Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

The KGB are coming for you

Now on ABC iView and released in time for NAIDOC Week is KGB, a five-part short comedy series about indigenous cops solving a drugs case in the notorious Perth suburbs of Koondoola, Girrawheen and Balga, AKA the KGB.

The cast of KGB

The makers of KGB, Perth-based Mad Kids, were also responsible for The Legend of Gavin Tanner (made as part 2016’s Comedy Showroom season) and the iView-only Vice parody DAFUQ?. Neither of which were any good. And neither is KGB.

Think Housos but with cops in Perth. Jack and Nigel are promoted to junior detectives to work on a case sparked by a huge explosion at a meth lab in a suburban kitchen. Desperate to impress their boss (Genevieve Morris) and become full detectives, they try to outwit a rival pair of indigenous detectives who always seem to get it right. Can Jack and Nigel crack the case first?

To be honest, we lost interest fairly quickly. There’s a lot of ponderous exposition in this show, which isn’t that engaging, and a lot of high-energy gags and capers which either don’t work well or move way too fast. It’s usual to watch a program which is both moving too fast and moving too slowly, but KGB has done that.

If you like the work of Paul Fenech then maybe this is for you. But if you don’t, probably best to leave it.

Squinters: Going Around In Circles Since 2018

You know how Squinters has directors listed in the credits? Ever wondered what they actually do? Because when you watch an episode of Squinters you rapidly notice that there are only ever three camera angles – a shot through the windshield, then shots through the drivers and passengers windows – and all you’d need to do to film a segment is set up cameras at each point and let them roll. There’s no deciding what to focus on in a scene or figuring out how to frame a shot. It’s just the same three angles, over and over and over and over and over and…

(okay, that guy did get hit by a bike at the end of tonight’s episode)

Look, Squinters has been more of the same since the second half of episode one season one, so pretty much all we’re here to tell you is that fuck-all has changed. Oh, plenty of superficial shit has changed, obviously: all the big names from series one have left, some of the cast have chopped and changed, the show seems slightly more aware that Sam Simmons is probably the best thing it has going for it, and Kirsten Schaal is here to make it clear that even really really good comedians struggle when all they’re given is a car seat to sit in. But the core of the show? Same old. Same old.

Squintaaaaaaaaas

While this is an official promotional photo, one of these people is not actually in season two of Squinters

That’s always been the problem with Squinters, a show seemingly made on the cheap which also has to be filmed in both Sydney and LA: it’s rotten to the core (concept). Oh sure, the basic idea seems reasonable: let funny people talk and the funny will flow. But pretty much every single example of “let funny people talk” outside of shit talk shows lets the funny people talk for a reasonable length of time: Squinters chops its conversations up into segments under five minutes so all you get is a couple of near-random jokes and we’re off to the next couple.

Worse, the series’ fondness for improvised dialogue means that while there are plot lines that develop across episodes and the series as a whole, they move at a glacial pace. Pretty much all the real developments take place between episodes, leaving this feeling like a series that deliberately wants to be boring; meanwhile, whatever story does happen on the actual show is buried under a bunch of wacky riffs.

If you really do think that people sitting around talking is the funniest thing you can put on television – and not, just for example, radio – Squinters seems designed to do so in a way that’s been clinically proven not to work. Stand up comedy, AKA people being funny by talking, is usually either a bunch of different people doing short sets, or one person doing a lengthy performance. You don’t bring the same people back again and again and again to do short sets that are basically the same thing over and over again. Because it’s boring.

And if all that sounds a little vague and technical, let’s talk about Anne Edmonds doing her usual “I’m totally normal no wait I’m a shouty person” bit a full minute into her first appearance. Let’s listen to Sam Simmons repeating the word “man” over and over again until it loses all meaning. You want Genevieve Morris being Aussie as? Is this a show that features a chilled dude with a clucky girlfriend telling him he’s got to lay off the wanking because she just might want to have a baby? This isn’t a show serving up ground-breaking comedy.

All the other TV series that have used this basic idea of car-based comedy – there’s been lots, feel free to google them – have gone “well, this is a very cheap way to make a television show” and have used that as a strength. We’re talking two-handers between people with established comedy chemistry (or even a solo act in the case of Rob Brydon in Marion & Geoff), the kind of thing where you can honestly say “watching these particular people talk is the whole point of the show”.

