Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Today Tonightly

We’ve waited a while before passing judgement on Tonightly, ABC Comedy’s new tonight show, because unlike pretty much every Australian comedy of the last decade or so its a show that’s able to do its growing up in public. A four-episodes-a-week talk show doesn’t have to be perfect fresh out of the gate – which is good, because the first episode was a bit of a mess – so why not give it a week or two to iron out the kinks? We’ve seen plenty of comedies that have been fully committed to being shithouse from day one; there’s no harm in seeing if for once we might get a show that develops in the right way.

So the good news: Tonightly is pretty good for what it is. And what it is, is Tom Ballard doing around 20 minutes of topical stand-up / monologue each night, broken up by the occasional (middling) sketch or (tolerable) interview. It’s about as bare bones as a tonight show can get: no band, no string of guests promoting something, and an audience that sounds like a handful of mildly interested cleaning staff. Considering the vast number of recent tonight-ish shows that have gone in the other direction – the parody of Aaron Chen Tonight, the earnest lecturing of The Weekly – it’s surprising someone didn’t try the low-fi version earlier. Especially as it’s both cheaper and a lot more likely not to suck.

As the host Ballard is good, not great, but he’s lucked out with a (cheap, bare bones, but efficient) format that – in a startling rarity for Australian comedy – lets the host just be funny. Australia is full of radio jocks whose only skills are likability and being able to deliver a joke; you could give just about any regular from Have You Been Paying Attention? this job and they wouldn’t stuff it up. But Ballard is the one in the hot seat and while he’s not exactly breaking new ground here with his “genial host” act, he’s mostly coming across as both likable and funny without skidding into “arrogant prat”.

(his on-camera support crew are largely forgettable, which is actually a step up considering how annoying we’ve found some of them to be previously. Which we’re going to say means they’re hitting the sweet spot where the jokes and not “hey look at me I’m hilarious!” comes first)

Likewise, the jokes are aren’t classics – there’s plenty of shouting “what the fuck?” over clips of politicians doing or saying bad things – but it usually feels like they’re trying to be funny first, delivering a right-on lecture second, and these days that goes a long way in political comedy. Even when its political comedy that occasionally feels like it’s being broadcast live from the set of one of those Up Late Game Shows from 2006. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that when they do the self-deprecating “hey, the real joke was that we did a joke that bad” thing it usually feels like they mean it. Take note, The Weekly.

Come to think of it, this whole show must be a serious concern for The Weekly, considering it’s doing roughly the same thing only four times as often and a whole lot better. It’s safe to say that Charlie “not really all that good at seeming likable” Pickering’s setting himself up for disappointment when he’s saying things like this:

He agrees Australia could do with a permanent tonight show format, and sees an “older version” of himself in such a role.

Because if Tonightly is any guide, that role’s already been filled.

Fresh Blood from a stone

Let us tell you, watching this year’s new batch of Fresh Blood has been a real slog. And it seems you agree.

One of several private messages we received about our Fresh Blood blogs came from someone who was actually in a Fresh Blood show. Here’s what they had to say:

I’m on [REDACTED] and fuck is it another rough year for Fresh Blood
There’s only like 5 of them that are actually good. Look forward to reading your review.
There are 4 that are literally “Broad City but with none of the wit, fun or charm” and 2 that are based on sketches SNL did in the 80s that wasn’t funny there, nor are they funny now.

Hard to disagree with that.

Anyway, for one last time, here’s what we think about Fresh Blood 2017.

True Murder

This authentic-looking parody of a Making A Murderer-style true crime show is a bit of a slow burn. The problem is that most of the comedy comes from running gags, and it takes most of episode 1 for those to be set up. But stick with it, and it’s a pretty funny show. Also, look out for cameos from Adam Richard and Anne Edmonds.

The Angus Project

This isn’t bad either. Angus, a disabled university student who likes to party, convinces friend Erika to be his new carer. Erika’s an unlikely support worker, but she’s right for Angus. Together, they drink, smoke bongs, party, cheat on essays and mess around. It’s kind of a more wild version of Emma and Daniel in Rosehaven and a similar sense of humour. This is one of four Fresh Blood projects to be awarded $75,000 to make a 30-minute pilot. It could work.

Unsynced

The plot of Unsynced is a little bit Chris Lilley, in that it’s highly unlikely: a champion ladies synchronised swimming duo turns out to be a man and woman who are husband and wife. When they’re uncovered, he has a total breakdown and she has to try and make it better. In case you’re wondering, this is about as funny as a Chris Lilley show. Here, for new readers, is what we think of him.

