the papers every morning and look for ways they can build gags which involve them handing Malcolm Turnbull an oversize prop.

He was possibly being facetious about that, but there were an awful lot of prop and prank sketches in the show that were basically:

  1. Take something a politician has done
  2. Turn that into a wacky challenge
  3. Ta-da! We’ve nailed it!
  4. Shot of politician in question laughing along and/or security escorting Chaser member off the premises
  5. A growing realisation in the audience that this isn’t achieving anything politically or comically.

More interestingly in the context of the Sales controversy, Firth argued during his appearance on The Party Room that he feels The Chaser writing team go wrong sometimes because they’re part of the same “echo chamber” as the party machines and the Canberra press gallery. Ordinary members of the public, he thinks, dip in and out of political coverage occasionally and don’t know who many of the major figures are. The Chaser’s mistake, he says, is to make jokes about people like Antony Green, a figure he feels is too obscure.

Really? The sense we get is that the population at large are more engaged in politics than ever, and turning to the ABC to find out what people like Antony Green are saying. The era of a bland two-party system, where it doesn’t matter who you vote for because they’re all the same, is over. People want politics with substance and politicians that stand for something and are taking to social media, news website comments sections and other forums to demand it. Haven’t The Chaser noticed the increase in people voting for fringe parties, nutbags and extremists, instead of the centre-ground approach of Liberal and Labor? And shouldn’t their comedy reflect this?

Instead, their comedy reflects the bland consensus that we’re seeing fall apart across the western world. Their approach to politics is that none of it really means anything (when you’re wealthy enough to survive outside the system) so why not have a good laugh at it all? But for the last decade or so that approach has increasingly fallen out of favour, as shown by the rise of The Daily Show and its offspring. Politics is no longer two warring sides in Parliament: it’s the right-wing neo-liberal consensus behind both parties versus the public they’ve been screwing over.  If your comedy doesn’t reflect that, you’re just another part of the problem.

But there is one thing Charles Firth said on The Party Room that we can agree with: his criticism of The Chaser’s creative process. According to Firth, writers for the Election Desk would post their ideas on the team collaboration website Trello, read everyone’s suggestions, then hold meetings to select the best ones. Except, he says, anyone who criticised other people’s ideas got shot down because there isn’t a culture of criticism in the group. The result, he felt, was that lesser quality material got on air.

It’s hard not to agree with Firth that a culture which discourages constructive criticism in a writer’s room is a bad one. Sketches which appeared on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, considered by many to be one of the greatest sketch shows of all time, underwent extensive criticism in the writer’s room and the result was a very funny show. Perhaps The Chaser’s Election Desk would have been funnier if a higher standard had been demanded?

But, it’s unlikely that a higher standard of show would have come about had Election Desk featured even more props gags and pranks and less trawled footage or gags about political commentators – they were the best bits!

And why must the audience necessarily be in the know anyway? It doesn’t matter if the public hasn’t already seen the footage or the people being mocked. In fact, that’s an advantage. In an era when any event in politics has the piss ripped out of it on Twitter within seconds of happening, television comedians need to work harder to not look like they’re re-hashing the best of the funny tweets from the past week.

Frankly, trawling through hours of footage and getting stuck into the minutiae of politics are the only options for TV satire right now. At a time of niche politics, we need niche comedy.

Australian Federal Election 2016 Comedy – The results!

The people of this country may have delivered an inconclusive result this election, but one thing was certain: politics provided a lot of inspiration to our comedians. Australian Tumbleweed’s specially assembled panel of top analysts (You mean our usual writers – Ed) take a look at the results…

The Chaser were back with another of their trademark election series, the twist being that they expanded their on- and off-air teams to include some of the new-ish faces they’ve been working with on The Checkout. But while Chas and Andrew’s “Under the Desk” segments focusing on how the media have been calling the campaign were as good as ever, most of the pranks looked stale and pointless. It seems security guards and receptionists across the land have cottoned on to the possibility that The Chaser might come a-calling, meaning the team could rarely get near their targets to deliver their pre-planned zingers. Not that their zingers contained much zing this time around. Smuggling toy boats into Peter Dutton’s election night party? If that’s really the best you can do, why bother?

The underlying problem – and it seemed more noticeable than usual this time around – is that for The Chaser politics is just a bunch of semi-famous people being covered on various news shows most people don’t watch. You could make a near-identical show about football players, or actors, or any other group that does a lot of things in the public eye. There’s nothing in The Chaser’s work that provides any real reason as to why we should give a fuck about politics – after all, they clearly don’t. There’s no anger, no insight into how personalities shape things, not even any really decent skewering of the way the political process forces people to behave in unusual ways. Find a technical flub or bungled quote, point it out, move along.

