Long time Australian comedy fans – and after the last decade or so of Australian television comedy, are there any other kind left? – were thrilled last week at the return of one of the genre’s proudest traditions: an hour of Australian comedy on a Thursday at 8.30pm. Yes, you did have to change channels at 9pm as no-one’s foolish enough to put two Australian comedies on commercial television back-to-back these days, but at least you could actually do this as they didn’t overlap. It’s a new Golden Age!
Or at least, it looked that way for the first half hour.
Let’s start with the good news: Orange is the New Brown was good. Most of the sketches were strong, with a focus on race just often enough to give the show an identity – it probably could have been a bit more of a focus really, but most of the non-race sketches were easily strong enough to justify their inclusion. The last few Australian sketch shows we’ve seen have been drifting back more towards one-off gags rather than trying to create “hilarious” comedy characters they can show week after week, and it was a relief to see this continuing that trend; the optometrist who thought all eye contact was flirting and the guy trying to impress his girlfriend by having his coffee poured into “natures keep cup” (his hands) were decent jokes that we really don’t expect to see again.
A few of the sketches were dragged out; the stunt doubles one towards the end was too long and the central joke (haha, they don’t really look like the actors they’re doubling for) didn’t deserve the run time. And with all sketch shows, it’s the later weeks that’ll be the real test. If it turns out we’ve got five more weeks of that optometrist telling everyone to stop flirting with her, our grade for this is going to drop rapidly. But so far so good for Nazeem Hussain and his cast of high profile guest stars (all of which managed to fit into their sketches instead of distracting from them: even Tim Minchin as a Wiggle wasn’t too disruptive); this is the rare Australian sketch show we’re actually keen to see more of.
It’s not often we get to say “Dave O’Neil did it better”, but in this case it’s true: O’Neil’s recent pilot Dave was a funnier family sitcom than How to Stay Married. Then again, the opening half hour of that Bruce Willis remake of Death Wish was a funnier family sitcom than How to Stay Married. First Cram!, now this: whatever blackmail material Peter Helliar has on the Channel Ten executives, it must be amazing.
How to Stay Married is about a couple of sad sacks, Em (Lisa McCune) and Greg (writer / producer Helliar). She hates being a stay at home mum and wants to go back to work; he hates work and wants to… die? Honestly, both of them are such low energy grumps it’s impossible to give a shit about either of them. We had to rewatch the end twice to figure out if Greg actually lost his job after swearing at a customer and we’re still not sure.
Initially we thought this was going to be more of a realistic dramedy about married life rather than a straight-up sitcom, and… maybe it is? It’s really hard to tell because the tone is so misjudged from start to finish: we think the idea is to show modern relationships as some kind of death trap that drains the life and soul out of people – but also, funny? – and yet the end result is just so insipid for all we could tell it was meant to be a life-affirming look at a couple setting out on an exciting new path. To the grave.
Also: not funny. Not funny in the way having a character annoy the lead by calling him “big fella” at least once every sentence is not funny. Which is to say, there’s the germ of a funny idea there but by leading with it straight out of the gate we have no idea where the comedy is meant to be coming from. Is it funny that Greg is so annoyed by this woman? If Greg had been established as a Larry David-like curmudgeon then perhaps this would be funny in a “oh man, this is going to set him right off” fashion, but at the start of episode one all we really know about Greg is that he’s a beleaguered everyman. So basically, annoying woman is annoying. Bold move starting out by annoying your audience.
It gradually becomes clear that the comedy is meant to be coming from our two struggling leads as they try to make their way in a crazy world. Only who gives a shit? Both Greg and Em are such unlikable stressed-out drips it’s almost impossible to care about what they want because they don’t even seem to have the energy to care about what they want. Though to be fair, Em wants a job so badly when the cool kids snigger at her “lesbian John Farnham cosplay” outfit she runs off, buys a kimono (?), can’t go to the toilet in it (??), and eventually pisses herself (???) when she sneezes during the interview. Comedy! And then she gets the job anyway because things just happen at random.
(how bad is this show? Judith Lucy has a guest appearance and even she can’t make this material funny)
During all this there are side characters played by Phil Lloyd and Darren Gilshenan as the exact same characters they’ve played in every other Australian comedy they’ve ever appeared in. They also have nothing to to with the main plot and so their scenes may very well be deleted scenes from their previous series. At the end of the first episode Lloyd’s character is revealed to be single so expect a lot of hilarious jokes about how dating is a nightmare in the coming weeks. That’s right, when you’re a regular person everything about modern life is shit.