But with Squinters, it’s like they’ve taken that basic idea and gone “let’s throw some crud on it”. All they’ve done is added things that take away from the concept’s basic strength: instead of two really funny people in one car, now there’s a whole bunch of cars featuring a range of performers, none of whom have any real A-grade comedy chemistry (imagine how much better this would have been if even a B-list team like Hamish & Andy were in the car; then imagine if Working Dog were making it and staffed the cars with established commercial radio duos). The entire business of movies and television is based around filming in a cheap, boring part of the world and then pretending the story is set somewhere exciting and glamourous: why on earth would you film a show in LA and pretend it’s the western suburbs of Sydney?

It’s not to entertain the audience, that’s for sure. Which sums up Squinters as well as anything.

The end of the world as we know it: Sarah’s Channel

What the hell happened to the ABC Comedy YouTube channel, wondered probably just us the other day. What is this “Sarah’s Channel”?

Sarah’s Channel is a new web series available on iView, which has also taken over the ABC Comedy YouTube channel (except they’re still uploading Sammy J to “Sarah’s Channel”, and there’s still a bunch of old sketches from Tonightly with Tom Ballard available if you really look for them).

Set in a post-apocalypse world, Sarah’s Channel imagines what life would be like for a beauty vlogger (played by Claudia O’Doherty) if she was reanimated and had to live in a world populated by strange “mole people” who live underground, in fear of an evil monster called Quahmork.

YouTube makeup blogger Sarah surrounded by the dirty hands of the mole people

What would happen, it seems, is that beauty vlogger Sarah would carry as she had in the early 21st Century, creating videos about makeup looks you can try at home. Except instead of makeup she has mould she scraped from the ceiling, and instead of an internet to upload her videos to, she’s presumably just talking to the wall.

The mole people, who reanimated her in the hope that she would help them, indulge her in her vlogging and even help her recreate social media by offering he likes or loves in the form of cardboard thumbs and hearts. The really enthusiastic ones even offer to re-tweet her, by repeating the content of the “status update” she just uttered to the person next to them. The sheer madness of it is kind of funny.

Problem is, though, unless you’re really familiar with makeup YouTube, this is quite a specific parody. It’s a bit like watching one of Chris Lilley’s parodies of a teenager. You know the performer’s spent a lot of hours observing these kinds of people, and the writer’s spent a lot of time getting the script to sound authentic, but ultimately, there just aren’t enough bits of characterisation or dialogue that are funny without an in-depth knowledge of makeup influencers.

What does work, comically, is the “mole people”. They’re not onscreen often but they are funny – and no specialist knowledge is needed.

Another problem with Sarah’s Channel, is that there’s clearly some satirical intent here, at least, if you believe what O’Doherty says in this article on Junkee, but it doesn’t really come across in the show. Here’s what she had to say:

“I think that’s the funny thing about Sarah’s Channel,” O’Doherty muses. “It reflects two really true things about what’s going on right now. There is this huge culture of beauty bloggers and influencers on YouTube, that’s huge, and millions and millions of people are very embedded in that world and watching it. But then also climate change and climate catastrophe is looming at every moment.”

There’s also the question of what beauty blogging says about our culture’s fixation with consumption.

O’Doherty brings up the ‘haul’ videos vloggers produce, where they are either gifted with or buy stacks and stacks of cheap stuff at places like Kmart or Primark in the UK. In Sarah’s Channel, Sarah makes her own ‘haul’ video, of remnants of human civilisation she scavenged from the surface.

“There’s this sort of amplified consumption that comes with all these easily watchable social media things,” O’Doherty explains. “They do tend to ignore the climate emergency that we live in right now.

“Lots of [beauty vloggers] are really likeable young women who seem to be fairly nice, ethical, sweet women, but they’re also consuming at such a crazy rate. Like when they do these ‘haul’ videos and they come back from Primark and they have like 50 items of clothing and you’re like, these are definitely all bought in a sweatshop, these are made under horrible conditions, you’ll never wear this stuff again.”

Fair enough. Except this absolutely does not come across in Sarah’s Channel, partly because we have no idea what caused the apocalypse and partly because Sarah can’t exactly pop out to Kmart in her post-apocalypse cave world. Also, makeup YouTube NEVER EVER thinks about the impact of what it does. And, therefore, neither does Sarah. And as Sarah’s pretty much the only person to ever speak, this is never going to come up.