Woes

Two guys in their early 20 years pissfarting around is a well-established concept on which to hang some comedy, except protagonists, Rolly and Kai are so utterly unlikable that only someone who’s forcing themselves to watch this (hi!) is going to finish it. We hated this as much as Why Are You Like This, but at least it didn’t get $75,000 to make a pilot.

The Lost Tapes

Fake old footage from different eras can often be funny. Not here, though. While The Lost Tapes looks quite realistic, it often becomes so ridiculous that it stops being realistic…which means it stops being funny. We’re pretty sure, for example, that any real instructional video about microwaves from the 80s wouldn’t include footage of the presenter becoming ill from using the product.

Too Pretty To Be Witty

This consists of three woke sketches about women and their place in the world. The sketches are good and the group who made them shows some promise, which is presumably why they didn’t get $75,000 to make a pilot.

Leftovers Presents Sloppy Seconds

See our comments about Woes, except this is a show featuring two women.

Koala Man

If you set a Batman film in the Australian suburbs, with a local hero solving local problems, you’d have Koala Man. Can’t plug your Bluray into your TV? Koala Man to the rescue! It’s easy to see this working as a 30-minute sitcom, so we’re okay with it getting $75,000 to make one.

Ibis Queen

The Ibis Queen is a glamorous ship sailing the high seas and keeping its passengers entertained with a poolside floorshow featuring dolphins. Except the dolphins are kept in cruel conditions and some greenies have infiltrated the ship to save them. As plots go, there’s a fair bit going on here, and this might work better if the episodes were longer.

Bin Chickens

Some ibis’ hang out at Darling Harbour, fishing stuff out of bins and talking rubbish. Again, this might work better if the episodes were longer. Then again, it might not.

Collective Noun ABC Millenials

A group of millennials re-make some popular ABC shows – Australian StoryThe Book Club and Media Watch – to appeal to a young audience. So, Australian Story tells the harrowing tale of a uni student who has to get up early and go to lectures, while on The Facebook Club the panel review the latest memes, and on Social Media Watch the host shows us what really goes into making an Instagram post. Cuh! Those millennials, they’re just so self-indulgent and focused on social media… Based on this, they also don’t know how to be funny.

Please never make us watch most of these shows again!

Vale Rosehaven series 2

Rosehaven‘s an unusual one in today’s TV landscape. If you imagine a scale with drama at one end, comedy at the other, and dramedy in the middle, Rosehaven‘s somewhere between dramedy and comedy; never quite funny enough to satisfy the likes of us, but not quite mirthless enough to be the sort of thing that people who don’t like comedy might enjoy.

Rosehaven

In fact, the bits which are funny in Rosehaven are the sort of humour that people who find comedy annoying, hate about comedy. Stuff like when Emma and Daniel have childish arguments, or engage in tit-for-tat, or dare each other to do stupid things. A lot of this stuff is really funny – and Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor play it perfectly. But it’s too much like comedy for a dramedy fan.

Except, then there’s a scene where Daniel’s mum says something dry which doesn’t quite work because Kris McQuade plays it too scary, or a scene involving a local eccentric and the actor doesn’t quite time the line right – or their lines aren’t that good in the first place – and that’s where Rosehaven falls into a bit of slump.

What we’re saying here is: if this were The Emma and Daniel (or Celia and Luke) Show it’d probably be a lot funnier. It might be incredibly exhausting too, but we’d be laughing more.

But what do we know? The New York Times liked it. It described it as…

Affable and human

…which it definitely is. Rosehaven the affable: the kind of show you’d be happy to have in your home again because it’s a bit funny, but not so funny that you’d ruin the couch laughing.

It’s Like Putting Dracula in Charge of the Blood Bank

Press release time!

From the 20 sketch comedy teams selected as Fresh Blood’s Class of 2017, four will now receive $75,000 each to produce a half-hour pilot to premiere on ABC iview in 2018.

The four projects are Be Your Own Boss created by Becky Lucas and Cameron James; animation Koala Man created by Michael Cusack; The Angus Project created by Nina Oyama and Angus Thompson; and Why Are You Like This created by Naomi Higgins, Mark Samual Bonanno and Humyara Mahbub.