But Malcolm Turnbull took 23 words to answer a one word question on Q&A! Did anyone come away from that bit not realising that Turnbull actually had given a one word answer – “yes” – surrounded by some very human fumbles and false starts? Unlike other ABC shows that have to labour under the concept of “balance” (*cough* Mad as Hell *cough*) where they balance things out by actually making decent critical points about both sides of politics, The Chaser seem to think that by making each individual bit completely toothless the overall result will offend nobody. Replace “offend” with “entertain” and you’re getting closer to the mark.

Whether this is because their real interests lie elsewhere – as we’ve mentioned numerous times before, Chas and Andrew’s bits that directly tackle the media are often excellent – or the result of an actual policy to avoid any real consideration of what politics means, the result is a show that is often close to insulting in its superficiality. Maybe The Chaser need to follow the lead of one-time receptionist and security guard botherer Michael Moore, who in his latest film Where to Invade Next just went around interviewing people and letting them and his research tell the story. With a lot more success than anything The Chaser’s Election Desk managed.

The law of diminishing returns also applied to Jungle Production’s The Member, a mockumentary about Senate candidate Miles Holbeck. 10-15 years ago, the Holbeck character approaching members of the public and trying to get their votes with no policies would have been funny, or at least a fresher-seeming idea. But in 2016, we’re over that kind of thing. Especially when it’s this crap. Oh, and the title of the show doesn’t work. He’d only have been trying to be a member if he’d been running for the House of Reps, which he wasn’t. Although calling it The Senator would have been a less successful dick pun.

Mad As Hell, which probably wasn’t expecting to be doing anything election-themed this year, rose to the challenge with its usual aplomb and provided some of the funniest election comedy of the campaign. Part of its success is that, to coin a phrase, it plays the ball as much as the man or woman (though we do appreciate the way this week they took up our suggestion to take a swing at Annabel Crabb’s twee persona). Whereas The Chaser and The Member seem to be very much making fun of individuals, Mad As Hell went after the system and the circumstances as well.

It didn’t hurt that much of Mad as Hell‘s humour is based on first making an observation – something The Chaser does almost as well – but then running with it down various very funny corridors (sometimes literally). Making a “stop the boats” joke about Malcolm Turnbull’s promise that gay marriage legislation will “sail” through parliament is one thing; having Micallef put on a sailor’s cap, realise Rear Vice Admiral Sir Bobo Gargle is there for no good reason, then have him leave and take The Kraken with him is another level entirely.

Overall, it was the shows which went after the system that won the satire war this election. Clarke & Dawe had plenty of fun with the dullness of the campaign, while the episode of Sammy J’s Playground Politics Roll of the Dice is the kind of thing that people should be shouting “He fucking nailed it!” about but didn’t. Which is a shame, because Playground Politics is for us the best new comedy we’ve seen all year. A simple concept, executed flawlessly, that really packed a punch. We hope it’s back for more soon.

As for the future, who knows what it holds for us? A Mad Max style future for sure, but is it the original film’s version with a religious extremist dealing out justice on the highways, or the one where Angry Anderson is in a position of power and influence? And while we’re asking the tough questions, where was Charlie Pickering in all this? Surely he should have been out there nailing it left right and center. Maybe someone nailed his door shut? One can only hope.

But one election result seems likely: in the fictional world of Rake Cleaver Greene might just become a Senator, with his sister Jane and his old enemy David sitting on the benches beside him. We don’t normally talk about dramedy on this blog, but what a great series this has been. Especially the alliance of Jane with Cal McGregor. Was it opportunism, a chance to kick Cleaver or a genuine romance that drew them together? And how quickly will it all unravel – and what great satire will it unleash – when the Rake crew move, as seems likely, to Canberra?

Does An Australian Show Require Australian Viewers?

Press release time!

Filming starts on series 4 of Please Like Me

Thursday, July 7, 2016 — ABC is pleased to announce that production is underway in Melbourne on series four of the critically-acclaimed comedy/drama Please Like Me, with six new episodes.

Creator, writer and star of the show, Josh Thomas, will once again be joined by co-stars Thomas Ward (Tom), Hannah Gadsby (Hannah), Debra Lawrance (Mum), David Roberts (Dad), Caitlin Stasey (Claire), Emily Barclay (Ella), Keegan Joyce (Arnold), Renee Lim (Mae) and Josh’s incredibly talented cavoodle, John.

