Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Vote now in the Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2018!

It’s that time of year again…it’s time to cast your vote in the Australian Tumbleweed Awards 2018.

Excited comedy fans around the nation are doing it, so why don’t you?

Democracy sausage

Sketch comedy, sitcoms, satire, panel shows, films and pilots – we want to know what you thought were the worst (and best) Australian comedies of 2018.

You can read the rules, see the nominations and cast your vote here from now until midnight on Friday 11th January.

We’ll announce the results on or about Australian Day 2019.

Vale Australian Television Comedy 2018

Australian television comedy ended 2018 the same way it began: with Charlie Pickering prattling on like a private school debating student putting in the bare minimum effort because daddy’s money is all he really needs to win an argument. If you wanted to sum up the ABC’s year in comedy, the moment where Pickering ended The Yearly by throwing to another show that was also hosted by Charlie Pickering was as good a way as any. Can’t wait for him to host the New Year’s Eve programming again! Hopefully this year he’ll tell us to kill paramedics.

How did we get to a place where Charlie Pickering – a man whose claim to comedy fame is that he used to laugh a lot at Shaun Micallef, which narrows down his competition to roughly one third of the country – is the ABC’s biggest comedy star? It’s not like he’s actually funny or anything; c’mon, we may be haters from the old school, but even Pickering’s biggest fans admit that his strengths on television don’t lie in the area of actually making people laugh. He’s a newsreader, only without the charm: The Weekly would easily be a whole lot funnier if they got a traditional, formal, trained newsreader to sell the writer’s shitty gags. We hear Lee Lin Chin’s looking for work.

If you don’t believe us about Pickering’s flaws – and why should you; we’re haters, remember? – then The Yearly did a surprisingly solid job of pointing out both his weaknesses and the lengths to which his show goes to disguise them. Take Kitty Flanagan, whose appearances on the show were always a comedy highlight, and who once again went all out; it was also her final appearance on the show. No replacement has been announced.

Briggs, the other funny cast member and a man who was featured in the opening credits of The Weekly all year as a regular despite only appearing a handful of times, had a pre-recorded segment where he interacted with no-one: if he doesn’t return next year, will anyone even notice?

And yet, while the funny cast members of The Weekly are sidelined, Tom Gleeson – the only man who comes across as less charming and likable on-camera than Pickering – keeps on keeping on, confirming on-air he’d be back next year. Of course he will: he’s a valuable number two, as his entire act revolves around being a jerk. Whatever you think of said act, it definitely makes Pickering look good by comparison.

Or at least, it does when Gleeson’s the only other person on the show, which was often the case during The Weekly 2018. But The Yearly featured a surprisingly large run of comedy special guest stars and… shit, it barely took 30 seconds for Rove to reveal himself as both funnier and more charming than his former Project protege. And this is Rove! A man most people see as a firmly average and largely forgettable television presence! If they’d given Dave Hughes more than ten seconds air time they’d have had to cancel the whole show in shame.

Putting literally anyone actually remotely funny on screen in proximity to Pickering makes it abundantly clear that whatever Pickering’s strengths may be when it comes to keeping him constantly on air at the ABC, they don’t involve charm, humour, or ease in front of the camera. Yet in a year when Tom Ballard had his tonight show axed and The Checkout was also shown the door, Pickering was given a whole new show in the shape of Tomorrow Tonight to play with. Shakespeare said it best: the fuck?

And that show was somehow even worse than The Weekly, an insipid panel show based around discussing terrifying scenarios ripped from a seven year old magazine found in a doctor’s waiting room like “what if sugar, but bad” and “what is the deal with other countries”. The ABC’s desperate need to create “personalities” rather than decent programs seems to have reached a nadir here, as they try again and again to make Pickering seem like an interesting and talented television host by inserting him into programs somehow even more boring than he is. Thank God they axed the test pattern.

As a slightly smarmy upper class white man who is also slightly outraged for no good reason considering his position and status, Charlie Pickering’s comedy persona is perhaps the least funny comedy act it’s possible to image in 2018. He’s not even that good at it: while it’s impossible to image anyone replacing Shaun Micallef as host of Mad as Hell, any mildly competent sports reporter could do Pickering’s job at least as well.