It’s not that the actual concept here is a bad one. Obviously it’s not: dozens of sitcoms and movies have used it this decade alone. But going by this first episode, Helliar and company have no idea how to make it seem in any way interesting to the viewer. Huge chunks of the set-up require the audience to fill in the gaps: Em wants to go back to work because home life is boring, only there’s no attempt to show us why she’d find her home life boring – we’re just meant to go “oh yeah, of course she’d want to go back to work”. And while Greg’s job is clearly awful – the customers are idiots and his workmates are also idiots – all he does is think “man, I’d love a redundancy” and then… not get one. Why are we supposed to give a shit about his troubles when he doesn’t care enough to make any real effort to change?
Oh wait, because he’s played by Peter Helliar, a man who’s never actually made an effort throughout his career.
Helliar’s ongoing media profile is one of the big mysteries of Australian television in the 21st Century. What was the high point of his career? Straunchie? Laughing at Rove? Being on Rove? Hosting The Bounce? Hosting The Trophy Room? Hosting Cram!? Hosting Pete & Myf? Being nominated for a Gold Logie? Because it sure won’t be this forgettable half hour of blank stares and clumsy line readings that does for family comedies what a cup full of Draino does for constipation.
It’s rubbish. Everyone involved deserves better. Apart from Peter Helliar, who will walk away from this train wreck once again completely unscathed.
Press release time!
Four comedies and one drama form the latest Online Production slate from Screen Australia. Four of the creative teams are receiving Screen Australia funding for the first time, including producers Karen Colston and Robbie Miles who will create the six-part parody Sarah’s Channel for ABC iview. Claudia O’Doherty (Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, Netflix’s Love) will star in the title role.
Sarah’s Channel follows beauty vlogger Sarah who discovers she’s been reanimated after an apocalypse. Live performer and theatre playwright Nick Coyle will make the jump to screen to write/direct, fresh off the back of his hit play The Feather in the Web.
“I’m thrilled (and surprised) that my idea of a Beauty Vlogger uploading videos in a post-apocalyptic world has been green-lit, and excited to be collaborating with such a fantastic team to bring it to life,” said Coyle. “There is so much comedy to mine in the online influencer world, and so many pre-existing fans who I hope will love this new take on the genre.”
Producer Karen Colston of Yellow Creative Management added, “We’re so pleased Nick’s unique voice will be seen by a wider audience than those lucky enough to have caught his brilliant theatre work, and we hope to create a pathway to screen for other stage practitioners. The concept and execution of Sarah’s Channel is inextricably linked to the internet, so it is uniquely suited to the online series format.”
Emmy-award winning Queensland studio Ludo are also creating a series for the ABC, satirising the web life-coach industry in the six-part comedy Content. Completion funding has been provided to the emerging creators behind comedies How To Know If You’re Dating A Narcissist and Single Ladies, plus family drama Time & Place.
“We have a healthy appetite for creative risk in Online Production, and want to support new creators who are trying out bold concepts,” said Screen Australia Investment Manager Lee Naimo. “I’m particularly pleased to see the majority of projects in this slate have female central characters, and female directors.”
“As we’ve seen most recently with Superwog and Sheilas, online content can well and truly compete with traditional mediums in terms of production values and audience share. Now is the time for emerging creators to be taking advantage of Screen Australia’s revised Development funding opportunities to refine their concepts, and get in touch with us in Online Production to discuss their projects.”
And here’s the details:
1 x 60 min / 6 x 10 min
Ludo Studio (QLD)
Producer: Meg O’Connell
Executive Producers: Charlie Aspinwall, Daley Pearson
Director: Daley Pearson
Writer: Anna Barnes
Platform: ABC TV and ABC iview
Synopsis: Lucy is a woke, successful influencer who wants to help you achieve everything you’ve wanted – a partner, a career and contentedness. Unfortunately, Lucy has a severely unhealthy relationship with her phone which keeps her from achieving any of these things herself.
Production credit: Content is a Ludo Studio production for the ABC. Principal production investment from Screen Australia, in association with Screen Queensland.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU’RE DATING A NARCISSIST
6 x 5mins
Sweary Canary Films (NSW)
Producers: Kristy Best, Michelle Lia (Associate), Enzo Tedeschi
Directors: Kristy Best
Writers: Kristy Best
Synopsis: Follow multi-narcissist survivor Kristy Best as she abrasively whisks you through a surreal lifestyle parody hell-bent on teaching women everywhere How To Know If You’re Dating A Narcissist.
Production credit: How to Know If You’re Dating a Narcissist is a Sweary Canary Films productions. Production investment from Sweary Canary Films in association with Screen Australia.
