Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Spread a Little Too Thin

Initially we thought Open Slather was going to be two shows roughly bolted together. As The Comedy Channel’s high profile return to original Australian comedy, the promos traded hard – very hard – on the idea that this was gathering the titans of local sketch comedy circa 1990: Magda Szubanski, Gina Riley, Jane Turner, Michael Veitch, Glenn Robbins, and Marg Downey, with the slightly more recent Shane Jacobson and Stephen Curry bringing up the rear.

But having been around the block a few times ourselves (and having actually read the various press releases), we noticed there seem to also be an awful lot of lower-profile names involved. So we settled in on Sunday night expecting to see a show with two kinds of sketches: a handful of ones where the big names tossed off a classic comedy character or two, and a whole lot of ones where the big names were nowhere to be found.

And that’s pretty much what we got. Only we got a whole lot more besides. Australian sketch comedy hasn’t exactly been thriving these last few years, but there’s been a slow but steady trickle of it nonetheless. And a lot of those shows have developed, even only vaguely, their own styles. Pretty much all of which were on display in Open Slather.

The sketch about a shirtless guy who danced around outside the weather bureau to figure out what the “feels like” temperature was? Straight out of the Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting handbook: come up with a quirky idea, then just have a character stand there saying “this is stupid” (the joke is that the “this is stupid” character is right, but also shunned!)

The sketch about a guy who lets off a massive fart after his date leaves, only to have her come back to try and get her keys and he won’t let her in? Could have come off an episode of Kinne, what with that show’s focus on relationships (and sometimes farts).

The Fifty Shades of Grey music video? Didn’t Double Take do this kind of thing every week in a desperate attempt to “go viral”?

The Masterchef parody that turned all existential and started going on about “the multiverse”? That was the kind of thing Mad as Hell might have done, only in half the time and with a much stronger punchline.

The Downton Abbey sketch? It’s not a good sign when Wednesday Night Fever got there first. Same with the Clive Palmer impression oh great you’ve put the two of them together.

Actually, the Downton Abbey sketch was a handy reminder of why this kind of sketch show often doesn’t work any more. Back in the Fast Forward days – you know, the reason why anyone remembers the “big names” in this show’s cast – there were four television channels (five if you counted SBS, which no-one did), a bunch of radio stations, a few magazines and that was pretty much it for Australian culture. If you wanted to make fun of something, easy: everyone knew what you were talking about.

These days pop culture is so all over the place that there simply aren’t the kind of mass audience shows Fast Forward used to make fun of. Downton Abbey might have come close three years ago, but that was… well, three years ago. And there’s been nothing since. As for building your sketch show around show parodies and making fun of commercials? Who even watches commercials these days?

So the best stuff here was mostly the stuff that just told a joke. Curry and Jacobson’s priests wondering about dinosaurs was good; Glenn Robbins’ various drug tests for drivers was admirably straightforward and got the hell out each time the joke was told. The character parodies were generally pretty strong, even if the sketches they were in (especially that endless 60 Minutes sketch) weren’t.

(Madga’s “Gina Minehart” sketch on how mining works was exactly the joke we expected: “what’s mine is mine. What’s yours is also mine”. We need never see that character again)

And then there was the end credits bit where complaints from the Domino’s Pizza website were juxtaposed with footage of starving refugees. Huh? Not only was it tonally a full 180 degrees from the rest of the show, but what was the point meant to be? “Stop complaining losers, there are people out there with real problems”? So what, no-one in Australia should complain about anything because people in other countries have it so much worse? You’re going to have to be a shitload funnier to get away with that point.

Still, there were enough decent sketches in Open Slather to make it worth sticking with. There was also a Rake parody called Rack where the only joke was that the lead character kept saying “cunt”. It’s almost impressive the way the show worked so hard to make sure no-one could possibly enjoy every sketch. Here’s hoping they eventually figure out who their audience is meant to be.

 

The Weekly Week Five – argle bargle or foofaraw?

Hey, remember this?