And by “mildly competent sports reporter” we mean Peter Helliar. It’s just that bad.

Vale Mad as Hell and, uh… Tomorrow When the War Began?

Having Mad as Hell on our screens is a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, it’s the best Australian comedy – and probably the best in all categories including drama, arts coverage and religious programming – television program currently airing. It’s definitely the only thing currently going that could legitimately be called “world class”, and considering we’re heading for a future where “world class” means “able to be shown around the world”, there’s very little chance we’ll see another Australia-specific show operating at this level once it’s gone.

On the other hand, it does have the unfortunate side-effect of making a very large swathe of Australian television comedy look shithouse. It’s extremely difficult to find any serious way to justify the quality of something like The Weekly or Sando when Mad as Hell is also on the air, and while there are plenty of shows we don’t like for a wide range of reasons (no shit – ed), when it comes to comedy competence Mad as Hell makes a very good case that many of the people currently pulling down a decent paycheck in Australian comedy are in fact running some kind of piss-poor extortion racket.

Of course, not all comedy can or should be like Mad as Hell. But it should all be trying to be as funny as Mad as Hell instead of aiming for whatever the fuck Squinters thought it was doing. And let’s be clear: Shaun Micallef might be a singular talent but he’s not infallible, and while Mad as Hell is world class comedy it’s not beaming down to us on a shaft of unbearably bright light while a heavenly choir sings its praises.

We go on a heck of a lot here about the importance of piss-farting around: if your show looks like fun, then there’s a good chance people will have fun watching it. But it’s a very fine line: have too much fun among yourselves and you shut the audience out. Mad as Hell isn’t there yet – and it may never get there at all – but it’s not hard to imagine some viewers might feel like they’re getting a lot of in-jokes and smirking mixed in with the funny stuff.

For example, while final episodes are usually where the series burns off the edgier material, this – aside from a Viking suicide bomber and a few slightly more barbed than usual swipes at our especially craven Federal government – aimed most of its edgier digs for the ABC itself. Obviously ABC viewers are more than usually interested in the ABC, but when it comes to that kind of thing a little goes a long way.

The thing is, these (admittedly minor) failings are actually good news. If Mad as Hell was perfect, there’d hardly be a point in bothering with any other comedy.

Yes, it’s fast-paced, features a lot of sharp character work, has a large stable of characters it can wheel out for near-certain laughs, Micallef himself is an excellent comedic performer able to sell a line with a look, the political and social comedy is spot on – extra shout-out to the researchers who’ve been doing brilliant work digging up clips this series – it’s confident enough to cut bits off halfway at the point of maximum comedy then move on, the writers are skilled enough to pick up a funny idea and work through it over a number of weeks (this series’ example: Micallef literally explaining the premise of a comedy bit, as in “that was Stephen Hall in a wig pretending to be a finance expert” or some such) then let it go forever, there’s still a lot of very funny wordplay going on and there’s never the sense that they’re shaping their material to fit an agenda beyond being funny – but it’s not perfect.

It’s just better than all the current alternatives, which makes the news that it won’t be back until July 2019 – which will be after the Federal election no matter when it’s held – sad news indeed.

*

“A show that breaks out of the news cycle to bring you a ground-breaking scenario from the not too distant future”. Wow, who wouldn’t want to watch that? Hang on a second, isn’t this that Tomorrow Today show? Is the ground-breaking scenario “this show somehow becomes good”?

Sold to an audience that clearly couldn’t care less as a show that would explore possible future news scenarios in a manner not dissimilar to the once very-successful Geoffrey Robertson’s Hypotheticals, under the leadership of insipid prattler Annabel Crabb and professional fake newsreader turned real newsreader turned back into fake newsreader Charlie Pickering, Tomorrow Today rapidly became* little more than a current affairs panel show discussing stuff that was like news only without the news part.

The flaw in this approach rapidly became evident in this week’s final (for now) episode on North Korea, where Pickering asked a guest “what would happen if Kim Jong Un disappeared”, only to be told he’d already disappeared a number of times and life simply went on in North Korea because the public there were kept in the dark. And then this guest went on to explain that North Korea is actually run by quite a large organisation which has “tiers and tiers” of leadership in place, and… well, this episode’s clearly over, wonder if NCIS is still showing on Ten.