6 x 5 mins
Yellow Creative Management Pty Ltd and Mythmaker Media Pty Ltd (NSW)
Producers: Karen Colston, Robbie Miles
Executive Producers: Mark Morrissey, Jean Mostyn, Claudia O’Doherty
Director: Nick Coyle
Writer: Nick Coyle
Platform: ABC iview
Synopsis Sarah’s Channel is a quirky, relatable Youtube channel created and run by Sarah, who isn’t going to let the fact that she’s been re-animated in a post-apocalyptic future stop her from doing what she’s famous for: Beauty Vlogging. Sure, everyone she knew is dead, the subterranean mutants who worship her are annoying, and a monster is trying to kill her, but Sarah’s got some fantastic makeup tips and it’ll take more than that to prevent her from uploading them.
Production credit: Sarah’s Channel is a Yellow Creative and Mythmaker production for the ABC. Principal production investment from Screen Australia, in association with Create NSW.
6 x 8 mins
Story Republic Pty Ltd (WA)
Producer: Joshua Gilbert
Executive Producer: Ros Walker
Directors: Gemma Hall, Mimi Helm, Jacqueline Pelczar
Writer: Aaron Moss
Synopsis: Single Ladies follows the misadventures of unlikely trio Catherine, Nina and Hashim as they try to save their sex positive radio show from the conservative owners of the station.
Production credit: Single Ladies is a Story Republic production. Production investment from Screen Australia and Screenwest.
TIME & PLACE
7 x 9 mins
Gemini Arts and Media Pty Ltd (QLD)
Producer:Tam Sainsbury, Dylan Schenkeveld
Synopsis:After living abroad for years, magazine writer Rebecca Woodruff returns for a holiday to her hometown of Golden Beach with her husband and daughter. Her family; divorced mum and dad, her mum’s new lesbian partner, her married sister and wildly single lawyer brother; are all thrilled to have her home. As Rebecca navigates her family’s chaos, her marriage begins to crumble and her deeply hidden secret begins to surface and she realises that maybe this is the time and the place where she now needs to be…..permanently.
Production Credit: Time & Place is a Gemini Arts and Media production. Principal production investment from Screen Australia, in association with Sunshine Coast Council and Arts Queensland.
The future of Australian comedy is here! You know, just like it has been with every other online pilot project of the last few years.
The shows might be perfectly fine: the real question nobody ever seems to get around to asking is “after you make your short, what comes next?” The days of US markets being willing to throw cash to make season two of The Katering Show a reality seem to be behind us, and local markets aren’t exactly rushing to greenlight half hour shows from unknowns. Maybe mentioning Superwog a whole lot will convince people that yeah, you really can make it big if you just keep trying.
But probably not.
The problem with reunion shows is that fans of the show are so pleased the reunion is happening at all that it kinda doesn’t matter what’s in the actual show. Still, if you’re a fan of Spicks and Specks, you were presumably satisfied by the Spicks and Specks Reunion Special, with its all-star line-up of acts ranging from Russell Morris and Angie Hart to Vika and Linda Bull and Lindsay McDougall. And if you must extend a half-hour show to an hour, you need a lot of special guests to keep things interesting.
A lot more interesting than jokes about the fact of the reunion itself were going to be (hey, look, they’ve aged after all these years and have to wear glasses). Still, at least they did a gag about how Spicks and Specks is never not on ABC Comedy. As presumably, this won’t be quite soon.
Having said that, there were some amusing cameos from Dave O’Neill, Cal Wilson and Luke McGregor as an 80s roadie, a 90s roadie and a millennial roadie, respectively (O’Neill even completed his look by carrying a Brashes bag). And there was also a surprise cameo (a really surprising cameo) from Guido Hatzis, cult comedy creation of Tony Moclair and Julian Schiller (do the Spicks and Specks audience know who he is?). Still, he had a good and reasonably funny reason to be there (and for that particular gag to work it, it was either him or Tony Martin and Mick Molloy, and they’re unlikely to appear on anything together), so hooray. Here’s to more Guido!
But, ultimately, it’s hard to get excited about this as anything other than an amusing, nostalgic, knees-up complete with all-cast singalong ending. It’s not like it’s coming back, and even if it did, that would be a bad idea.
Adam Hills seems interested in making more specials, but then also maybe not. From TV Tonight:
When he was asked to get the Spicks & Specks band back together, Adam Hills had no hesitation.
“I didn’t even think twice,” he tells TV Tonight. “I said, ‘As long as Alan and Myf are on board I’m up for it.’ Especially as it was celebrating AusMusic month. So there was a reason for it being there.”
Filmed in Melbourne in mid-September, the one hour special brings back the magic of the ABC series that wrapped in 2011. From all reports everybody had a great time filming the show. So given it was one of ABC’s most successful light entertainment shows, could he be open to more?
“Yes,” he told TV Tonight.