Still, it’s there if you imagine it. And personally, we’d rather imagine – or better yet, actually, see – some laughs.

Back to the Front(line)

Is Frontline Australia’s all-time best comedy? Of course not: why would you even suggest such a crazy thing? Oh wait:

The critics have spoken.

Frontline is Australia’s all-time best TV comedy.

TV Tonight has asked some of the nation’s top TV critics to choose their favourite Australian comedies* -either sitcoms or sketch- with Working Dog’s 1990’s satire on current affairs emerging at #1.

We’ve been reeling from this nutty result all week – ha ha, only joking, going by half the critics surveyed the real shock is that Hey Hey It’s Saturday didn’t end up on top (and going by the other half Laid really missed out) – and while our somewhat more full-throated reply to the whole nutty enterprise is on it’s way (or not, depending on how depressed we get at the whole thing – seriously, The Letdown at number 8? Get fucked), this definitely did inspire us to ask the question: Why do people keep saying Frontline is Australia’s best comedy ever?

Now, if they were saying that Frontline is Australia’s all-time best sitcom then sure, no real argument here. Well, maybe a little – The Games is funnier and smarter – but for pretty much the entire history of television the word “sitcom” has been a term for a show that, while funny, isn’t amazingly all-time funny, and that suits Frontline down to a T. The very idea at the core of the sitcom is repetition (hence “situation comedy”), and as repetition is the enemy of comedy (jokes don’t get funnier the more times you tell them), sitcoms are usually more comfort food than laugh-out-loud hysterical. Hit sitcoms are just as likely to be Two and a Half Men or The Big Bang Theory as they are The Larry Sanders Show or Fawlty Towers; most of them aren’t even trying to be seriously funny.

So sitcoms are one thing; claiming that Frontline is Australia’s “all-time best TV comedy“?  Yeah, nah. Shaun Micallef’s sketch work is better; Working Dog’s previous series The Late Show is better; John Clarke & Bryan Dawe’s work together is better; The Gillies Report was better; the very best episodes of Fast Forward or Full Frontal were better; that joke about “This is for 9/11” in Fat Pizza: The Movie was better oh wait that wasn’t a television comedy but you see where we’re going here. Your top ten Australian comedy moments are better than Frontline because those top ten moments almost certainly didn’t come from Frontline.

Again, don’t make the mistake of thinking we’re slagging off Frontline here. Frontline is a great sitcom – maybe not as consistently funny as the first season of Very Small Business or the second season of The Katering Show, but still up there with the greats. You know, like Mother & Son, which was the sitcom that topped these kinds of lists until its fans finally started to die off. Just don’t mention that Australia’s “all time best comedy” is basically a mix of Drop the Dead Donkey and The Larry Sanders Show.

What Frontline is, more than any of the other shows on this list, is Drop the Dead Donkey filmed like The Larry Sanders Show safe. Saying Frontline is Australia’s greatest comedy doesn’t start a discussion, it ends it. Nobody today watches Frontline – shit, it’s a show about the media that predates the internet and is about an Australia that a): has current affairs television and b): has male hosts of current affairs television, so rest assured it’s probably not as “timeless” as it’s claimed to be – but everyone knows it’s quality television. So why not say it’s the all-time best comedy to come from this country?

Well, for one thing, it’s pretty bloody depressing to think that the best comedy made in Australia was made a generation ago. Seriously, has nothing has been funnier on Australian television screens than Rob Sitch in a wig? More than most art forms, comedy is of its time: so the best Australian comedy in 2019 is one packed with in-jokes about Stan Grant hosting Today Tonight and Mike Willesee calling up a man who’d taken hostages in a siege? That Glenn Ridge cameo is timeless comedy? Kids today are still into Christopher Skase?

Michael Lallo from The Age said, “A quarter-century after its debut, this note-perfect satire of TV current affairs – and Australian journalism in general – still feels remarkably relevant.”

And sure, if you’re the last person with a full-time job at The Age it probably does feel relevant. Unlike The Age. You know why media types still love this relic from an era before streaming, before the internet, before newspapers went to shit and the few people who still cared about news started getting it from #auspol? Because it reminds them of a time when they were still relevant enough to have decent television shows made about them. You know what recent Australian sitcom had jokes about working at a newspaper? Mr Black. Hmm, that doesn’t seem to be on this list.