Fresh Blood is the highly successful joint initiative between ABC and Screen Australia created in 2013 to unearth a new generation of comedic talent. Previous recipients have included Aunty Donna, Fancy Boy and Skit Box.

In March 2017, 20 teams from hundreds of applications were selected to create 3 x 3-5min sketches. All 60 sketches are now available on ABC COMEDY on iview. Plus ABC will also broadcast a ‘Best of Fresh Blood’ three-part series on ABC COMEDY on Tuesday 18 January at 9.30pm, hosted by Wil Anderson.

In December 2017, the 20 teams participated in an exclusive workshop led by industry representatives to learn the skills required to build a sustainable career. Each team was subsequently invited to submit ideas for half-hour comedy pilots, and from those submissions four teams have been selected for production funding.

All four pilots will be delivered by June 2018 and will premiere on ABC COMEDY in the second half of the year. ABC and Screen Australia hope to take one of these four pilots to a full series in 2019.

ABC Director of Television, David Anderson said: “The ABC has long been the home of comedy and innovative content, consistently delivering fresh programming for Australian audiences. Together with Screen Australia, our Fresh Blood initiative continues to demonstrate a commitment to nurturing Australia’s next generation of creative talent, giving new voices the opportunity to shine, with the possibility of a series commission.”

Sally Caplan, Head of Production at Screen Australia said: “There is no shortage of comedy talent in Australia and we are incredibly grateful to ABC iview for providing a premium online platform for these Fresh Blood voices to be heard. We’re thrilled that this program has attracted so many projects that are female driven and display such diversity, and I would like to offer my congratulations to the four teams who are being given the enviable opportunity to create a pilot based on the strength of their outstanding series pitches.”

The four pilots that will go into production are:

BE YOUR OWN BOSS
30 mins
Created by Becky Lucas, Cameron James
Synopsis A mockumentary series that dips into the lives and struggles of several desperate couples that are living the Australian Dream – to be your own boss.

KOALA MAN
30 mins
Created by Michael Cusack
Synopsis Koala Man is about a local suburban superhero with no special powers but a strong and burning passion to snuff out petty crime and bring order to the community.

THE ANGUS PROJECT
30 mins
Producer Craig Anderson
Created by Nina Oyama and Angus Thompson
Synopsis Angus, a hard partying guy with cerebral palsy and his reckless carer Erika, get up to no good in a conservative country town.

WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS
30 mins
Created by Naomi Higgins, Mark Samual Bonanno, Humyara Mahbub
Synopsis Why Are You Like This is a sharp, dialogue driven comedy that is unforgivingly harsh. Best friends Penny and Mia inadvertently dissect the dark side of human nature – premises that are often taboo – all the while blissfully ignorant of how many people they upset.

Are these the four shows we thought were the best of the current Fresh Blood crop? Uh, no?

Okay, to be honest of these four we’ve only seen one – Why Are You Like This, which we thought was… well, read for yourself:

Two annoying millennial women housesit for a third woman who’s gone off to do housebuilding work in Africa for a charity. The taller and more dominant of the millennial woman, who constantly bullies, chides and one-ups the shorter millennial woman, claims she is better than the one doing housebuilding in Africa and can make lots of money online by selling her poo to perverts. So, she does, making $80,000. In the third episode, the two millennial women start talking about cum and what it looks like, which leads to a sequence in which they perfect a recipe for fake cum. None of this is funny.

We’re slightly surprised Kiki and Kitty didn’t get up – it certainly seemed to be getting a bit of press, and was one out of two of the ones we have seen (the other being Let’s Break ’em Up!) that seemed worthwhile.

[edit – Kiki and Kitty were getting good press because they weren’t part of Fresh Blood. Seems we got our various late-2017 ABC online comedy initiatives mixed up, sorry. We should have realised something was up when we were saying nice things about two Fresh Blood entrants.]

But when you’re up against a series about a crap superhero and a hard-partying guy with cerebral palsy it’s always going to be an uphill struggle to get laughs.

As for the line “There is no shortage of comedy talent in Australia”… yeah, we’d beg to differ there.

With nowhere currently available to actually train comedy talents or give them real work experience on television, all Fresh Blood is currently doing is giving a lot of people with nothing but their own conviction that they’re funny some “much needed” exposure.

And now, it seems, $75,000.

A Fresh Blood(bath)

In our previous blog, we wrote about the launch of ABC Comedy, reviewed some of the new batch of Fresh Blood shows now available on iView and promised to review more Fresh Blood next time. Well, promise kept; here’s our thoughts on more of this year’s Fresh Blood

Why Are You Like This?