After making his directing debut last year, Josh steps up to direct half of the new series, with the other half helmed by the show’s award-winning original director Matthew Saville.

Since its premiere in 2013, Please Like Me has become one of Australia’s most internationally-renowned TV series, praised by critics both here and in the US where it screens on the Pivot Network. It’s been named one of the best shows of the year, two years running by America’s Entertainment Weekly.

Please Like Me has been honoured with nominations for the International Emmy Awards, the Rose d’Or Awards and the GLAAD Media Awards. Locally, it has been nominated for Logie Awards for Most Outstanding Comedy, Best Actor, Most Outstanding Light Entertainment and Most Popular Actor, and for nine AACTA Awards, winning trophies for Best Comedy or Light Entertainment Program, Best Screenplay in Television and Best Performance in a TV Comedy.

Please Like Me will be filmed on location over the next five weeks and will air later in the year.

Production Credits: Please Like Me is a Pigeon Fancier/John & Josh International production for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Participant Media’s Pivot network, made with the assistance of Film Victoria.

Also:

Rick Kalowski, ABC Head of Comedy, told TV Tonight, “It’s a testament to Please Like Me’s creative quality and brand-defining international reputation [emphasis ours] that it’s ABC’s first scripted comedy series in over 20 years to go to a fourth season – and it’s the best one yet.”

Let’s not forget:

Since its premiere in 2013, Please Like Me has become one of Australia’s most internationally-renowned TV series

Yet the Australian ratings for November 26th, 2015 – when season three of Please Like Me still had a month to run – paint a grimmer local picture:

ABC News (760,000), 7:30  (734,000), The Chaser’s Media Circus (536,000), Call Me Dad (301,000), Antiques Roadshow (227,000), Agony (225,000) and Please Like Me (113,000) comprised ABC’s night.

So we’re still asking a question we asked last year:

after the ratings it got this year, how could the ABC even show [a fourth season] with a straight face?

Because where and when they end up showing a series that ended its previous season with less than 100,000 viewers is going to be very interesting indeed.

 

Soul Kind Of Feeling

Press release time!

ABC meets its Soul Mates this August

Thursday, June 30, 2016 — ABC welcomes Bondi Hipsters, Cavemen, Kiwi Assassins and Ancient Egyptians next month when Australian comedy series Soul Mates II premieres on Wednesday, 3 August at 9.40pm. A co-commission between ABC and NBC-Universal’s comedy streaming channel Seeso (USA), the second series will also be available on ABC iview in its entirety from this date.

Written and directed by brothers Christiaan and Connor Van Vuuren, Soul Mates II stars Christiaan and Nick Boshier as a couple of buddies continually drawn together across the course of human history, past and future. The second instalment introduces viewers to a new world of Ancient Egyptians, as well as new cast members, Doris Younane, John Howard and Ian Roberts.

Hatshepsut (Younane) is a female pharaoh and tiger mum who plays her children, artsy bastard son Seti (Boshier) and demi-god Thutmose (Roberts) against each other. When Hatshepsut demands Seti renovate Thutmose’s tomb in preparation for his ascension to the next life, Seti meets Amram (Christiaan Van Vuuren), a capable, quick-witted slave. As they become a team, is a friendship forming or is it something much more mystical that will affect their souls forever?

Series One’s Bondi Hipsters, Dom and Adrian, return with big plans to find underground success, opening the “Closed Cafe”, an establishment so “Bondi-cool” that it’s only open when it’s shut. The pair also set out to rid Bondi of buff Brazilians that they believe are cutting their grass with local women. Meanwhile, Kiwi Assassins, Terry Thinge and Roger Blade are operating undercover in a private school to discover why the New Zealand schoolboy rugby team has lost to the Aussies, again, finding themselves tangled in a scrum of lies, drugs and suspiciously Maori-looking “local” rugby lads. And the cavemen, Sticks and Rocky, have found their tribe but now must unravel the quagmire of complexities that come with living in a society, pondering questions such as who does which jobs, why do we need money and most importantly, who should get “elected” most popular?

Series one of Soul Mates will be available on ABC iview for two weeks from 20 July ahead of Soul Mates II airing on ABC and iview.