The old Hypotheticals worked because the point of the Hypothetical was to get the guests – either semi-famous people, semi-important people or semi-relevant people – to reveal something interesting about their thought processes (and by extension, the thought processes of the people like them in positions of power). If it did an episode about North Korea collapsing, it would have military types and economic brains talking about what we’d do and how the collapse would affect Australia, which would be interesting and relevant to home viewers.

Instead, Tomorrow Today had three journalists on a four person panel, and the fourth person was a comedian. In news to just about nobody, journalists are in no way interesting except to themselves: their job is to learn interesting things and then tell us about them.

But here they were useless, because everything they learnt about this fictional scenario was told to them on-camera by Pickering – who actually asked Crabb early on “what’s happening in Canberra right now?” like she was some kind of geopolitical insider. Hey, here’s an idea: why not find some ex politician or defense expert and get them on because they probably have experience in these areas beyond reading press releases and hosting a fucking cooking show.

If this had been an episode based on “what would happen if Channel Nine bought Fairfax and started firing everyone oh shit that’s actually happening right now”, then maybe these media types’ views would be of interest. But if you’re going to talk about geopolitical events, here’s an idea: GET IN EXPERTS ON GEOPOLITICAL EVENTS.

If you’re worried they’re going to be boring, then maybe pick topics where the experts are going to be bubbly and fun. And if you’re worried that “bubbly and fun” experts aren’t going to make for serious television, then maybe just rethink your whole approach to whatever the hell it is you think you’re doing because going by Tomorrow Tonight pretty much anything would be an improvement.

Then again, the idea of improvement at the ABC is a scenario too far-fetched even for this show.

*at the time of writing we assumed this had wrapped up alongside Mad as Hell but nope, it’s still running firmly into the non-ratings period where a complete lack of quality competition should make no difference whatsoever to its lacklustre performance

Fresh Blood – Be Your Own Boss

While we’ll all have to wait until next year to see Chris Lilley’s exciting new controversial character, fans of Lilley-style comedy may already be enjoying Be Your Own Boss, the last of the Fresh Blood pilots to air (it’s also on iView and YouTube).

Be Your Own Boss

But first, let’s clarify what we mean by Lilley-style in relation to Be Your Own Boss. What we don’t mean is that it’s a comedy where white people dress up as people of other races, or where people dress up as other genders or sexualities. We’re talking about comedians playing multiple characters in the one show, and those characters being somewhat over-the-top. Maybe Anne Edmond’s The Edge of the Bush would have been a better comparison…?

In Be Your Own Boss, Cameron James and Becky Lucas play three pairs of characters running small businesses in a shopping mall subsidised by the local council:

  • Husband and wife Jase and Chelle, who run a gym inspired by the singer Pink
  • Mother and son Paula and Angelo, who run a pet shop where the animals aren’t in cages, and
  • Ashleigh and Ashley, two hipster “theatre entrepreneurs” who run drama workshops

Also in the show are Mel Buttle as Anne, a local council inspector who has to assess whether the three businesses deserve council subsidy ongoing, and Clinton Haines as Muskrat, a somewhat disturbing character who’s the mall’s maintenance man.

The action in this pilot switches between the three pairs, showing their attempts to make their businesses work – and to impress Inspector Anne. And, unsurprisingly for a Lilley-style show, the three businesses are somewhere between “outright dodgy” and “failing”, the people running them are largely idiots, and the three sets of characters become irritating within seconds. Muskrat, meanwhile, only pops up occasionally, doing something a bit unhinged. He’s probably the funniest thing in this.

What Be Your Own Boss does have in its favour is that unlike a Chris Lilley show, it’s been scripted and thought through a bit rather than come about as a result of days of improv and weeks of editing. As a result, the show feels less laboured than a Lilley show, even if it’s only about as funny. Unfortunately, though, the six lead characters aren’t humans anyone would want to spend time with. They’re the sort of people drama students invent to amuse each other when they’re drunk, rather than the sort of characters that can sustain a sitcom. Their over-the-top screeching and mad schemes might seem amusing in a writers room, or an improv studio, but after 20+ minutes you want them to go away forever.