Frontline is a solidly made, clearly intelligent show that isn’t even the funniest sitcom made by Working Dog (that’d be Audrey’s Kitchen). Twenty five years later, the only possible reason to put it at the top of a list of all-time comedy greats is if you hadn’t actually enjoyed, let alone laughed at, an Australian comedy this century and had no real desire to find out if anything new might change that.

Considering all the voters on this poll have to watch Australian television for a living, we shouldn’t have been surprised.

The 2019 Logies. And Tom Gleeson.

And so the Logies have been and gone for another year, and we’re asking: how did comedy (and Tom Gleeson’s campaign) fare?

Tony Martin was in the voiceover booth once again and got a largely positive reaction from the viewers. Although a few grumbled on Twitter that he didn’t go Mick Molloy when Molloy appeared on stage with Jane Kennedy. Yeah, because reviving a 13-year-old fight is absolutely what a grown man should do in the middle of a live broadcast where almost no one watching would know what BoyTown Confidential was. That and maybe, you know, he’s over it now?

Meanwhile, the Logies, as ever, handed out awards to a slightly odd mix of personalities and shows from the world of comedy…

And it’s only in the increasingly weird world of the Logies that Luke McGregor would receive the Most Popular Actor award, beating five of this country’s most-loved male performers. Especially as McGregor isn’t really acting in Rosehaven, more playing himself (and arguably not even doing that very well).

Celia Pacquola, who was nominated in the Most Popular Actress award, also for basically playing herself in Rosehaven, was beaten by Deborah Mailman (Mystery Road).

In other comedy news, Gogglebox beat Gruen and Hard Quiz in Most Popular Entertainment Program but Have You Been Paying Attention? beat Gogglebox and True Story with Hamish & Andy in the Most Outstanding Entertainment Program category.

Have You Been Paying Attention? also won Most Popular Comedy Program, beating Hughesy, We Have A Problem, Rosehaven, Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell and True Story With Hamish & Andy. Maybe not the best result ever, but at least The Weekly wasn’t even nominated.

Speaking of which… Tom Gleeson, as predicted, won the Gold Logie. Of course, he did. Loud-mouth idiots and loud-mouth idiocy are de rigour right now: Trump, Brexit, the Federal Election… Isn’t it brilliantly hilarious to vote for the joke option?

Tom Gleeson accepts the 2019 Gold Logie

And Gleeson’s Gold Logie campaign was presented as the kind of joke that you couldn’t really argue against – after all, the Logies are crap and full of TV hosts who’re clearly a bit up themselves, so why not take the piss out of them? To which we reply: good luck seeing anyone try the same thing at a sporting awards night, even though they’re equally crap and sportspeople are in general at least as far up themselves as your average TV host. Awards nights are always a bit crap no matter what they’re for, and the whole idea behind them is to give people a pat on the back; the Logies might be a bit shoddy, but that’s how awards night work.

The real problem with Gleeson’s campaign was that he wanted it both ways: he was a piss-taking comedian who wanted people to vote for him to show the Logies just how much of the joke they were, yet he also said:

You say I’m a disruptor but I also have a legitimate claim to the prize because out of all the Gold nominees I’m pretty sure Hard Quiz rates the most

But if you run as a joke then you win as a joke; all awards are meaningless unless people give them meaning – good luck waving your [insert arthouse cinema award here] around at some sporting club and vice versa – and if your method of getting votes is to actively devalue the meaning of the awards (“this award is a joke so vote for the joke candidate”) then you can’t then turn around and try and claim your win means something. An industry in decline is an industry that lets Tom Gleeson win a Gold Logie? We’d say it’s the other way around.

Also, what exactly was the joke? Saying that the Logies is a popularity contest is a joke in the same way that stating the totally obvious is a joke; “these celebrities need to be taken down a peg” isn’t so much a joke as it is something someone says before throwing a rock through a car window. “Wouldn’t it be funny if professional dickhead Tom Gleeson won the Gold Logie” seems to be the extent of it, only Gleeson is going around talking about his “legitimate claim” to the prize so that can’t be it. Maybe the joke was just it was a great way to promote Tom Gleeson, which is why we decided not to write anything about his campaign until after the Logies was over.