“I’m trying to be really coy, but I can’t be. We had so much fun doing the sessions that if it was offered to me, Alan & Myf, I would happily come back this time next year and do another one for AusMusic month.
“Maybe we do 4 episodes every Sunday night for AusMusic month?”
I can detect some hesitation in his voice.
“I kind of feel like because we did a big farewell and a tour, it might be a bit disingenuous to come back and do 30 or 40 weeks.
So, if you’re a fan, maybe don’t hold your breath. And if you’re not a fan and are sick of repeats of Spicks and Specks clogging up the ABC Comedy schedules, well, Netflix are making some pretty good comedies these days.
Remember how we were wondering if we were ever going to see Seven’s long-promised sketch show Orange is the New Brown? Seems we are – and sooner than we expected:
New Seven sketch comedy Orange is the New Brown, featuring Nazem Hussain, will debut next week
(that’s 8:30pm Thursday November 8 on Seven)
Following on from Nazeem’s cult hits Salam Café and Legally Brown, Orange is the New Brown continues the comedian’s brand of race, politics and pop-culture with a twist.
From a Real Housewives-type melodrama set in a prison to racial stereotypes when playing charades, this is the show that believes the biggest laughs can be found right under your nose, shamelessly poking fun at real life and modern Australia.
Glass half empty time: is there so much Australian comedy hitting our screens at the end of the ratings year because there’s just so much of it on during the year this is the only time they can fit it in, or is it that Australian comedy is the kind of thing that seems like a good idea in theory but when the programmers finally see the finished product they’re like “shit, do we really have to put this on during ratings?”. We’ll find out in less than a week!
As for the future of Australian comedy, the only commercial network all that interested in Australian comedy – that’d be Ten – had their up fronts this week, and unlike everybody else they actually had a bunch of comedy projects to announce for 2019. Surprising no-one (especially after Ten’s new owners CBS recently bought the international rights to the format), Have You Been Paying Attention? will be back; somewhat more surprising was this:
Ten has revealed four Pilot Week programs will return to air next year: Trial by Kyle, Taboo, Kinne Tonight and Rove McManus’ Bring Back Saturday Night.
Thinking about it, if they had to go through with anything from Pilot Week (and they really didn’t), these probably make the most sense. Trial by Kyle costs bugger-all and attracts attention; Taboo is the kind of “classy” show it doesn’t hurt to have around (even if it still feels like a better fit for SBS). Kinne Tonight was easily the best all-round scripted comedy of the week, and Bring Back Saturday Night is… probably a cheap way to keep Rove on side. Did we imagine there were rumours a while back that The Project was maybe kinda possibly leaving Ten?
Otherwise… well, it’s mostly steady as she goes:
Ten’s Bachelor in Paradise, Hughesy We Have a Problem, Show Me The Movie and Pointless will all return
Gotta keep churning out that content! But technically 75% of that is technically comedy, so it looks like we’ll be busy next year.
Oh, and in old news there’s this:
Ten will also premiere a new comedy series, Mr Black, on the network.
Good to see that even though they lost The Simpsons they hung onto this guy.
Finally, that all-fantasy version of Q&A no-one’s been begging for. Or conversely, it’s a remake of Geoffery Robinson’s Hypotheticals made by a group of people who only heard about the original by listening into someone else’s conversation down the pub. Either way, Tomorrow Tonight and its “new reality” is here!
[insert lengthy gag about how the first episode really should have presented the panelists with the nightmare scenario of an ABC program where a bunch of mid-list chumps are forced to act out a rejected script from Black Mirror]
This week’s scenario involved a hacker stealing a secret archive of the world’s text messages and now, oh no, “trust has been destroyed”. Mostly our trust in the ABC’s ability to create entertaining programming, as after an opening that largely involved mocked up news footage on par with your average disaster movie starring The Rock we then cut back to a generic ABC panel set for yet another episode of Radio With Pictures.
The problem with this kind of programming is that there’s two things going on: there’s the useful information being given to the audiences – the importance of cyber-security and so on – and then there’s the “entertainment” being provided by the panelists. And as is almost always the case with these kind of shows, when you mix two things together you get the worst of both worlds.
There was nothing we learned from this show that we couldn’t have gotten from a five minute segment on not paying up when you get a ransomware email demanding cash or they’ll release photos of you jerking off to internet porn. Of the four panelists, a grand total of one – the cyber security guy – was interesting and informative. Otherwise, Luke McGregor did his job as “comedian” (and was the only one who seemed to be thinking through the ramifications of the scenarios Pickering was serving up, even if the result was “in person dick pics”), and then…
Let’s be blunt. Julie Bishop isn’t funny or entertaining: she’s a politician. Annabel Crabb is also not funny or entertaining: she’s a journalist. They’re not funny or entertaining because their day jobs require them to be hard-headed, self-serving, and ruthless in a way that most people find unpleasant. There’s a reason why “politician” and “journalist” are jobs at the bottom of the list when it comes to public trust, and watching these two tonight brought that reason to the fore.