Having now watched all four of the Fresh Blood pilots, it’s Why Are You Like This? that seems to have the most potential for a series. The characters are awful but they get their comeuppance, the topic of the show is timely, it was the most original of the four shows and the funniest. What did you think?

Fresh Blood: The Angus Project

The Angus Project was another of last year’s Fresh Blood pilots that we thought would work as a full-length sitcom. Well, we said “It could work”, which is about as good as you’re likely to get from us. But, like Koala Man, another Fresh Blood show we thought was promising but didn’t work, The Angus Project doesn’t quite work either. What’s going on, here?

The Angus Project

The premise of The Angus Project is decent: Angus (Angus Thompson), a student with Downs Syndrome cerebral palsy, lives in a house in Bathurst with live-in carer Nina (Nina Oyama of Tonightly), and together they have crazy, often drink or drug-fuelled, adventures. There have been sitcoms built on less, although they’ve usually had decent plots, which sadly this doesn’t…

In this pilot episode (available on iView and YouTube), the pair visit local newspaper editor Ron (Rob Sitch) to see if there’s any writing work going, and amazingly there is: Angus can cover a motivational talk given by wheelchair sports hero Wizza (Adam Bowes). But things don’t quite go to plan with Wizza, in fact, he turns out to be a massive dickhead, and they end up having to score him some horse adrenaline to make amends. Cue a visit to dodgy local drug dealer Kane (Sammy J), who proposes they visit a horse stud to get the adrenaline they need without paying for it.

Actually, in other hands, that could be a decent plot, particularly with an array of experienced comic actors in the show. Problem is, the show frequently goes off on surreal flights of fancy that don’t quite work. Or indulges in silly gags that hold things up. Put it this way, it’s not exactly coherent.

We enjoyed Veronica Milsom as Kath, who does a memorable turn as a bitchy local disability worker, and Sammy J as “high on his own supply” drug dealer Kane, but the rest of the characters, including the leads, don’t quite work. Someone obviously told Thompson and Oyama (who also wrote the show) to dial up the crazy. Or to dial down the crazy. Or something that makes this show feel slightly different in each scene. Whatever happened, this is a bit of a mess, and we can’t see it going further in its present form.

Marriage is a Struggle

They bumped up last week’s episode of How to Stay Married to an earlier timeslot without telling us so we had to wait until yesterday’s repeat to get caught up because TV is free but bandwidth costs and Peter Helliar’s latest effort isn’t really something we want to think about spending money on. Was it worth the wait?

To be fair, it has been improving (a little) since the disastrous first episode. Don’t get too excited: we’re still firmly in “damming with faint praise” territory here. Last night’s episode split things in two, as over-excited basketball coach Greg (Helliar) tried to push his clearly un-interested daughter into sports while wife Em (Lisa McCune) had to deal with a children’s author turned elderly sleaze at her publishing job. Oh, and their youngest daughter got so much change out of a vending machine she became a playground queen paying people in gold coins to do her bidding.

Now that this has settled down a bit it’s a little easier to see what it’s going for, which at least makes it easier to figure out why it’s not as funny as it should be. On the plus side, the characters now play to the actors’ strengths, with Helliar actually engaged in his role as a sports-mad dickhead (*cough typcasting cough*) and Em’s workplace dramas playing to McCune’s comedy strengths, which mostly seem to involve giving off a vague sense of befuddlement.

But while How to Stay Married now “works” as far as the character dynamics are concerned – Greg is excited about being a stay-at-home parent but doesn’t know what he’s doing, Em is glad to be back at work but is discovering she has to actually do work – that doesn’t make those dynamics funny or entertaining.

Greg’s story hinges on him not spotting a fairly basic fact about his going-through-puberty daughter, which “works” as a character moment but isn’t particularly funny or insightful unless it’s 1983 at your house, while Em’s story is just “he wrote kids books but now he’s all about teh sex” which again isn’t exactly gut-busting comedy material as presented here.

If this was Outnumbered then perhaps having the littlest kid’s subplot as the comedy highpoint would be a good thing, but here it feels more like the result of everything else failing to work than something resulting from solid comedy planning. And if the idea is to push the more out-there flights of fancy onto the kids’ subplots (plus Darren Gilshenan, who barely registers as Helliar’s wacky coaching sidekick) then perhaps Helliar needs to sit down and think about what his actual strengths are as a writer.