Don’t worry if you don’t recall that classic segment from 2013’s This Week Live, as Tom Gleeson kindly brought it back on this week’s episode of The Weekly rebranded as “Hard Chat”. Yep, This Week Live might have been axed due to low ratings and general disinterest, but that doesn’t mean its segments can’t live on and hit the same comedic heights that made it so successful the first time.

Actually, the best way to watch this week’s episode is backwards, so first you get Gleeson recycling his 2013 interview antics and then eventually you get to Pickering’s mock outrage at Bill Shorten saying a bunch of school kids are “making more content than some TV stations”. Yeah, way off beam there, Bill.

What else is there to say? The bit on halal certification was actually pretty good for a segment from Hungry Beast or The Feed, we didn’t spot any coverage of Rebel Wilson’s age so once again all the really big stories were skipped over, and everything else… wait, was there anything else? Oh yeah, Pickering’s big interview was ok. So a 50% strike rate with talking to guests there.

We probably shouldn’t grumble too much about the halal certification story, considering it was – for a segment on The Weekly – actually a decent mix of information and comedy. But when you’re doing an “educational” comedy bit, it seems fair to ask: who exactly are you trying to educate?

On The Checkout, it’s obvious: you tune in for consumer advice, there’s a bit of comedy in there somewhere. On Mad as Hell, there’s no education past the occasional brief bit to set up the context for a news joke. But giving a quarter of your show over to explaining that the nutjobs complaining against halal certification are nutjobs? The people who care either way have already made up their minds and the people who don’t are wondering where the laughs are.

Complaining about halal certification is stupid. We think so, The Weekly thinks so. So why spend eight minutes on a segment educating us on a topic we agree with? Well, clearly some people don’t think it’s stupid and maybe they were watching – perhaps The Weekly thinks they can change peoples minds? Oh wait, this is a show that started with five minutes of jokes about how scary some bikies look. A show that keeps running “Inside the Insiders”. A show that made and put to air a supercut of newsreaders talking about the size of hail.

We’re what, a full quarter of the way through the series and the guys at The Weekly still don’t seem to get how this whole “news satire” thing works. Probably because the thing that makes news satire work – having a firm point of view and using it to hammer at news stories – is the thing the ABC desperately wants to avoid with a federal Liberal government. Explaining a joke kills a joke: when you’re making fun of the issues, you have to be able to assume your audience gets where you’re coming from.

But the ABC is all about balance and making sure they don’t come off as leaning too heavily to one side or the other. So presumably, that means when The Weekly wants to go hard on a right-wing issue, they really have to make sure they back it up by explaining their case. Which kills whatever jokes they were trying to make.

Depressing stuff. Good thing all their non-political comedy is lame too, hey?

The Agony of Vale

The present series of The Agony of… ended this evening, but don’t expect an exciting new series to replace it next week. Oh no. Next week the ABC will be filling the Wednesday 9pm timeslot with a repeat of an old Agony episode. And the following week? It’s the start of an all new series of Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery.

We make two observations at this point: 1) So, the ABC couldn’t afford to produce just one more episode of what must be the cheapest show in the world to make? And 2) Looks like the ABC has decided that 9pm on Wednesdays is the “Slightly amusing” timeslot. FFS.

You know what we’re going to say now: we like actual comedy, you know, that increasingly old-fashioned style of laugh-getting that involves writers coming up with a funny script and talented character actors performing it. We don’t want to watch “sub-Q&A public affairs in talking heads form” or “moving interview with famous person”, especially when some of the talking heads or famous people involved could provide us with good solid laughs if given half a chance.

So, why aren’t they given half a chance? Did all those times the Murdoch press expressed OUTRAGE at The Chaser spook ABC management? And is that why we rarely see members of The Chaser in anything that isn’t an internet-era homage to The Investigators.

One theory that has crossed our mind is that the ABC’s “edgy” comedy ambitions (and they do exist) don’t align with the comedic tastes of their primary audience: the over 60’s. And with the policy seemingly being that all the budget should go to programs that will air in prime time, there’s no way the ABC can do what they used to – make “edgy” comedy programs for younger audiences which will air in late night timeslots, and keep the oldies satisfied with more mainstream fare during prime time. Hence show after show which won’t upset the Boomers, and a smattering of edgier shows for the younger folk (Mad As Hell, Dirty Laundry Live).