This whole thing was a joke in the same way as pretty much everything Tom Gleeson does is a joke, which is to say it wasn’t really a joke at all. Gleeson wanted a Gold Logie, and he figured acting like a prick would win him one. And why not? It got him steady TV work once his days as the “ginger ninja” were done. It got him close enough to Charlie Pickering to get the gig as his sidekick on The Weekly. It got him his own show in Hard Quiz. There’s no limit to the heights he’ll climb just so long as he’s never asked to be funny; the Gleeson for PM campaign starts today!

Or, and this is where Gleeson’s attempt to have it every way he can get away with gets really tangled, we can sit back and watch as he alternates between “this was all a joke because I’m a comedian” and “I don’t deserve this, I’m grateful to the fans” in everything he does, from his acceptance speech to this TV Week interview on Instagram. Because even he realises that now that he’s won a much-coveted award*, the comedy prick act is going to tire quite soon and maybe it would be better, strategically, if he was just humbly grateful for a bit. Enjoy Gleeson twisting himself in knots doing that over the next few weeks.


* No really, did you see Amanda Keller’s stony face during Gleeson’s speech?

In which we finally review Rostered On

We’ll say this upfront: the worldwide success of Rostered On is baffling to us. Sure, all sorts of rubbish does well on YouTube, but Netflix? Even 7Mate? What?

The cast of Rostered On pose as a group

Set in Electroworld, an electrical superstore of the Harvey Norman or JB Hi-Fi variety, Rostered On focuses on the working and homes lives of the everyday people who work there. And with gags about awful customers and weird colleagues, it’s certainly relatable. But funny? Er, not so much.

In the pilot and first season (once on YouTube now on Netflix), we meet Shaun, a young father supporting his wife and son who hates his job and dreams of becoming a full-time photographer. Also working in the store is Brett, the sort of arsehole who thinks he’s a thing with the ladies and is forever boasting that he’s going out that evening to “smash rivers of bitches”.

Again, both of these characters are very relatable, but Shaun never has any decent lines and Brett is just a prick who deserves to be castrated. Yeah, he’s that bad.

One of the funniest potential avenues for comedy in any sitcom set in a retail environment is the customers, who as any retail worker knows are all idiots. And true to form, so are the customers of Electoworld. Except these customers are too idiotic to be believable.

One customer doesn’t seem to know how a kettle works. Another complains that his new toaster has burnt his toast, seemingly oblivious to the dial which controls how long the toast stays in the toaster for.

We get what the makers of Rostered On are trying to do with these scenes, but the writing just isn’t good or funny enough. Nor are the performances, which are either under-rehearsed or over-acted. Or just given by people who can’t really act.

Frankly, series 1 is a bit of a slog.

Series 2, which recently premiered on 7Mate last week, is, as you would hope, an improvement. Sort of. All that Netflix and 7Mate cash has certainly resulted in a more professional-looking production, and the acting is a lot better, but the script still needs a lot of work.

Except, this time, the script problems aren’t in the quality of the jokes. It’s the lack of them. Rostered On now seems to have become a sort of dramedy, with more focus on plot and less on funny lines. Even the idiot customers have gone. It’s a rather odd thing. And what’s with Shaun not appearing in episode 2 at all? Isn’t he meant to be the main character?

There are attempts to be funny. Brett is now non-binary, and claiming to be a big hit with the gents, but his lines are exactly as crap as there where when he was straight. Similarly, Bob Franklin’s cameo in the second episode barely raises a laugh. Unless you start thinking about that time he appeared on Get This.

Rostered On is the sort of show that would seem impressive if it had been made by a group of Year 12s but looks frankly embarrassing in the context of Netflix. Even on 7Mate, where other shows on offer include Swift & Shift Couriers, it seems pretty poor. Conclusion: we remain baffled by its continued success.

Mad To Be Back

No more Bill Zingers? How will we go on? It’s another three years of (roughly) the same old crew doing (roughly) the same old  stuff – how will Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell keep the laughs coming? Oh yeah, right: by actually making jokes with political content. Sorry, after three months of The Weekly we forgot how comedy is meant to work.