Two annoying millennial women housesit for a third woman who’s gone off to do housebuilding work in Africa for a charity. The taller and more dominant of the millennial woman, who constantly bullies, chides and one-ups the shorter millennial woman, claims she is better than the one doing housebuilding in Africa and can make lots of money online by selling her poo to perverts. So, she does, making $80,000. In the third episode, the two millennial women start talking about cum and what it looks like, which leads to a sequence in which they perfect a recipe for fake cum. None of this is funny.

1800 Success

Aaron Chen and Jonathon Lo win some money at the pub, spend it, then spend more than they won, then find themselves in a lot of debt. So, they concoct various schemes to get out of debt. This would probably be funnier if it was shorter, as there isn’t enough good material to stretch across three nine-minute episodes.

Freudian Nip

Freudian Nip is the all-female comedy troupe who made up much of the supporting cast of Aaron Chen Tonight. As with 1800 Success, some good material is stretched very thin.

The Big Day

Laura Hughes plays three characters who are all participating in the same wedding. This reminded us a lot of The Edge of the Bush, in that all the main characters are narcissists turned up to 11. And while there’s plenty of comic potential in extreme narcissists, none was found here. This was just annoying.

No One Suspected The Cat

A group of comedians, including David Collins, Rebecca De Unamuno and Carlo Ritchie, improvise sketches in a sound studio, which are then animated. Sometimes the animations make the sketches funnier, most of the time they don’t add anything at all. It doesn’t help that the sketches themselves are fairly average.

Headswapsies

Two young scientists (Mitch McTaggart and Djovan Caro) swap heads, then have trouble regaining their basic motor skills. This largely visual comedy owes some debt to Mr Bean and Woodley in that the central character(s) are child-like adults who constantly find themselves in bizarre situations, not always of their own making. Unfortunately, the situations in Headswapsies aren’t quite as clever or unpredictable as those in better visual comedies. When the two scientists go to a science showcase and find themselves surrounded by dangerous chemicals and equipment…gee, we wonder what will happen? To be fair, we didn’t predict that one chemical reaction would cause a swastika to appear. Although on the other hand, we also didn’t predict that the shot wouldn’t then cut to an obviously Jewish character looking angry. So, this wasn’t an entirely predictable show.

Let’s Break ‘em Up!

In the spirit of equality, Nath Valvo has decided it’s time for all couples to prove their relationship worthy…

Made before last week’s same-sex marriage vote, this sees Nath Valvo (The Shambles) dragging heterosexual couples off the streets and into a TV studio, where he asks them questions about their relationship. If the couples get the answers wrong, they’ll be forced to break up. We enjoyed this one. Valvo’s an engaging and amusing host, and the tatty set and background models raise plenty of laughs. Especially the male model, who just stands there looking gormless.

Along with Kiki and Kitty, Let’s Break ‘em Up! is the only half-decent Fresh Blood show we’ve seen so far, which begs the question… have we reached the bottom of the comedy talent barrel?

Shock twist: yes we have.

With nowhere currently available to actually train comedy talents or give them real work experience on television, all Fresh Blood is currently doing is giving a lot of people with nothing but their own conviction that they’re funny some “much needed” exposure. Which is bad because a): they suck, and soon give up on comedy, and b): anyone watching gets the impression that Australian comedy sucks, and they also give up on (Australian) comedy.

The ABC clearly has zero interest in developing real comedy talent – they just want cheap programming they can throw on air to look like they’re promoting local talent, with zero interest in nurturing them to the point where they’re actually good at their job. If they uncover fully formed talent, great! Only they found all those people in series one and never gave them a show.

Offering exposure without training is like a concert hall having an open mic night – everybody knows those things almost never reveal any decent talent. Unless the ABC wants to start up a regular sketch show where all this fresh talent can learn how to do more than gurn at a camera, it’s time to realise they can’t get any more blood from this stone.

There will be Fresh Blood

Recently, there was an exciting announcement. The ABC said it was creating a new channel dedicated entirely to comedy, called ABC Comedy, on which they’d be airing a brand-new comedy tonight show, Tonightly with Tom Ballard. And, they’d be releasing heaps of new short-form comedy shows from new talent on iView under the Fresh Blood banner. Good news, right? Everyone wants a laugh during these troubled times.