Don’t get us wrong, we’re more than happy to watch comedians giving funny opinions on things, or to see how the environment in which a famous person grew up influenced their later career, but can anyone claim that The Agony of… or Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery are doing either of those things well?

Untitled Rebel Wilson Project (date to be confirmed)

Hey, remember when we wrote this back in September 2013?

Hmm. Either she was actually born in 1980 and she’s shaved around six years off her age, or she made Bogan Pride aged 22 and Fairfax totally stuffed it up. Who profits from having Rebel Wilson lose six years in age between 2008 and 2013? We’re going to go with “Rebel Wilson”.

Looks like Mamamia’s only just now getting caught up:

Rebel Wilson celebrated her 29th birthday this year.

Which is interesting, because Rebel is actually a 36-year-old called Melanie Elisabeth Bowndes who graduated from Parramatta’s Tara Anglican School in 1997

What took them so long? Seriously, even a not-that-recent story about her in the Fairfax press made sure to mention her stated age was questionable – plus Mamamia reported the exact same story back at the start of February:

Aussie actress Rebel Wilson has just turned 29. Apparently.

I say ‘apparently’, not because I think she looks or acts any older or younger than that but because the world seems confused about Rebel’s exact age.

At least when we broke the story – okay, when we did some basic maths and fact-checking, which seems to put us ahead of 80% of the Australian media – we had a reason:

This article spends most of its time hailing Wilson for being brave and authentic and in-your-face regarding her size – because there’s never been a funny fat person before, right everybody? – while blatantly tip-toeing around another area where that assessment of her character doesn’t really seem to apply.

And as the years have passed that assessment of Ms Wilson’s character – that she’s someone willing to be authentic when that helps her career, and then full of shit when she thinks that’ll help her out – seems to have been born out:

“In Australia there’s this bizarre culture where they celebrate the mediocre people.” – Rebel Wilson

That’s the kind of thing people should be calling Wilson out on, not her age. Actors (and people in loads of other professions too) lie about their age all the time to get work – it’s not ideal, but neither is a society that values youth to an irrational extent. Moving overseas then claiming you had to leave the country because your homeland doesn’t value talented people? Yeah, you’re a dickhead.

Or maybe, and it’s a crazy thought we know, if the media’s looking to be critical they could take a look at the actual comedy Ms Wilson’s been doing? Her entire act for the last decade or so has consisted entirely of her making fat jokes about herself (her most successful character to date is actually listed in the credits as “Fat Amy”) and saying “shocking” things as quick comedy relief. That’s fine as far as it goes: every single time she’s tried to take it any further (Bogan Pride, Super Fun Night) she’s fallen flat on her arse.

Unfortunately, with the current box office success of Pitch Perfect 2 – yes we’ve seen it, yes Wilson has a slightly larger role this time around, yes it’s just more of the same from her, no, she can’t really sing all that well – it seems likely that we’ll have to put up with a few more years of the media lapping up Wilson’s claims that there were no funny fat people or funny Australians or funny women before she burst on the scene.

And then she’ll be forty.

The Weekly Week Four: Yeah, We’re Not Going To Do This Every Week

This was the week it took the ABC’s top topical news satire program less than two minutes before breaking out the Mark “Jacko” Jackson jokes. You remember, that guy from before Charlie Pickering hit puberty? C’mon, we know the average age of an Australian comedy writer is “I used to work for Max Gillies”, but this is ridiculous. Especially when only seconds ago there were jokes about how messy teenagers rooms are. What’s next, a “get off my lawn” gag?

But at least – and we’re saying “at least” in the heaviest sigh you can imagine – The Weekly was kind of sort of nearly almost talking about how over-the-top the current round of “shit, teenagers are making pipe bombs” terrorism alarmism is. And then they made some actual decent points about how “droughts and flooding rains” have actually gotten measurably worse since that “droughts and flooding rains” poem was written. Pow! Bam! Getting shit done y’all!