This is a sitcom where the situation works because it’s about as generic a situation as you can get, and everything after that struggles. Helliar as a bungling but enthusiastic dad is a minor supporting character at best and in any other show he’d have been sidelined by now, while McCune is the kind of bland leading lady who needs at least one and preferably three wackier friends to do the actually funny stuff while she occasionally says something like “what is the deal with airline food?”

How to Stay Married seems like the kind of show that would appeal to actual struggling parents if you were a network executive who let their au pair raise their kids, because last time we checked struggling parents simply didn’t have the time to waste on sitcoms that went for being “relatable” over being funny. In fact, just about every kind of audience we can think of would much rather watch a sitcom that was funny over a show like this where the point seems to be reminding viewers that bungling dads mean well.

If Helliar really did mean well he’d have never made this show in the first place.

Fresh Blood: Why Are You Like This?

It’s fair to say that we hated Why Are You Like This? when we reviewed the initial Fresh Blood sketches last year. So, we were pleasantly surprised by the recently-aired pilot edition (also available on iView and YouTube).

Why Are You Like This?

The Why Are You Like This? pilot features the same characters, Penny played by Naomi Higgins and Mia played by Olivia Junkeer, and the same concept, they’re two uber millennials getting up to stuff in inner city Melbourne, as the original sketches but in the pilot there’s more time to understand who they are and what their lives are like. The original sketches (also on iView) probably would have worked better if there’s been some kind of set-up or backstory, rather than just presenting two people in some situations.

In the pilot, Penny has a job as a coder at a tech company where she’s both the only female employee and the staff member who enthusiastically organises special events for things like RUOK Day and Pride. The rest of her colleagues clearly hate her and, if anything would rather have a meat-tastic barbecue with lots of beer. One co-worker, Daniel (Lawrence Leung), also makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be involved in her Pride event, leading Penny to assume he’s a homophobe.

Mia, meanwhile, drifts from job to job – she’s fired for bludging, she gets a new job but quits for ethical reasons, she then gets another new job and is fired for incompetence – and sponges off Penny to make ends meet.

Penny and Mia are a sort of Herald Sun reader’s nightmare: self-centred and entitled young people, pushing their politically correct views down other people’s throats, who goad and bully anyone who doesn’t conform to their worldview. During a brief stint as a doctor’s receptionist, Mia delays treatment to Nic, a sworn enemy of their friend Austin, which means Nic almost dies. And when Daniel refuses to take part in Penny’s Pride event, and she accuses him of homophobia, it’s her who turns out to be the baddy, as Daniel’s gay but not really “scene”. As a result, Penny ends up in a sensitivity training class. Oh, and Mia gets fired from the doctor’s. They really are awful people.

Having said that, though, this isn’t a comedy that’s about political correctness gone mad or political correctness being bad, it’s a comedy about bullying. The point seems to be that any ideology can turn people into totalitarian nightmares. And if Why Are You Like This? is anything, it’s Mean Girls meets Broad City rather than some kind of old school attack on modern ways.

Having properly set up the sit- in this -com, Why Are You Like This? could make a good series. It’s funny, it’s timely and who doesn’t enjoy laughing at people who deserve it being brought down a peg or two?

It’s a bird, It’s a plane, It’s a Koala Man pilot

Definitely one of the better entrants in last year’s Fresh Blood, animated superhero series Koala Man has now been made into a full-length pilot episode. (You can watch it on iView along with the pilots from the three other Fresh Blood winners – and we’ll be posting reviews of each one over the next couple of weeks.)

Koala Man

Koala Man’s basic premise – an everyday bloke dresses up as a superhero koala to solve problems in his local area (such as annoying groups of layabouts taking over the park) – was a good one. And the initial three Fresh Blood sketches (also available on iView and YouTube) were strong, showing our hero helping typical suburban Aussies involved in typical suburban problems, but in the style of a Marvel film, complete with over-dramatic swells of music, and Koala Man giving a philosophical monologue to camera about the difficult and tortured super life he leads at the end of every episode.