So why the fuck are they both on a light entertainment panel show? When Bishop was asked “Who has more to hide – politicians or football players?” she said “Well, that’s line-ball, isn’t it?” And then there was yet another obvious edit and we never came close to finding out what she really thought. So why have her on if all she had to do was throw around a few quips and answer everything else with vague motherhood statements like privacy is good and the government should sort this out?
Crabb didn’t come off much better mind you, as like most journalists she was extremely concerned about her own privacy while not being particularly bothered about snooping on everyone else’s. That’s perfectly fine, of course – we want our journalists to dig up the good dirt – but as the bubbly friendly face of your girlish ABC, having her seem like someone who’d throw you under a bus if it got her a scoop was maybe not something the ABC PR department should have signed off on. Back to baking cakes with dog-whistling racists for you.
But the real problem was that in the end this was just an extremely average panel show focusing on an issue they just made up. The cut scenes designed to move the story forward were nothing special and nowhere near as weird or as funny (“I want to conduct some government business… IN YOUR PANTS”) as a regular news bulletin, while the non-specialist nature of the panel meant that even when they were on topic most of their answers were vague generalities or attempts to one-up each other.
And if this kind of shit topic is the weirdest subject they can find in the 21st Century they really need to sack their researchers. Next week’s episode is about the ethics of designer babies? Wow, what’s next: should footballers be allowed to do recreational drugs in the off season? Will driverless trucks cost jobs in the trucking industry? Is it okay for your son to announce she’s a girl? What if guns bad?
What we want to see is a scenario where an ABC panel show does an episode that suggests global warming and the mining industry are linked and the death of the Great Barrier Reef is only the beginning and then they get taken off air halfway through for “political bias”. Only maybe just skip straight to the “taken off air” part.
Press release time!
Internationally-acclaimed, award-winning Australian comedian Sarah Kendall stars in the bittersweet comedy/drama Frayed, a co-commission between ABC and Sky (UK). The 6 x 45’ comedy is the first scripted collaboration between the two broadcasters and is now filming in Newcastle (NSW), Sydney, and London.
Set in 1989, Frayed follows the journey of Sammy Cooper (Sarah Kendall), a fabulously wealthy London housewife who is forced to return to the town in Australia she grew up in. In coming home, Sammy must revisit her past and the events that led her to flee as a teenager years ago.
Painfully funny and sometimes dark, Frayed is full of complex characters, dubious decisions, and unfortunate events; and at its heart is the journey of one flawed family confronting their secrets and trying to find a way back.
Creator/Star Sarah Kendall says: “I just wanted to visit my family in Newcastle but I ended up shooting a 6 part comedy here for the ABC and Sky. I’m incredibly excited to be given this opportunity. And I also love free flights.”
Sky’s Head of Comedy Jon Mountague says: “We can all relate in some way to complex family drama, which is at the heart of this ingeniously written comedy. Sarah Kendall is an exceptional lead and I’m excited to add Frayed to Sky’s line-up of original British comedy in 2019.”
ABC Head of Comedy Rick Kalowski says: “Frayed is among the funniest, but also most moving, pieces I’ve ever had the pleasure to work on. I’d been a fan of Sarah Kendall’s standup for years and am delighted to be collaborating with Sky, Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford’s Merman, and Kevin Whyte’s Guesswork to bring Frayed to Australian and worldwide audiences next year.”
Create NSW Acting Director Screen Investment, Engagement and Attraction Sally Regan adds: “We’re delighted to support such a unique and comical series from Merman and Guesswork. Frayed is an engaging and topical narrative that audiences will warm to as well as generate opportunities for production in regional NSW.”
Frayed is created and written by star Kendall and produced by Merman Television (Motherland/BBC, There She Goes/BBC, Women on the Verge/UKTV, Catastrophe C4/Amazon), the production company founded and run by award-winning duo Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford, in association with Australia’s Guesswork Television (ABC’s Rosehaven, Get Krack!n, Please Like Me). Joining Sarah Kendall is an exceptional Australian and British ensemble cast to be announced soon.
Frayed will air in 2019 on ABC in Australia and Sky and streaming service NOW TV in the UK.
Sky Vision will distribute Frayed internationally.