Don’t worry though, soon they were back on track and making sure that clip of Joe Hockey having a selfie taken with a female fan got an airing. You know how we’re constantly banging on about how any halfway decent comedy show shouldn’t have politicians on because no-matter what the show does to them, simply by getting involved the politicians come out looking better than when they go in? It also applies to every “ha ha, look a crazy person likes a politician” clip ever. Someone wants a photo with a politician? How is that news?

And while it wasn’t exactly all downhill from there, that fake Budget trailer really, really stunk. It’s week four now, so we all know the drill: the first five minutes or so have all the rapid-fire “that was the week that was” gags, then here comes Tom Gleeson doing what he does. On the up side this week that did involve him pointing out that “surpluses are overrated”, which in Australia 2015 is basically like waving around a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book.

The frustrating thing about this show is that it gets close to being smart just often enough to make it seem like something smart and funny is just around a corner that never quite arrives. It’s afraid to go deep – yes, this is the fourth week we’ve said that – but it does occasionally drop a hint or two that it knows what “deep” is. You’re not making a wacky morning zoo radio show here, this is oh wait a whole bunch of jokes about Kim Jong-un, scourge of morning television shows looking for lightweight news to pad out the news segment because both hosts need a full three minutes to neck the required amount of gin to get through the next half hour.

“But Grumbleweeds,” you sigh, “they did point out that North Korea commits massive human rights abuses! And then they said that stuff isn’t funny!” Sure they did. But the idea isn’t to make a bunch of lightweight jokes then pull a grim face and say “but seriously…” The idea is to take the serious stuff, think about the ways that it’s funny that aren’t “fat guys like food!” and “ha ha, in some primitive parts of the world they still smoke cigarettes!, and then make those jokes so we get that an issue is both serious and ridiculous at the same time.

“Is it because the horror is simply too much to bear,” Pickering says, like the mish-mash of a segment he’s just led us through actually meant anything more than a bunch of wild swings between “MethDonalds” jokes and wanting us to be scared that North Korea’s nuclear missiles could possibly reach Australia. “The horror”? So wait, this was a segment that was arguing that we shouldn’t make fun of North Korea because it’s actually a horrible place? Then… what was with all the jokes making fun of North Korea?

And it got even better. “Maybe it’s worth remembering that story,” Pickering says after announcing that the footage we just saw (where he said Kim Jong-un looked like “a fat baby”) was actually illustrating a report of Kim having fifteen people killed, “the next time some knob on television tries to use Kim Jong-un as a punchline”. AND HE WASN’T TALKING ABOUT THE LAST FIVE MINUTES OF HIS OWN SHOW.

(yes, he was talking about himself on The Project. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t just doing the exact same thing on The Weekly)

And again, the frustration comes from the way The Weekly almost gets it right. A segment about how the media uses North Korea as light and silly news when it’s actually a nightmare run by horrible people is a good idea. But this just wandered all over the place – it made its point, then went back to jokes, then made the same point again, then more jokes. If it was a high school essay you’d make the kid do it over again.

Also, is it possible that no-one realised that shaking your head sadly over North Korea’s addiction to notorious stimulant crystal meth then following it up with a wacky comedy segment about notorious stimulant coffee was slightly inconsistent? No, they’re not the same thing, but from a distance – the kind of distance a comedy show is meant to cultivate – they’re both stimulants people take to rev themselves up to stay awake during the soul-destroying work that absorbs so many of their waking hours they don’t get enough sleep to properly function. You know what’s funny? The idea that the poor working slobs of North Korea are all that different from us chumps.

The interview segment was fine as far as these things go, which is to say it was painful but not crippling, and then oh look a bit on a wacky game show, we’d make a Clive James reference but the fact we remember when Clive James used to host a show making fun of wacky overseas game shows just makes us look like massive hypocrites after that crack about Mark “Jacko” Jackson at the start of this review. Let’s all just move on with our lives, okay? Let’s all just pretend this never happened.

 

Wait, What? Can You Say That Again?

Remember when people used to complain that Have You Been Paying Attention? was too scripted? Yeah, because actually writing jokes is a bad thing when you’re trying to be funny. But after the opening segment of their first episode for 2015 it’s time to throw those complaints in the bin, as the combination of actual serious answers and shambolic shouting gave a pretty decent impression of a show being put together on the fly.