What was particularly promising about Koala Man was the last of the three sketches, which showed Koala Man enjoying his weekend only to be interrupted by a door-to-door salesman touting cheaper electricity. After Koala Man sees off the annoying salesman, the action cuts to the lair of a mysterious half-seen figure with a beak congratulating the salesman on riling up Koala Man. Cliffhanger: the guy with the beak wants to bring Koala Man down, one annoying electricity salesman at a time…but why?

So, if you were expecting more Koala Man along the same lines (or to learn more about Beak Guy’s evil plot) in this full-length pilot, you’ll be disappointed, as there have been some changes made to the concept that don’t necessarily work.

Koala Man turns out to be Kevin, a divorced middle-aged man with a teenage son and a day job. So far, so kinda in the style of Clark Kent/Superman, except we don’t get a sense of Koala Man’s origin story and we spend way too much time with Kevin and not enough time with Koala Man.

In the pilot episode, Kevin is excited about an event happening at work; he works at the local council and they’re unveiling a new fountain the next day. Except, the fountain’s annoyed local residents to the extent that they’re protesting outside – and someone’s taken matters into their own hands by putting detergent in the fountain and now there are bubbles everywhere. Who or what will resolve this?

While Kevin’s colleagues attempt to get through various bureaucratic local council hoops, such as filling in the correct forms, before they can take action on the fountain/bubbles problem, Koala Man tries to track down the fountain vandal. It’s a decent episode plot idea, for sure, but comedy-wise there isn’t enough good material in the script to make this solidly funny for 23 minutes.

There are some good ideas for gags, such as the stuff about local government bureaucracy form filling, which culminates in an amusing sequence in the council’s “War Room”, but overall the show lacks the comic spark of the original short episodes. That and understanding Koala Man’s real life doesn’t seem to add much. It would probably be funnier not knowing Kevin or his personal life at all, making Koala Man a mysterious but slightly full-of-himself guy who thinks he’s making a difference to the world by keeping local streets safe. It’s a bit like what would have happened in Frasier if we’d ever been shown Maris: a massive comedic letdown, and a total joke killer.

The other problem is, well-known animated shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad and even Australia’s own Pacific Heat, usually have very high gag rates, so there was an expectation that Koala Man would too. An expectation it just hasn’t delivered on.

Having re-watched the original Fresh Blood sketches of Koala Man, we’re wondering what went on in the process of producing this pilot. Why was the decision made to focus less on the superhero parody comedy and more on the man behind the superhero? And why did anyone think that would make a better show?

Chasing Their Own Tail

Here’s a question for you: when exactly did Charles Firth rejoin The Chaser? Because he definitely left for a while there – his reports from the US fizzled out fairly early in The Chaser’s War on Everything, and he hasn’t been an on-air part of their television work since then – even their last Election Special didn’t have room for him on their “hilarious” giant desk in 2016.

Not that he hasn’t been busy with Chaser-like work – he was behind-the-scenes at a number of other comedy projects (the less said about “fake news” series WTF! the better), he did “additional writing” on their last Election Special and we’re sure he’s been back on board with their printed stuff for a few years. But he was definitely outside the Chaser tent for a while there, especially as far as television is concerned. Which is why this had us raising an eyebrow:

Satirical comedy group The Chaser are known for their War on Everything, but now they have launched a war on the hand that has fed them for decades.

The group made a surprise announcement on Twitter on Monday, revealing the ABC, its home since 1999, had “declined to fund” an election year series for 2019.

“First time since 2001 that the ABC has declined to fund it. Perhaps Sky News provides enough satire nowadays?” the group’s tweet read.

It is understood not all of The Chaser‘s original members were onboard for an election series next year, but member and founder Charles Firth says the majority of the crew – which expanded to include comedians Zoe Norton Lodge, Ben Jenkins and others after 2016’s The Chaser’s Election Desk – was interested.

Does he now.

The Chaser have stuck together over the years in a way that most other Australian comedy teams of similar size can only dream of (the crew behind The Late Show couldn’t make it to a third season). Aside from that female member on CNNNN who was never heard from again and Firth moving to the US, they’ve been remarkably consistent over the years. But that doesn’t mean we should assume they think as one on every project that crosses their desk. Whatever happened to that sitcom they used to mention every year or so?