ABC Comedy

Then we watched it…

Look, we want to like new things. We’re even prepared to give Tonightly a couple of weeks to find its feet before we review it, but, overall, ABC Comedy is a bit half-arsed.

What was their launch program, the first show on their new channel? An episode of Spicks & Specks from 2008, followed by repeats of Upper Middle Bogan. Way to set the tone, guys.

So, a bit unimpressed by the line-up, we switched over to iView to check out the new series of Fresh Blood. And again, we really wanted this to be good. Because in an ideal world, Fresh Blood would uncover some amazing up-and-coming talent, give them space to experiment and develop their craft, and pave the way to that talent making an amazing full-length sitcom or sketch show.

Sadly, what it’s actually produced is a variety of projects that covers the full spectrum of bad, from the merely dull or bland, to the out-and-out thoroughly shithouse. Here are some thoughts on some of the shows we’ve managed to watch:

Kiki and Kitty

Probably the best of the bunch, this high concept comedy from Black Comedy’s Nakkiah Lui is about up-and-coming lawyer Kiki (Lui), whose life is ruined (or possibly improved) by Kitty (Elaine Crombie), Kiki’s vagina in human form. As the outrageous Kitty goads Kiki into doing things she’s never done, there are a few laughs to be had. That high concept’s probably going to wear thin after a series of this, though.

#CelesteChallengeAccepted

Comedian Celeste Barber (The Letdown) is a huge hit on Instagram, where her daily posts, requested by fans, see her take the piss out of super-sexy modelling shots. Typically, these involve Barber imitating the pose of a rake-thin, expensively-dressed and impossibly hot starlet, by recreating it with her normal-bodied curves whilst wearing clothes purchased from Target.

Unfortunately, though, this attempt to bring the concept to TV isn’t quite as funny. Recreating a Kylie Jenner make-up tutorial sounds like it could funny, but it turns out to be about as dull as an actual Kylie Jenner make-up tutorial…which wasn’t quite the clever twist we’ve come to expect from Celeste Barber’s work. Not even slightly.

The Chinaboy Show

We had high hopes when it was announced that YouTube star John Luc, aka Mychonny, would be transferring to TV, but his videos for Fresh Blood look like some of his poorer online efforts. Luc’s at his funniest when he’s making a satirical point, but in these videos, it’s just bad wigs and facial hair, and stupid Asian stereotypes.

Aussie Rangers

In this series, a bunch of semi-incompetent national park rangers find themselves with a fight on their hands when the park is threatened with closure. From what we’ve seen so far, this isn’t particularly funny, so we don’t care if they save the park or not.

Virgin Bush

Stand-up Neel Kolhatkar grew up in the city, and like many Australians has never been to the outback. So, in this series, off he goes, camera crew in tow, to discover “the real Australia”. Along the way, he meets sheep shearers and other bush residents, does a bit of Louis Theroux-style reportage, then comes back to town and does some stand-up about what he’s seen. This is an okay show, if fairly unexciting. (Although if you like David Bowie’s Let’s Dance you do get the see the pub where they shot the video clip.)

Other People’s Problems

Inner-city creative type Florence wants to help people, just like her housemate Ann does. Ann’s a paramedic, saving lives on a daily basis, so Florence comes up with a scheme to be just as great as Ann: she starts a business trying to solve other people’s problems. Let’s just file this one under twee. Or, to put it another way, it’s about as hilarious as any other program described as “charming” in a media release.

Tiger Cops

This is a parody of 1980’s Hong Kong action movies. We have no idea why Screen Australia funded this when it is literally the six-billionth parody of Hong Kong action movies made in this country.

We will review the rest of Fresh Blood soon. Yes, we are masochists.

The Shifting Sando

Press release time!

Comedy Series Sando welcomes a new Sando

Tuesday, December 5, 2017 — ABC, Screen Australia and Create NSW advise that Genevieve Morris has been unable to continue filming her lead role in the forthcoming ABC TV comedy Sando.  Production of the six part series continues with acclaimed actress Sacha Horler (The Moodys, The Letdown, The Dressmaker) stepping into the title role.

Sando’s Producer Chloe Rickard, of Jungle Entertainment, explains: “Genevieve has unfortunately had to withdraw from the show for health reasons. As a friend and longstanding collaborator of Jungle, our thoughts are always with her and we wish her well with her recovery.”