Okay, when Fifi Box threw a “Camilla” into the royal baby’s name it certainly had a whiff of pre-planning about it. And Mick Molloy’s line “the furburgers are better at Hungry Jacks” was making its second or third go ’round, having previously appeared on his Triple M breakfast show in Melbourne (guess it was still fresh for listeners in other states). But at least they were actual jokes – not something you’re likely to find on many other recent Australian panel shows. Why was the Australian Sex Party de-registered, Mick? “Because they were faking it”.

What makes HYBPA? work where so very many other panel shows have failed is… well, it’s more than one thing really. Putting aside the obvious – they work on the jokes and edit out the dead air – it’s fairly fast-paced, so the jokes come at a steady clip and there’s enough proper answers to make the show feel at least slightly like an actual game show (if you like that kind of thing).

It’s also (surprisingly) a good advertisement for commercial radio in this country. Three of the five – panellists? contestants? – on the first show of 2015 are currently on radio; the other two are radio veterans. And where modern commercial radio crams in so many ads and talkback segments you hardly get to hear the hosts think on their feet, here at least they’re able to occasionally show that yes, given the chance they can get a few decent one-liners out.

Being firmly and trashily news-based provides a solid spine for the show, and actually makes it a better guide to the week’s news than something like The Weekly. But on top of that, the regulars all know each other well enough to have developed at least the rudiments of character-based comedy (Sam Pang is rubbish at quizzes, Mick Molloy is a boozy letch, Jane Kennedy is going to get all the Masterchef questions right, Tom Gleisner is going to make some pretty dubious jokes, and so on). It’s the kind of thing Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation (and even Spicks and Specks) did well: if you’re going to have regulars, you really should give them a comedy angle to work with.

But mostly it works because it’s putting in the effort to be funny. Like all panel shows it’s utterly disposable, but it’s disposable in the same way a really good breakfast radio show can be disposable: it’s a bunch of mates messing about having fun. Which means it’s also the kind of show where you can pretty much predict the quality of the episode from the guests involved (Mick Molloy usually raises the result by a star or so: someone who’s never worked with Working Dog before usually lowers it by roughly the same amount). And like a breakfast radio show there’s often a bunch of painful cross-promotion going on, which provides a great opportunity to wander out into the garden for a few minutes – who has the attention span to watch an entire hour of television non-stop these days anyway?

HYBPA? might not be anything special, but it’s the kind of show Australia should be creating a half dozen times every year: something that aims no higher than being funny and hits that target more often than not. Considering it’s basically the only regular prime-time comedy show on commercial television, it should be getting a lot more praise than it currently does. But since when did being funny count in Australian comedy?

 

Ebony and Ivory – 8MMM: the reappraisal

Seems we made an error in our review of the first episode of 8MMM Aboriginal Radio. Lots of commenters have told us that the constant racism from the show’s training manager Dave is entirely realistic. Guess there must be lots of white people in Alice Springs who can’t even buy bread in a supermarket without slagging off indigenous folks. They must be quite annoying!

Having said that, this is the kind of thing that the very first episode of a comedy series set in a location that’s unfamiliar to most of its audience needs to explain. Comedians who blame their audience for not getting the joke usually don’t stay comedians for long. It’s fine (and based on the feedback we’ve had, totally correct) to say “that’s exactly what people are like up north”, but if you don’t take the time to set the scene – if you don’t explain that yes, this offensive behaviour is actually considered par for the course in some parts of the country – then you’re not doing your job as comedians.

Because the fact is that for most Australians – us included – this part of Australia is unfamiliar. And if you’re going to use comedy to educate Australians about life in the Northern Territory (a part of the country inhabited by less people than the audience for the Seven Nightly News in an east coast capital city), then “educate” is part of the process. It doesn’t make it impossible to set a comedy there, but it does mean you have to work a little harder to let us all in on the joke.