A 45 minute comedy? That’s new ground for the ABC… if this actually is a comedy, as you don’t really need to read anywhere near between the lines to see this is a project skewing more than a little towards the drama side of the fence. “Complex family drama”? “Moving”? “Generate opportunities for production in regional NSW”? Sounds hilarious.
But of course, this isn’t really an ABC comedy as we used to know it: it’s an international production with a (now) international star that just happens to be filmed here. And this is probably the best we can hope for until someone in the Federal government starts giving the ABC more money – the national broadcaster chipping in a few pennies here and there to piggyback on a project that could just as easily have turned up on a pay network or streaming site here. After all, that’s where it’s going overseas.
We really should get around to compiling that list of scripted ABC comedy from the last few years that wasn’t a co-production with a bigger, richer overseas partner. Probably won’t take very long.
For a show that was ultimately more interested in plot than laughs, Back in Very Small Business didn’t exactly nail it when it came to plot, did it? Which made a show that was already pretty disappointing as a sitcom – and really disappointing if you remember Very Small Business – into a pretty disappointing dramedy too.
Episode 7 ended on a dramatic cliff-hanger: someone had made a complaint about the Don’s Dirty Dog Wash rooting dogs logo and things weren’t looking good for Angel Family Enterprises (formerly World Wide Business Group). So, episode 8 was about the team trying to save the company – the rooting dogs logo being a principle reason that Don’s Dirty Dog Wash was an actual successful business. Cue one of Don’s trademark rants about how small business is the backbone of the economy and people like him should be allowed to do their thing without government interference…something his staff had the presence of mind to film on their phones, and then post online, where it went viral and saved the company. Hooray!
And we know what you’re thinking: that’s actually quite a realistic plot. That kind of thing happens all the time, right? Except, it wouldn’t play out like that in real life for Angel Family Enterprises, would it? Because the other thing that happens in real life is that within minutes of something starting to get traction on social media, lots of haterz, nerds and the occasional legit journalist start picking it apart. And hot on the heels of that ACCC investigation into one of Don’s businesses selling poisonous pineapple rubbers to kids (as seen earlier in the series), how long do you think it would have taken social media to make a link between Don’s Dirty Dog Wash and the pineapple rubbers. Five minutes, maybe? Which would have killed, or at least severely dented, any attempt at a campaign to save the Dog Wash. Because, sure, everyone likes rooting dogs, but quite a lot fewer people are into kids being poisoned by novelty stationery. Or most of the other dodgy things Don Angel’s done in the world of business over the years. Don Angel’s basically a small-scale Alan Bond or Christopher Skase. In real life, he’d have a crew from A Current Affair permanently on his tail, or be in jail.
Still, at least it was funny, right? Er…no. Unless you’re laughing every time you see the rooting dogs. And that was the other big problem with Back in Very Small Business, it basically wasn’t a comedy. It had some funny bits in it, and plenty of “wacky” characters, but comedy wasn’t the main focus of the show. There’s not much hilarious in “ex-husband and wife get back together and because they’re well-off baby boomers go around looking for a winery to buy”. That’s a re-working of the plot of SeaChange, a show which was also occasionally funny but is mainly remembered for having a plot and characters that people could get invested in.
Which brings us the ultimate problem with Back In Very Small Business: the plot was a bit rubbish and the characters weren’t very well developed. Sure, we knew who Don was, and to a lesser extent who Ray and Leslie and Sam were, but the rest of them were sort of cardboard cut-outs – the lazy young woman one, the ditzy receptionist one, the earnest/horny Asian one, the ex-military one, the Indian one, and the woman who ran the toilet paper business who didn’t even have an ethnicity or quirk one…
Good sitcoms can get laughs from their characters that aren’t “this person is an idiot due to their quirk/ethnicity”. And good sitcoms have plots that make sense, which occur or are enhanced by the characters. Back in Very Small Business was disappointing because it had neither of these. It felt like something that was made quickly without the makers thinking it through properly first. Like we said a few weeks back: go watch the original, it was heaps better.
It’s that most wonderful time of the year – the time when the Australian television networks proudly announce all the old formats they’ll be reviving in the new year while quietly burying all the revivals from this year that didn’t catch on. This week: Channel Seven announces a whole lot of foodie shows for 2019.
“Food is a major part of our DNA and always has been,” scheduling chief Brook Hall said at the network’s 2019 programming launch on Friday.
You know what also used to be a major part of Seven’s DNA? Comedy: for well over a decade Fast Forward and its various spin-offs made Seven a serious comedy threat. This is the network that gave Eric Bana and Shaun Micallef and Jimeoin their big breaks; Andrew Denton got his first tonight show on Seven. Kath & Kim got their start there on the short-lived Big Girl’s Blouse, as did Chris Lilley on Big Bite. They even worked with Working Dog for a while. So what have they got in store for us in 2019?