ABC Head of Comedy Rick Kalowski said: “It’s been very sad to see Genevieve, a superb comedienne as well as a colleague and friend of many years, have to leave the show, and all of us wish her the very best.  I’m incredibly grateful to Sacha Horler, one of the country’s most brilliant actors, for stepping into Sando, which will be her first TV series lead role.  The part of Vicky ‘Sando’ Sandringham has been a hugely coveted one and ABC audiences will be blown away by Sacha’s take on the role.”

Sando will film until the end of the year in Sydney and air on ABC TV and ABC iview in 2018.

This is awful news for Genevieve Morris, and we hope she has a speedy recovery.

Sacha Horler is someone you probably know best from a string of Australian dramas – she first came to notice as the female lead in the movie Praise, and she was in CrashBurn, Love My Way, Offspring and Crownies – but she’s also been in Black Comedy so it’s not like she has zero comedy chops.

Fingers crossed the rest of the production goes off without a hitch, and that the show wasn’t so tailored specifically to Morris’ comedy that Horler can’t make the lead role her own.

 

Vale The Ex-PM season 2

It’s difficult to pin down exactly why season 2 of The Ex-PM didn’t explode like a comedy bouncing bomb, unleashing a tidal wave of comedy that swept away all before it. It really should have: Shaun Micallef is Shaun Micallef, the rest of the cast weren’t too shabby either, the set-up was a lot tighter after the wobbly wanderings of season one and the whole package was, as they say in wrestling, the total package. Concept-wise, it’s five stars from us.

The word that came to mind upon watching the finished product was “polished”. The final episode wrapped up all the mysteries nicely, gave everyone a few decent comedy moments, had a solid political point that we can all get behind and threw in a rousing speech from Dugdale that ended with him holding a V for Vendetta mask in a very funny, out of almost nowhere pop culture reference. Not to mention you can’t go wrong with the tried-and-true end credit “here’s where they all ended up” bit.

(plus putting “For John” in the credits did bring a tear to the eye. John Clarke wasn’t a huge part of this show, but it was always a joy to see him scheming away)

And yet while the end result was definitely good, it probably should have been better. It was hard not to come away feeling that while the show had a great cast, it never really took full advantage of them. For one thing, Micallef was usually playing it straight; why? Okay, because he looks like a leading man and the show was structured to have him as the seemingly rational center around which craziness revolved-

-well no; obviously the initial idea back in season one was to have his biographer as the sane one while Dugdale and family would all be off-kilter. But when you have Micallef facing off against an unknown actor who is good but not Micallef-level good, it’s not surprising that the focus swiftly shifted to making him the center of things.

But having him largely playing the straight man was a waste of one of the funniest performers on Australian television, while having him play a character somewhat out of the loop – he was surrounded by various schemers manipulating him even when he had his own agenda – meant that he wasn’t driving the plot. This kind of thing worked on Frontline because while Mike Moore was a dim bulb, he was the whole focus of the show: here while the aim was to get Dugdale elected, which often meant having him do and say as little as possible.

We’ve mentioned before that we’re big fans of Micallef’s previous sitcom, Welcher & Welcher, and in part that’s because there Micallef got the structure right: he played the central character whose schemes and scams drove the story, while his grounded wife (Robyn Butler) was the foil and his sidekick (Francis Greenslade) aided and abetted him. But in The Ex-PM he played a largely straight character at the mercy of others, a man who was funny but not stand-out funny in a story that had plenty of good lines and funny characters but not all that many classic situations.

Look, a Micallef-led sitcom is always going to be in the top three comedy events of the year simply because he’s a very funny man with great taste in collaborators. If the ABC announced that another three seasons of The Ex-PM had already been booked in, there’d be no complaints from us. But compared with Micallef’s other output, this was a solid B+. And there aren’t enough people capable of making A-grade material around for us to be fully happy with that.

 

The Letdown

Press release time!

Friday, December 1, 2017 — The ABC today revealed a diverse and unmissable line up for the first half of 2018, including a variety of new programming across all genres, Australian premieres and the return of audience favourites. This complements the impressive Comedy, Entertainment, Indigenous, Arts and Children’s 2018 programming already announced.

[…a bunch of stuff not relevant here…]

By popular demand, Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery and You Can’t Ask That are back on screens in 2018, delivering more unscripted, personal and bold moments for ABC audiences.  Comedy favourites, Gruen, Mad as Hell and Hard Quiz are back to inform and challenge audiences again in 2018. And, 2018 sees lifestyle favourite Gardening Australia blossom into a new, hour long format on Friday nights, kicking off on January 26th – giving Australians more of what they love.