One positive that came out of our gaff was that we were offered the chance to preview the rest of the series*, which we’re happy to report improves a lot, with all of the characters becoming less cartoonish and more nuanced. Even racist Dave starts to befriend some of the indigenous characters. Kinda. Look out for the scene in this week’s episode where he wakes up with his arm around an indigenous man (we won’t spoil the punchline). And there are more Dave laughs coming in episode five, when his re-enactment of John McDowell Stuart’s founding of Alice Spring is ruined by Jampajinpa and friends, while Koala hilariously proves that he isn’t a decedent of Stuart after all.

This is all classic sitcom humour, and funny because it’s full-of-himself Dave copping it. Less amusing are the moments that reflect the harsh realities of life. In one episode Jake and Lola ask for funding for a new water pump, but in a The Games-esque moment find that while they can’t have the money for the pump they can have as much bottled water as they like. Who needs sustainable solutions?! In another episode the team from 8MMM celebrate with a few (actually rather a lot of) drinks, but on the way home the slightly drunk Jampajinpa is hassled by the cops, arrested and jailed, while the same cops let the incredibly drunk – and driving – Dave go about his business.

The double standards, stupid bureaucracy and in-your-face racism are shocking, but there’s nothing to laugh at here. It’s like watching a 4 Corners story about the after-effects of the intervention or a John Pilger documentary: utterly depressing. But laugh at this we’re invited to. 8MMM actor, writer and producer, Trisha Morton-Thomas, and producer Rachel Clements recently promoted the series on ABC Melbourne’s The Conversation Hour, and spoke, amongst other things, about how they wanted to use humour to explore the truth of life in indigenous communities.

We have to laugh, otherwise we’ll just be a little heap on the floor crying constantly. You can’t do that you, you have to get on with life.

Fair enough, and we’re sure this plays well to those familiar with this world, but for us it’s been more of an “eye opener”. And like most eye openers, it wasn’t that funny. If you disagree we’d like to hear why – tell us what made you laugh.

 

 

* Our source wishes to remain anonymous, but we can assure you has no connection with the production of 8MMM.

The Weekly Week Three: Week As Piss

Week three and the deck chairs are starting to be shuffled around. Gone is Kitty Flanagan’s segment; gone too the interview. In their place we get a UK correspondent fulfilling exactly the same role international comedy correspondents have been filling since satellite links became feasible, and Pickering hitting the road as a roving correspondent himself to check out the controversy surrounding a proposed mosque in Bendigo. Was any of this funny? It’s The Weekly – do you have to ask?

After last week’s failure to provide any kind of depth, this week they’ve doubled down and bet the farm on the concept of “breadth”. Well, not entirely: once again The Weekly tackled a big-ish issue – our pitifully low level of foreign aid – and managed to tell us a few things we almost certainly already knew. “Governments can cut foreign aid because foreigners don’t vote” and “most people think we spend way more overseas than we actually do”. There you go, we just saved you five minutes.

No matter how much they tinker with the format, it’s become reasonably clear that the real problems with this show – the ones that are going to hold it back week in week out – are fundamental. The jokes here are good; they’re just not as good as the ones on The Hamster Wheel or Mad as Hell. Pickering, Gleeson and Flanagan can be funny; they’re just not funny enough to have a show all to themselves.

It might be too early to call it, but we’re going to do it anyway: Pickering is screwed. Not because he’s a terrible host, but because he’s an average host stuck in a format that is 80% a showcase for the host. Around half the show is just him being a comedy newsreader, and even Pickering’s biggest supporters would have to admit that he doesn’t have the comedy persona to carry that off.

Not that many other TV Australians could manage it either: even Adam “much-loved” Hill’s talk show struggled. Shaun Micallef rarely does the kind of long, explanatory stories Pickering is trying to pull off here, and his interviews are with comedy characters a lot more interesting than Tom Gleeson. And when you get down to it, Pickering is kind of bland – the only edge he has on television is the kind of vaguely sneery arrogance that makes him come off like a NQR version of Wil Anderson. And even Anderson lets the panel do most of the talking on Gruen.

The Weekly has a format that needs two things to work: a strong host and a smart writers room. So far it’s displayed neither. Seriously guys, “The Insider’s Insider” isn’t a sketch for week three. It’s a sketch for week seventeen when you’re really struggling, and even then the only way it’s going to work is if the real joke is that our much-loved Weekly team are just piss-farting about. Which is never going to happen because even in a scripted sketch it seems the writers automatically give Pickering the role of “bossy arsehole”.