ENDS

We’re going to file our reaction under “guardedly positive”, as the first series wasn’t the worst thing the ABC aired that year. Has it really come to this? Has simply not being complete shit become enough to spark our interest in a comedy? Considering we just saw an ad for the return of Gruen and now can’t stop vomiting, yes. Yes it is.

Sure, bringing back three of the four plotlines from the first series isn’t so great. The cavemen wore out their welcome by episode six; the Kiwi Assassins by episode two (though they were always the kind of comedy characters that were bound to catch on in a world where Danger 5 got two series). But optimistically the caveman stuff might have enough of a twist on it to make it work, and the Egyptian plot… well, we’re going to miss all the hi-tech visual gags from the time travel plot from s1.

Actually, the really interesting bit about all this is this bit:

A co-commission between ABC and NBC-Universal’s comedy streaming channel Seeso (USA)

Another day, another ABC comedy series that only exists because someone overseas decided they liked it. We can’t fault the ABC for going after foreign money when they can – Lord knows there’s bugger-all money available locally – and it’s perfectly valid to say who cares where the money comes from as long as we get more local comedy out of it. Our response: remember Please Like Me?

Soul Mates was a decent comedy show that should have automatically got a second series, and we don’t know enough about the behind-the-scenes process (Did they want a year off? Were they actively trying to get an overseas deal?) to suggest that they’re only back because there’s overseas money behind them. But the more our local comedy relies on overseas money, the more likely it is that we’re going to get more series like Please Like Me: shows that local audiences don’t give a rat’s arse about but keep coming back because the people re-commissioning them don’t give a rat’s arse about local audiences.

Obviously this isn’t going to be a problem if the overseas-financed series are just a bonus to our usual comedy line-up. If the ABC can put to air a few extra comedy series because they’re co-productions, excellent! And obviously that kind of thing is in no way going to lead to a cut in the comedy budget as money managers look at co-productions and ask “why can’t you just do more of those?” as they slash the budget.

Obviously we’re not going to get to a stage where the only comedy shows that get the go-ahead on the ABC are ones they can either sell to an overseas audience or can get overseas funding for, because obviously comedy is very different from drama, which is an area where it’s increasingly obvious that overseas money is pretty much the only thing keeping the ABC’s output going.

Obviously comedy is totally different from that. Obviously.

Putting Your Feet Up On The Desk

“This program contains content that may alarm some viewers”. That was the warning at the start of this week’s episode of The Chaser’s Election Desk. Considering the last time The Chaser did an election show they wrapped it up by showing a doctored photo of Chris Kenny rooting a dog, it wasn’t a warning to take lightly.

And yet, having watched the entire episode, we’re still not sure what the warning was for. At a wild guess? Maybe it was for the bit where Bill Shorten’s bus hit Annabel Crabb. Which only alarmed us when we realised it didn’t actually really happen because quite frankly her soft-soap efforts to “humanise” our wannabe lords and masters is about 80% of what’s wrong with political coverage in this country today. You want to get real laughs? Make fun of her. Because unless you’re living inside the ABC bubble the idea of a vaguely quirky and girlishly-dressed lady turning up at politicians houses and demanding they cook for her is somewhat more amusing than “oh look, a politician flubbed his lines”.

As for the other 20%, a goodly chunk of that has been on display on The Chaser’s Election Desk. Normally we’re all for comedy shows that try to stuff as much in as possible, and each week Election Desk has seemed increasingly stuffed.

Let’s try that again.

Here’s a question: how many people do you really need to throw to clips of politicians mangling quotes and looking silly? We’d say two – maybe three if you had an especially wide range of clips you were throwing to. But eleven? Seems a tad excessive. Especially as maybe half of them only got to announce one bit before never being seen again (until next week). It’s great that they’re giving their writers face time, but they’re just props for a joke that stopped being funny two minutes in to week one.

And while we’re talking about things that stopped working, usually at this stage we’d say something about how pretty much every prank of this series started and ended with security staff man-handling the prankster off-site before their victim even came in range. But while the prank with the faux Wicked Campers van promoting the Liberal Democrats’ leader was a pretty crude joke, it was also a): a good illustration of his hypocrisy and b): got the politician involved to say “fuck off”, so we’re going to chalk that one up as a win.