If you’re a regular consumer of the ABC’s comedy output it’s far too easy to find yourself thinking that “comedy” really just means “not drama”. Mad as Hell is about a strong a rebuttal to that idea as you can get: it might be harsh to say that it’s making the rest of the ABC’s comedy line-up look bad, but saying the ABC even has a comedy line-up outside of Mad as Hell is a pretty dubious proposition.

That said, a lot of old favourites were back this episode, which can sometimes be a bit of an iffy proposition with Mad as Hell. It’s a show that usually keeps its reoccurring characters around a season too long (we really don’t need to see the Kraken again) with the often unjustified expectation that turning the joke around towards “can you believe we’re still doing this?” territory will squeeze a few more laughs out of it.

(this is the danger with a show as smart as Mad as Hell; the team aren’t just funny, they’re students of funny, so they know all the meta-jokes and self-referential angles that can keep an old favourite alive. And we like that stuff too – it’s just sometimes a joke is done, and making a joke about how a joke is done can’t change that)

But this is the first episode of 2019, and if there’s a theme to this year it’s that things are both shit and yet somehow not quite shit enough that the majority of people want them to change. Maybe that’s because those profiting off the current system have a stranglehold on power; maybe it’s because every time there’s been a change in the last few years things have gotten demonstrably worse. Either way, Mad as Hell knows what it’s doing, and bringing back the same characters is perfectly in tune with the currently grim reality of having the same characters back in power.

It’s also interesting that a chunk of the first episode was spent pointing out the approach that Mad as Hell will be taking towards this “more of the same oh fuck” era in Australian politics (basically: we know The Australian Public wanted these guys back and we can’t believe it either, so we’re still going to attack them but probably not give them a really violent kicking until they get around to doing something to deserve it). It’s hard to imagine The Weekly (or any other current Australian comedy show) having to reassure their audience like that; in part it felt like bringing back the regulars was a way of saying “yep, let’s just keep on going until we figure out how to deal with this”.

(and they really have burnt through a lot of characters over the years – any other Australian comedy series would still be bringing Inspektor Herring from Newstopia back)

But let’s look on the bright side. Micallef himself is as funny as ever – which is handy as the show is around 60% him behind a desk – there’s more than enough variety in the humour to make the half hour fly by, and both sides of politics get a kicking but in a way that reflects their actual positions in society which makes the jokes funnier and provides real balance without any of that “but the party out of power and with no ability to change things is just as bad” shit.

In short, it’s the best show on the ABC and the only reason the national broadcaster should even bother programming anything between 8pm and whenever Rage starts. Logies for everyone!

Vale The Weekly Forever and Ever Amen

The best part and the worst part of the final episode of the current run of The Weekly both happened at the very end of the episode. The best part was obviously a crazed Shaun Micallef turning up to demolish the set with an axe; the worst part was Charlie Pickering not fleeing in terror letting us know that yes, The Weekly would be back in 2020. Will the ABC even exist in 2020? Or will he be taking his crapshack door-to-door like a slightly less amusing solar hot water salesman not even slightly embarrassed by his naked scam?

Charlie Pickering and Tom Gleeson on the set of The Weekly

The Micallef moment was fun because it was a surprise, something that came out of left-field with no other purpose than to be amusing. Pickering’s announcement that don’t worry, The Weekly will keep on coming back until all the stars are cold and dead and Cthulhu arises from his eternal slumber was equally pointless, only in a somewhat more grim way. Both moments were answers to questions no-one was asking. One one was an answer anyone was looking for.

The Weekly should be one of the ABC’s flagship programs and yet nobody gives a fuck about it. We watch it each week and even we don’t care. It rates only slightly worse than Micallef’s Mad as Hell, yet Mad as Hell actually seems to exist in the general consciousness (guess those extra 100,000 viewers are people actually in front of the television). People occasionally mention Mad as Hell in conversation, segments on it occasionally have an impact in the wider world, and “is Shaun Micallef funny?” is a question that people occasionally ask even though the answer is clearly “uh, yes”. The Weekly? The silence of the grave – the grave this shithouse show should have been tipped into three years ago.