(Micallef has often talked about the way he’ll play an arrogant sod as the host of his various shows then make sure in the sketches he plays the low status character to balance things out. Guess Pickering was too busy laughing at every single thing Micallef ever said on Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation to actually learn anything from him.)

Maybe in the next few weeks they’ll figure out that going deeper – much deeper – into the issues is the only way to make this show worthwhile. Having Pickering go to Bendigo, bung on a Chris Morris voice (hey, it made a change from his Jon Stewart) and mock idiots to their face is only ever going to be more than just a smart-arse making fun of idiots if there’s some actual point behind it beyond “some people are dumb”. You don’t say? We kinda figured that one out when the audience laughed at the intro to “This Is What You Think”.

It’s a weekly show with a smallish staff so no doubt there are limits to what they can do. So do an interview. Do a few bits that are meant to be lightweight and silly. And then when you tackle a topic in-depth, actually have something deep to say. It’s nice that you can make the point that foreign aid helps Australia as much as it helps others; if that’s all you’ve got to say, say it in half the time and move on.

(sure, it’s easier for us to say this stuff than it is for them to go and do it – that’s why they get paid full-time wages to make the show and we’re spotting the reasons why the show is struggling for free.)

At this stage it really does feel like The Weekly isn’t going to improve any time soon. They must know something’s not quite right, but all the changes this week were superficial. Unless there’s a willingness and an ability to go deeper – to make the truly insightful joke, to present the surprising fact, to serve up the unpopular truth instead of saving any mention of the executions of the Bali Nine until a week after they happened and then only mention them just to poke fun at people saying they’re going to boycott Bali* – The Weekly is going to be as worthwhile as a week-old newspaper.

 

 

 

*which in it’s “ha ha, some people care enough about an issue to make an empty gesture” attitude reminded us of way too many previous ABC comedies where the big laughs were always meant to be at the idea that anyone would care about an issue or think that one side of politics was any different from the other. You really think that opposing capital punishment (even half-heartedly) makes someone a loser? Or that as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard are basically the same? Then why are you even doing political comedy? Oh right, Hey Hey it’s Saturday isn’t hiring.

Compulsory Logies Wrap-Up Post

Comedy never comes out of a Logies ceremony looking great. Last night we saw the usual mix of light-hearted industry backslapping, and results which ranged from the surprisingly good to the fairly baffling. Here’s a quick run-down:

Most Popular Entertainment Program – Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year South America

No surprises here – kinda like the show itself. After taking Gap Years in various parts of the world Hamish & Andy have a well-honed and very popular formula, and they ain’t changing it. Problem is, they’ve just about run out of continents to eat weird food in. Guess they’ll have to come up with something new. What’s the betting it involves stunts?

Most Outstanding Comedy Program – Utopia

Probably the best of the bunch, government infrastructure satire Utopia beat Black Comedy, Legally Brown, Please Like Me and Upper Middle Bogan to win this award. It was odd to not see Mad As Hell nominated here, but it was entered for Most Outstanding Entertainment Program.

Most Popular Actress – Asher Keddie

Julia Morris was nominated in this category for her role in House Husbands but lost to the Offspring and Party Tricks star. Maybe it was that loss that caused her to mess up and not announce the nominees for Most Outstanding Entertainment Program?

Most Popular Presenter – Carrie Bickmore

The first of several wins for Bickmore, she beat Hamish & Andy’s Andy to take out this award. To be fair, she does a fair bit more presenting than Andy.

Most Outstanding Entertainment Program – The Voice Australia

An odd category this, in which the other nominees were Bogan Hunters, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, The Chaser’s Media Circus and The Checkout. Presumably The Voice won because it best fits the definition of an entertainment program, as opposed to the satirical sketch comedies, consumer affairs and exploitative pseudo-comic documentary/game shows it was up against. Oh, and what was Mad As Hell doing in this category and why wasn’t it entered for Most Outstanding Comedy? Do we smell a conspiracy? Your best tin foil hat-esque theories in a comment, please.