My Kitchen Rules returns early next year (with a 10th anniversary special series to air in late-2019), along with new seasons of House Rules, Interview with Andrew Denton, The Front Bar, Instant Hotel, First Dates, Border Security, Highway Patrol, Motorbike Cops, Surveillance Oz, Sunday Night, Sunrise, The Morning Show, The Chase, Home and Away and Better Homes and Gardens. Surprise renewals include Ninja Warrior-inspired series Australian Spartan, which was bumped to the Easter non-ratings period this year due to poor ratings, and Zumbo’s Just Desserts, which last aired in 2016.
Okay, The Front Bar can be pretty funny, but otherwise that’s a 2019 line-up completely devoid of scripted comedy. Even Channel Nine managed better than that.
And yeah, what happened to Seven’s only scripted comedy of 2018, Orange is the New Brown? There was a flurry of activity around an announcement that it was “coming soon” at the start of September, and then nothing – it’s not even one of the 2018 shows like Australian Gangster and Undercurrent that Seven has announced they’re holding over until 2019.
To announce a year devoid of scripted comedy is unfortunate; to announce a sketch comedy show and then lose it seems like carelessness.
Press release time!
The ABC is pleased to announce four exciting new pilots produced as part of series two of Fresh Blood will go to air on ABC COMEDY from November 20.
In addition,all four pilots will be available on ABC iview and ABC COMEDY YouTube from Tuesday 20 November.
Fresh Blood is a ground-breaking ABC and Screen Australia initiative that seeks to uncover the next generation of Australian comedy talent. First launched in 2013, there were hundreds of entries of from all over the country that culminated in the Wham Bam Thankyou Ma’am and Fancy Boy sketch series (both co-produced with NBCU’s Seeso streaming platform (U.S.). Once again in 2017, 20 up-and-coming comedy teams were given $15,000 each to produce a 3×5 minute comedy project. This year, four of those were chosen to produce a half hour comedy pilot, with one or possibly two projects to be commissioned to make a 6-part series. Those pilots are:
KOALA MAN – ABC COMEDY Tues November 20 at 9.30pm (on iview the same day) ABC’s first adult animated comedy pilot. By day, Kevin is a divorced dad, stuck in a dull IT job at the local council. By night, clad in a koala mask, he’s a superhero clearing the streets of petty crime. He won’t stop until he’s rid the town of every last loiterer, litterer, and local kid who looks dodgy at the park. Voice Cast/ Creator/ Writer/ Director – Michael Cusack, Producer Mike Cowap. Executive Producers: Paul Walton, Emma Fitzsimons (Princess Pictures);
WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS – ABC COMEDY Tues November 27 at 9.30pm (iview from Nov 20) Best friends Penny and Mia are navigating their 20s in Melbourne. Guided by their own, often deeply misguided modern day moral code they confront complex social issues in an outrage-driven world, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Creators Naomi Higgins, Humyara Mahbub, Mark Samual Bonanno, Producer Sarah Freeman, Directors Jessie Oldfield & Adam Murfet.
THE ANGUS PROJECT – ABC COMEDY Tues December 4 at 9.30pm (on iview from Nov 20) Angus, an aspiring sports journalist with cerebral palsy, employs his hopeless best friend Nina, a failing university student, to be his carer. Together they go on wild adventures and get up to no good in the regional NSW town of Bathurst. Director/Producer/Writer/Cast Nina Oyama, Cast ‘Angus’ Angus Thompson, Producer Bronte Rose Jovevski. Guest cast includes Rob Sitch (Utopia) and Veronica Milsom (Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell), and Sammy J.
BE YOUR OWN BOSS – ABC COMEDY Tues December 11 at 9.30pm (on iview from Nov 20) When the Pearl Regional Council established the “Be Your Own Boss” initiative, they offered small business owners mentorship and free rent within the Pearl Arcade. The various recipients are: husband and wife gym instructor duo Chelle and Jase; mother and son ‘uncaged’ pet shop owners Paula and Angelo; and theatre entrepreneurs Ashleigh and Ashley. Creator/Writers/Performers Cameron James and Becky Lucas, Producer Nikita Agzarian, Director Henry Stone. Guest cast includes Mel Buttle, Greta Lee Jackson.
ABC Head of Comedy Rick Kalowski said “These four outstanding pilots – as different in style as could be imagined – point to the incredible depth of new comedy talent in Australia. All four creative teams will surely enjoy great comedy careers, and ABC is thrilled to be there at their start”.