Pickering’s regular end-of-season, sealed-in-smugness-to-keep-the-flavour-in announcement that yes, The Weekly will be back sticks in the craw because it sums up everything that’s wrong with The Weekly. It’s not so much a show that wants to be liked as a show that smugly assumes everyone watching is already 100% on board so why bother with stuff like “being funny”. Of course you want to be reassured that it’ll be coming back – the hosts certainly want to know they’ll have steady work next year and you’re interested in the same things they are, right? Quick, lets do another “joke” about how a fall in housing prices is really, really bad because daddy’s investment properties might become harder to rent out to decent people.

Mad as Hell is a show that doesn’t take anything for granted. They’ll make a joke, then make a joke running against the first joke, then do a third about how nobody laughed at the first two jokes. It’s not an approach that appeals to everyone, but there’s definitely enough going on to keep most people amused. The Weekly? Tom Gleeson gets a third of the show each week and all he’s got to offer is “fuck, I’m a bit of a prick aren’t I?”

At least Judith Lucy was around this year, but her appearances were parachuted in like she was from another show entirely. Even Briggs popped up in the final episode, which was a nice proof of life moment. Remember when it was announced he was going to be a regular? Why did they even bother announcing that? It’s hard to think of another ensemble comedy show with such a small cast, which makes Tom Gleeson’s continued appearance almost impressive; if the producers had any sense at all they’d axe all the regulars but Pickering and just have occasional comedy guests on a slow news week – at least then the show might seem different enough to make an impression somewhere.

Because as it stands The Weekly is nothing but a pay check for a bunch of people happy doing nothing to deserve it. It doesn’t deserve to come back; it doesn’t deserve to be on the air now. Whatever appeal to commercial audiences Pickering once had is long gone and everyone else on the show is more famous outside of it. It doesn’t even rate as well as Mad as Hell – the show it was introduced to replace –  which means the only reason to keep it around is because someone is worried that any replacement for it would only rate worse.

Fucked if we can see how.

Back to Back in Black (vale Mr Black)

All you really need to know about Mr Black is the opening theme music, which isn’t so much music as a hipster sting that lets you know you’re about to watch what is perhaps the edgiest reboot of Kingswood Country ever. Which is weird, because the show that follows is a sitcom with a fairly silly premise. What’s going on?

The big problem with Mr Black is – well, there’s a bunch of problems with Mr Black (did anyone know that Angela was meant to be under 25?) and we’ve covered most of them earlier – but the underlying problem that’s made the series such a frustrating watch is that it’s a solid sitcom idea that’s seemingly being executed by a team that would rather be making something else. And with Ten burning off the final two episodes back-to-back in what’s traditionally seen as a sign of dismal ratings, they may very well get their chance.

We’ve said elsewhere that the idea of a grumpy out of touch dad making his son-in-law’s life a living hell is a good one – well, it was good enough for All in the Family, one of the all-time classic sitcoms – and the specific character dynamics here (wimpy dude is tormented by blokey bloke while his girlfriend kinda just lets it happen) worked well enough in Adam Zwar’s earlier sitcom Wilfred to keep it on the air for three seasons. But both those shows were openly funny (even if the funny in Wilfred largely came from the visual of Jason Gann in a dog suit); too often Mr Black seems to have its attention elsewhere.

The style if not the substance of sitcoms has changed a lot since the days when Australia made decent sitcoms, and let’s be honest – Australia hasn’t really kept up. It’s certainly possible to create a funny sitcom that’s filmed like a drama series, but Australia is yet to manage it. We’ve definitely made funny shows in the modern era, but sitcoms? Yeah, nah. And Mr Black is a good example why.

Each week Mr Black has served up a decent-sounding idea for a broadly amusing sitcom. Oh no, Fin has a secret son – or does he? Mr Black tries to set Fin up with a hot female friend who’s going to paint him nude! And yet the plots never really take off from there. To work, a sitcom needs to escalate – you start off with a funny premise and then build on it until events come to a head. Mr Black? Half the time the B-plot doesn’t even have an ending.

This has been a problem with Australian sketch comedy for a long, long time. Our crack comedy writers come up with a halfway decent premise for a sketch, and then… that’s it. The idea isn’t developed, it isn’t expanded on, it doesn’t take a surprising turn – the concept is explained, then the sketch ends. And Mr Black is what you get when you take this approach to sitcom writing.