So while Firth was full steam ahead on the idea of yet another Chaser election special, maybe not everyone else… oh, hang on a second:

It is understood not all of The Chaser‘s original members were onboard for an election series next year, but member and founder Charles Firth says the majority of the crew – which expanded to include comedians Zoe Norton Lodge, Ben Jenkins and others after 2016’s The Chaser’s Election Desk – was interested.

If “a majority” of the Chaser now includes “and others” then sure, he probably had the numbers. But realistically, if you don’t have at least Chris and or Craig, Julian and Chaz out the front, what you’re selling isn’t The Chaser. Attempts to try and turn comedy teams into brand names with rotating rosters have pretty much never worked in Australia; it’s fine for The Checkout because that’s a show called The Checkout, but if The Chaser wanted to keep doing Chaser-esque comedy with a new team they really should have come up with a new name to go with the new team.

They probably should have started a few years ago too, because despite Firth’s assumption that The Chaser and elections go together hand in glove, outside of Sydney they’ve pretty much vanished from the comedy radar. In the past the Chaser got to do election specials because they were the ABC’s main political satire team; now they’re not, and the ABC currently has two very different programs providing humourous (or in the case of The Weekly, “humourous”) political coverage. So why would the ABC let a Firth-led Chaser team swoop in and nab the plum job of mocking the election?

(if your answer is “because they’re the funniest political satire group in the country!”, then maybe you should reflect on Firth’s role as a producer on The Roast)

Even if you think The Chaser – whatever their line-up – are an essential part of the ABC’s election coverage, the ABC currently goes from Mad as Hell at the start of the year to The Weekly then back to Mad as Hell for around 35 weeks of solid weekly comedy. Would the ABC pull one of those shows to replace them with this Firth-led Chaser election coverage? Or would there be two competing comedy shows on during the four or five weeks of the election?

(let’s be honest, a Firth-led Chaser up against Mad as Hell would come off second best, while putting it up against The Weekly would make The Weekly‘s many, many flaws even more obvious. It’s hard the imagine the ABC being keen on either result)

And what would we be missing out on anyway? According to Firth:

“The main thing we really want to do is get out there and cause mayhem and chaos… I don’t know how much we’d raise, but could you raise enough that it would fund us to go around and do a few stunts? That would be ideal, ’cause that’s the funnest part of doing an election special.

“And also we wouldn’t have to answer to anyone at the ABC or anywhere else… We could be totally unleashed.”

So… more “pranks” involving big props and not being allowed anywhere near an actual politician, plus a bunch of safe studio bits designed to make politicians seem in on the joke? Or just more of whatever it is he thought they were doing on The Roast?

The more comedy the better is pretty much our guiding star here, and if a Chaser Election Special 2019 could somehow be magicked into existence on top of the ABC’s current line-up we’d be more than happy to watch it… once we stopped wondering why at least a dozen other comedy teams and individuals weren’t given a shot with that money first.

But when you’re offering a “totally unleashed” show made up of some of the Chaser team “and others” designed to “cause mayhem and chaos” via the hilarious medium of stunts, then…

…yeah, we’re siding with the ABC on this one.

Congestion On All Major Arteries

Press release time!

Big stars back for Season 2 of hit comedy Squinters

ABC in association with Screen Australia and Create NSW are pleased to announce filming is underway on the new season of Jungle Entertainment’s Squinters, the acclaimed, hit comedy series that celebrates the comically mundane ritual of the daily work commute.

Created by Trent O’Donnell (No Activity, The Moodys) and Adam Zwar (Wilfred, Lowdown), Squinters Season 1 has been embraced by critics and audiences alike, becoming ABC iview’s most watched comedy of 2018.* Season 2 picks up with Aussie distribution company ‘Kosciusko’ taken over by an American conglomerate.  Under new management, our travellers have new jobs and for some, new passengers along for the ride. Over six episodes, we learn intimate details of their lives, relationships and struggles, as they navigate their new workplace.