[it was also from The Checkout‘s double act of Kirsten Drysdale and Zoe Norton Lodge, who’ve stood out as new additions to The Chaser on-air team. More from them, please]

But that also highlighted the big weakness of Election Desk: all the big laughs came from the margins. The media, the minor parties, the small players – when they focused on them The Chaser got laughs. Pretty much all the stuff about Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten struggled. Shorten stumbles over words? Turnbull seems kinda snooty? These are pretty close to the least interesting things you can say about people leading political parties vying to run the country – unless, of course, you come from enough money yourself to cushion yourself from any attacks on public services or damage to the economy these leaders might cause.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future we’re stuck with a society where only people from the upper middle class have the resources to waste on developing a comedy career, and so shows like The Chaser are going to be coming from a place where the politicians’ names change but their devotion to keeping the middle-class welfare flowing to those comedians remains the same. Which tends to blunt their satire, which is why they work best when they’re making fun of the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

But that approach still requires them to actually make fun of stuff. High-Speed Rail? This bit felt more like something from The Checkout: moderately interesting information presenting in a moderately snarky fashion. Putting to air a large chunk of an awkward interview with the sole remaining senator from the Palmer United Party as he refused to (or was unable to) name the leader of the Palmer United Party? It was certainly interesting to see, but Media Watch tends to specialise in that when it’s not grieving over the death of journalism.

Coming directly after Mad as Hell was always going to be tough for The Chaser’s Election Desk. But to be fair, while both shows are tackling the election, they’re doing it in very different ways. Mad as Hell often takes the election material as a starting point before going off into the kind of material Micallef and company do best: pop culture references (“they’re not the droids he’s looking for”) and weird tangents (once that political spokeswoman got up and walked off set and the cameras followed, we laughed, knowing exactly where she – and the joke – was going).

Mad as Hell‘s bit about scare campaigns where the Labor spokeswoman kept telling creepy stories to freak the Liberal guy out was one of the funniest bits of election-based comedy we’ve seen to date. But it’s not the kind of election comedy The Chaser do. They don’t take funny ideas and run with them; they find a funny clip or idea, do one joke and move on. In theory it’s a strength – while everyone else is messing about, The Chaser get to grips with the raw substance of an Australian federal election.

If only Australian federal elections weren’t so fucking boring.

 

The Member for Nothing

The Australian electorate faces a difficult choice this Saturday; difficult because both of the major parties have similar policies and almost all of the small parties and independents are raving nutbags. Which makes Miles Holbeck – The Member, a new election-themed comedy web series from Jungle, available in bi-weekly installments on their Facebook page, seem rather timely.

Former PE teacher Miles Holbeck is standing as an independent candidate for the Senate, except, unlike every independent who’s ever stood, he hasn’t got any beliefs or policies. He’s more the kind of politician who’ll say whatever he thinks the few people prepared to listen to him want to hear.

Making Holbeck an independent candidate with no strong beliefs is an interesting choice, partly because it seems so unlikely – isn’t the thing about independents that they stand because they believe strongly in something, no matter how misguided – and partly because for the character to work, there has to be some way for us to his understand him. And so far, all we’ve discovered is that Miles used to be a PE teacher and that he and his wife split recently. Which doesn’t really explain why he’s running despite holding no political views.

We could probably overlook the fact that Miles is an unrealistic and unexplained character if the show was funny, but here’s the other problem: it isn’t. It’s yet more of what we’ve come to expect from almost two decades of post-The Office, cringe-coms: a misguided character does stuff and looks idiotic. And we’re all meant to laugh.

Miles campaigns in a local park, tries too hard to get along with people and metaphorically falls on his arse. Miles gets a slot on community radio, but when asked by the interviewer to tell the listeners his views, any of his views, he plugs his tailor. Miles’ campaign manager hires various experts (in strategy, NLP, etc.), but Miles either doesn’t understand or ignores their advice. Miles gets booked for an Open Mic night in a bar and bores and mystifies the audience with his attempts to play the guitar and connect with them politically. And on it goes.

Oh yeah, and almost all the people in this series are members of the public who had no idea Miles wasn’t a real candidate. Which again, would have been fine if it was funny, but it isn’t. You just feel a bit sorry for the various people whose time’s been wasted.

With so many candidates in this year’s election having nothing of great interest to say, a comedy about a candidate with no views seems prescient, but it doesn’t work comedically. If you want to create a character who’s funny, you’d be better off creating a character with extreme views – a Bob Katter or Donald Trump-style nutbag, for example. But if your character believes in nothing, there’s nowhere for your comedy to go. And as much as we’re not fans of Office-style cringe comedy, at least David Brent was an actual character, with the sort of delusional self-believe that’s potentially very funny indeed. Miles Holbeck, on the other hand, needs to find some beliefs to hold so that we can laugh at them.