To be fair, things do continue to happen across the entirety of a Mr Black episode; they just don’t get any funnier. Mr Black’s schemes don’t go hilariously wrong in ways that get him in deeper and deeper trouble; they just fall apart at the first hurdle. They’re scripted like a bad drama, where the initial situation is an excuse to do a bunch of character work that will reveal our protagonists’ inner natures and conflicts. But this is a sitcom, and nobody gives a shit. Fin has a new son, he plays with his son a bit, it turns out the kid isn’t his, the end. Why didn’t he lose the kid (for more than a minute)? Why didn’t the scammer have a second stage to their scheme? Why didn’t Fin, as a bit of a chump, instantly take things too far?

The final episode was even worse; why was there a serious subplot about Fin trying to propose to Angela? A serious moment or two, sure – but the whole thing revolved around Angela being seriously worried that Fin was going to leave her for the painter. We’re watching a sitcom: how is this meant to be funny? And if it’s not meant to be funny, why is it in a sitcom about a dodgy dad trying to ruin his daughter’s relationship? And why was the resolution basically just “guess I was wrong about that – of course I’ll marry you”?

Stephen Curry is the best thing in the show, and yet about 70% of his role is just him setting around saying mildly snarky things that could be removed from the script without affecting it in any way. Maybe the joke is meant to be that around Angela and Finn he’s a laid-back dude, then the second they’re gone he’s a manic schemer – but if so, then the direction needs to make that clear, not present everything at the same measured pace that’s seemingly lifted from one of the less memorable ABC dramas of the last ten years.

A strong cast working hard can’t make up for a farcical plot played out at a glacial pace. It feels like a half hour’s worth of Mr Black could easily be condensed down to five minutes – or a throwaway conversation before the opening title card.The whole idea of a sitcom is that you have a funny situation that means each week you can jump straight into the comedy; why does Mr Black always feel like it takes forever to get started?

To make a decent sitcom, every part of the show needs to work like it’s the only part that’s going to be funny. The production needs to sell the jokes, the performances need to sell the jokes, and the script needs to have jokes to tell the other two that things are going to be funny – then it needs a lot more jokes in case the other two are no good at selling them.

When your opening music is the kind of vaguely ominous guitar sting that suggests some try-hard edgy prestige dramedy and yet you’re a wacky sitcom on Channel Ten, someone somewhere isn’t doing their job.

Skit Box’s new YouTube series

Skit Box, the team behind Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am, which you may remember from Fresh Blood a few years ago, are back with a new YouTube series. Partly based on the lead-up to the success of their 2015 viral hit ACTIVEWEAR (we assume) it follows the Skit Box trio – Adele Vuko, Greta Lee Jackson and Sarah Bishop – as they try to make it in showbiz and then have a surprise viral hit with a song about active wear.

Poster for Skit Box - The Series

So, we see Vuko working as a junior assistant at a production company, Jackson doing cleaning and bar work at a comedy club and Bishop trying to make it as an actor. All three are having a hard time and getting nowhere, and all three are being bullied, gaslighted and generally messed around by sexist male superiors.

There are a few good gags to be had at the expense of the sexist male superiors, such as when Vuko’s demanding, coke-sniffing prick of a boss is seen holding a mug with UNT on it in such a way as to make the handle look like a C. But mostly, this about how awful the trio are having it.

Jackson’s boss, the MC of the comedy club (played by Greg Larsen) actively puts her off appearing on stage, then immediately performs a joke she improvises, passing it off as his own. Awful and relatable, but not exactly funny.

Similarly, when Bishop auditions for an ad playing a mum who runs her own small business, the director (Matt Okine) asks her to perform her lines with her top off and twerking, then doesn’t watch her performance as she does it. Again, something any woman with a career can relate to, but not even bitterly funny. Just awful.

And that’s the main problem here: the intent seems to be to have a laugh (and get some revenge on) the awful men who’ve made a career in showbiz difficult for the trio, but they don’t seem to be able to write about them in a way which enables the audience to laugh. As an audience, we just feel sorry for three of them. Which is the correct emotion for this situation, for sure, but also a failure in terms of the trio making us laugh.

If you’re after laughs in this series – and we certainly were – they’re mostly to be found in the asides and cutaways and in the quirks of the main characters (such as Jackson always sliding drinks along tables or bars with disastrous consequences). But if you were hoping for some laugh out loud feminist comedy…maybe try elsewhere.