A star-studded line-up of new cast includes Stephen Peacocke (Tina Fey’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Wanted), Claudia O’Doherty (Judd Apatow’s Love (Netflix), Inside Amy Schumer), Justine Clarke (House Husbands, The Justine Clarke Show), Genevieve Morris (No Activity), Anne Edmonds (Get Krack!n), Bert LaBonte (The Book of Mormon) and the beloved Ernie Dingo. They join returning cast Logie Award-winner Mandy McElhinney, Sam Simmons, Andrea Demetriades, Wayne Blair, Justin Rosniak, Jenna Owen, Christiaan Van Vuuren, Susie Youssef and Edinburgh International Comedy Festival 2018 winner, Rose Matafeo. And still to be announced…a major American female comedic talent has been cast as the new CEO.

“Like Marlon Brando, my favourite acting involves remaining seated the whole time, so this is a dream role for me” says new cast addition Claudia O’Doherty.

While fellow newcomer Steven Peacocke says “The scripts are some of the best stuff I’ve read in ages. Thrilled to be a part of the series.”

From Chloe Rickard and Jason Burrows, the Executive Producers behind the international titles Mr Inbetween and No Activity, the behind the scenes talent line up continues to impress with the team of directors including Trent O’Donnell, Amanda Brotchie, Erin White, Christiaan Van Vuuren and Adele Vuko.  Writers include Adam Zwar, Kodie Bedford, Ben Crisp, Lally Katz, Becky Lucas, Mark O’Toole, Anita Punton, Michael Ward and Joel Slack-Smith.

Squinters is currently shooting in Sydney and LA, to air on ABC and iview in 2019.

Hey, here’s something interesting – see this line:

Squinters Season 1 has been embraced by critics and audiences alike, becoming ABC iview’s most watched comedy of 2018.*

That * doesn’t actually lead anywhere. There’s no reference cited, no numbers quoted, nothing at all mentioned to back up that figure anywhere in the press release. So hey, let’s fill it in ourselves:

*bullshit.

Not that we know it’s bullshit, of course, because the only people who do know the iView figures are – you guessed it – the ABC. So they can say pretty much whatever the hell they like and biff bam pow, the Australian television press will report it as fact. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for once and do some real reporting:

Fun fact number one: Mad as Hell (and for that matter, Gruen and The Weekly) aren’t considered by the ABC to be “comedy” but are instead “entertainment” (if you have a live audience, you’re entertaining). So there goes the funny shows that people actually watch on the ABC.

Fun fact number two: Squinters was the first ABC scripted comedy to air in 2018, with the first episode screening February 7th – the same week as when the entire series was made available on iview. So it’s probably more accurate to say it was ABC iview’s longest available comedy in 2018, especially as the handful of other scripted comedies the ABC had on iview were either notoriously shit (Sando) or didn’t air until the back end of the year (Back in Very Small Business).

It also rated pretty poorly on free-to-air (averaging around 350,000 viewers after week one), which is why this press release doesn’t mention those figures anywhere. So the bits where Squinters is called a “hit” that has been “embraced by audiences and critics alike” are also, how you say… bullshit.

All of which should raise the question: why is this poorly-rating show getting a second series? Especially as almost all the big names that presumably boosted the ratings in series one – Jacki Weaver, Tim Minchin, Damon Herriman – are nowhere to be seen. Oh, we forgot:

And still to be announced…a major American female comedic talent has been cast as the new CEO

Which, considering there’s absolutely no reason not to announce this person’s name here and now unless they haven’t actually cast a specific “major American female comedic talent”, we’re also going to file under bullshit.

But the question remains: why, after shit ratings, a critical drubbing (from us) and general apathy towards a show that was little more than a sketch show where all the sketches had the exact same set-up, are we getting more Squinters?

Considering how much the ABC goes on and on about all their programs to find exciting new comedy talent, how about letting some of that new talent make a prime time show instead of once again dusting off Adam Zwar and Trent O’Donnell, who between them have had a hand in around 80% of the most firmly average “comedy” of the past decade*?

Answers on the back of a postcard, please.

*that would be The Moodys, No Activity, Wilfred, Lowdown, six separate series of Agony, The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, Here Come the Habibs, Laid,The Letdown, The Urban Monkey and – and this remains a pretty big get out of jail free card, let’s be honest – Review with Myles Barlow.