Lee Naimo, Online Investment Manager at Screen Australia said: “It’s exciting to see these teams take the next step and deliver four very strong pilot episodes that showcase the breadth of comedic talent in Australia. These projects display diversity, creativity and ambition and I hope this exposure acts as a launching pad to future opportunities in the industry for these talented teams.”
Executive Producer Nick Hayden said “The ABC has a storied history of producing risky, boundary pushing entertainment and comedy content that supports new talent. These four incredible Fresh Blood pilots continue that excellent tradition. Added bonus, they’re damn funny too!”
So, do these four pilots “point to the incredible depth of new comedy talent in Australia”? Well, yes – in that they point to the fact that the only thing incredible about the depth of comedy talent in Australia is that no-one’s broken their neck diving into it.
But don’t take our word for it… oh wait, you have to take our word for it, as nobody else watched the original pilots. So here’s our verdict on each:
Koala Man: “It’s easy to see this working as a 30-minute sitcom, so we’re okay with it getting $75,000 to make one”. Thumbs up from us there.
The Angus Project: “This isn’t bad either… it could work”. Sounds pretty positive coming from us.
Why Are You Like This: “None of this is funny”. Oh dear.
Be Your Own Boss: Okay, we don’t seem to have reviewed this one… because it wasn’t actually an entrant in last year’s Fresh Blood program. Hmmm.
We did review True Murder, which was from the same guys and which did screen in the 2017 Fresh Blood program – we said “stick with it, it’s a pretty funny show” – but does it seem a little odd to anyone else that one team seems to have made it through to the next level with a completely different show to the one that previously aired?
Maybe Be Your Own Boss is a brilliantly funny idea – we haven’t seen it, so we don’t know – but we’re pretty sure a lot of the Fresh Blood losing contestants would have said they had another even more brilliantly funny idea they’d like to try if they were given a second chance. Which they weren’t.
And it does undercut the idea of having a pilot season if you can get through with a (hilarious) one-off idea and then say “we think we’d like to make this other show instead”. If it’s just a plain old talent quest – which it clearly is, considering it’s a “Screen Australia initiative that seeks to uncover the next generation of Australian comedy talent” – why bother with all the talk of pilots?
Put plainly, isn’t the point of having a pilot season that people are making pilots of shows that can go to series? If you had a brilliantly funny idea that could only work once, that’s not a pilot – that’s a special.
And special isn’t really a word anyone’s used to describe Fresh Blood.
Remember how Pilot Week was going to bring us Ten’s next hit comedy? How it was kind of exciting to work out which of the pilots would get a series? How we’ve been waiting for ages to hear which shows are going to series, and have heard nothing?
Well, it turns out, that Ten’s next new comedy isn’t one of the Pilot Week shows, but one they announced last November, and which is based on the first episode of the ABC’s 2013 show It’s a Date.
Cue the media release…
A First Look At How To Stay Married.
Starring Peter Helliar And Lisa McCune.
Coming Soon To The WIN Network.
Harry and Meghan. Tim and Anna. Biebs and Baldwin. It’s all champagne and roses in the beginning. But how do you keep the home fires burning 14 years down the track, when bikinis have made way for a one-piece and there’s a small child sleeping in your bed every night?
Starring Pete Helliar and Lisa McCune, How To Stay Married goes behind the closed doors of a two-point four family who are stuck in a rut. Greg (Helliar) and Em (McCune) have been married for 14 years, but their relationship is lacking any spark. Life gets complicated when Em goes back to work for the first time since the kids were born, just as Greg is made redundant.
A funny, honest, warts-and-all take on parenting, careers and partnerships in 2018, How To Stay Married tackles the big issues modern day marriages face, from managing screentime, to date night expectations and what actually constitutes hard-rubbish. The series also stars Phil Lloyd playing Greg’s man-child brother Brad, and unconventional neighbours Terry (Darren Gilshenan) and Marlo (Nikki Britton).
There’s also this preview video:
It looks…OK? The episode of It’s a Date that it’s based on had a decent premise (a couple with young kids are using date night and role play to keep their waning marriage interesting). And, to be fair, there is currently a hole in the Australian comedy market for a mass-appeal sitcom where mildly wacky things happen to relatable people. We haven’t had a show like that since Squinters, as this year’s other sitcoms have tended to focus on outlier characters and situations (Street Smart, Back in Very Small Business, Sando). And even though Squinters wasn’t particularly funny, in theory, a show in that style could work on a commercial network. We shall see.
And in the meantime, we won’t be holding our breath that any of the Pilot Week shows are getting the green light. Especially the Dave O’Neil-penned sitcom Dave, which while one of the more promising Pilot Week efforts, is somewhat similar to How To Stay Married (in that it’s also about a middle-aged couple with kids who live in the suburbs and get into mildly wacky scrapes). Ah well.