Most Popular Actor – Stephen Peacocke

Chris Lilley and Josh Thomas were beaten by the Home & Away star in this category. We guess comedians will never be as popular with the kids as hunky soap stars.

Graham Kennedy Award For Most Outstanding Newcomer – Miranda Tapsell

Sketch comedian Troy Kinne was nominated for this award but lost to Love Child star Miranda Tapsell. She made a much-acclaimed speech about the need for more people of colour to be on Australian TV. We completely agree.

Most Outstanding Actor – Luke Arnold

Luke Arnold won for his portrayal of Michael Hutchence in INXS: Never Tear Us Apart. Other nominees included Rake star Richard Roxborough, who at least was in a show that was meant to be funny.

Most Outstanding Series – Wentworth

Rake also lost in this category to Prisoner re-make Wentworth. Wentworth is way less funny than Prisoner, which is a shame for those of us who like their drama tempered with a little bathos.

Gold Logie – Carrie Bickmore

Bickmore beat nominees Hamish Blake, Andy Lee, Scott Cam, Asher Keddie and Stephen Peacocke to take out her first Gold Logie this year. Whilst clearly not nominated for being funny, it’s interesting to note how many comedians/funny folk have won the gold over the years – Hamish Blake, Denise Drysdale, Norman Gunston, Graham Kennedy, Rove McManus, Bert Newton, Daryl Somers and Steve Vizard – and yet comedy’s greatest hope of the present day, Shaun Micallef, will probably never make it. Kind of a shame, that.

Modesty Forbids

We often cop some flack when we mention the many and various foibles of Australian television critics. That’s partly because – unlike actual Australian comedians – some of them have active fanbases, and partly because some readers think we should stick to what we do best: incoherently slagging off sub-standard Australian comedy.

But the poor quality of Australian television critics is part of the problem. By consistently refusing to point out the obvious – that most Australian comedy is pretty arse – they contribute to an environment where half-baked ideas and haphazard execution reigns supreme. Often because they’re angling for jobs making the same kind of crap themselves.

So you night think then that Fairfax TV writer David Dale’s “Bogie” awards – which, in his words, “celebrate all that is tacky, annoying and manipulative about Australian television” – would be right up our alley. Sadly, no: presumably it’s being used ironically, but the mere presence of the word “celebrate” is the big giveaway. Even our own annual Australian Tumbleweed Awards know enough to know that shit shows deserve to be treated like shit. As for jokey awards about “bad” television? Into the bin.

To be fair to Dale, we detected enough venom here to at least keep reading through to the end, which with our short attention spans has to count as some kind of win. Though this bit about the Logies did interest us:

After complaints by this column (among others) that there was no category for Outstanding Comedy, they’ve included a comedy category this year

That’s because the version that went to print in our local rag ran more like this:

After complaints by this column that there was no category for Outstanding Comedy, they’ve included a comedy category this year

Oddly, the time and date on the online version reads “May 3, 2015 – 10:38AM”, which suggests to us that some tinkering may have taken place after the print edition was filed. Maybe someone in editorial realised that the heroic Dale wasn’t the sole voice complaining about the Logies lack of a comedy award?

Brilliant news today from TV Week that it has restored Most Outstanding Comedy to its 2015 Logie Awards.

The jury-voted category has been absent since 2009.

TV Week says the change has come about after consulting with the industry, as well as listening to feedback from readers, viewers and voters.

Even we had words on the topic:

Mad as Hell was beaten by The X Factor? All the comedy categories replaced by “Best Presenter” and “Best Light Entertainment”? It’s enough to make you think The TV Week Logie Awards are nothing more than a promotional tool for the comedy-free commercial networks.

Of course, re-instating the Comedy award is nothing to be proud of if it goes to a show that sucks. Here’s the 2015 nominations (oddly, Mad as Hell, The Chaser’s Media Circus and Hamish & Andy’s South American Gap Year are in “Entertainment” categories):

*Black Comedy (ABC)
*Legally Brown (SBS One)
*Please Like Me (ABC2)
*Upper Middle Bogan (ABC)
*Utopia (ABC)

They’re certainly representative of Australian comedy, we’ll give them that…