Well, that was pretty gosh darn disappointing. Seriously, we expected at least a couple of new comedy titles to be part of this announcement – especially as the “already announced” comedy* barely seemed enough to keep the all-new ABC Comedy channel from falling off the dial.

(calling Hard Quiz a “comedy favourite” is definitely stretching things more than a little too)

While the ABC usually sits on a few titles that are due later in the year, off the top of our heads there’s not a lot of decent stuff that really could be coming up. The Chaser seem to have given up on comedy entirely (at least on the ABC), while most of the decent sitcoms (Utopia, The Ex-PM) have run their course and won’t be back. Get Krack!n should be returning, but it’d have been nice to have that confirmed.

Oh yeah, there’s also this:

Paul McDermott returns to ABC to host new quiz show Think Tank

Friday, December 1, 2017 — What do tram drivers know about Ancient History?

What do medieval scholars know about Pop Trivia?

What do educational psychologists know about the Animal Kingdom?

Welcome to Think Tank…Hosted by grandmaster Paul McDermott, Think Tank is an exciting new nightly quiz show at 6pm on ABC TV.  Each episode sees three contestants go head to head, pitting their general knowledge and their general luck against each other.  To win the game, they need to pass five, challenging rounds. Helping or maybe hindering them in their pursuit of game show glory, is the Think Tank.

The Think Tank features eight relatively ordinary Australians with an extra-ordinary love of trivia and general knowledge. The eight form a ‘repository of wisdom’ from which our contestants on Think Tank can draw.

But be warned…Our Think Tankers – like Australia itself – are made up of a diverse mob of people plucked from all walks of life.  They are there to help but sometimes they get it wrong.

What happens then?  Do you trust your instincts or trust the masses?  Do you tag along with popular opinion or strike out on your own?  The excitement, drama and brain-twisting fun of Think Tank comes in these moments of interaction between our contestants and the Think Tankers.

The ringmaster for this cavalcade of mind-expanding madness will be the shy, self-effacing Paul McDermott.

“Australia is about to meet eight wonderfully funny, warm and intelligent people,” McDermott remarks.  “Oh, and I’ll be there too, The Marvellous Mr Me!  How could anyone resist?”

This is game show with a difference, one the whole family can enjoy.  Join us for the battle of brains, the thrill of victory, the hilarity of defeat.  Come for the competition, witness the wonder, meet the Think Tankers and who knows – you might just learn a thing or two.

“[It’s a] game show with a difference, one the whole family can enjoy”. Unlike all those adults-only after-dark game shows clogging up our airwaves, of course.

(ok, it’ll probably be a passable time-filler in a timeslot where quiz show fans can find it and everyone else can pretend it’s not on. If only we could do the same for “comedy favourite” Hard Quiz)

 

*this list consists of Squinters, Sando, and Back in Very Small Business. It remains unclear whether they’ll air on the main ABC channel or ABC Comedy

Childproof is great. Here’s why we think it got rejected

Tony Martin and Sarina Rowell spent three years trying to sell Childproof, their sitcom about a childfree couple, but were told it was too niche an idea, and that only those without children could possibly relate to it.

That sounds ridiculous, right? There are heaps of people out there who’ve chosen not to have kids, and even those with kids remember what life was like before they became parents. What’s not to relate to?

Also, why do you need to be able to “relate to” a show? It’s a sitcom, you only need to find it funny.

Now that Martin and Rowell have turned the unproduced scripts of Childproof into an audio sitcom, and released them as podcasts, whatever the reasons that no one wanted to make the show were, one thing’s for sure: they look ridiculous. Within days of release, Childproof went to #2 in the Australian podcast charts, so clearly quite a few people can relate to it. Also, it’s a really funny show.

Childproof

The cast, which includes Martin as Ian, Geraldine Quinn as his wife Jennifer, and Roz Hammond, Andrew McClelland, Damian Cowell, Lachy Hulme and others in a variety of roles, do a great job of bringing what is a TV script to life in audio only. And with production by Matt “The Pots and Pans” Dower (Get This) and Jay Mueller (producer of The TEAM Effort and Triple M Melbourne’s The Hot Breakfast), plus Pete Smith reading out the opening and closing credits, Childproof sounds as good as a podcast sitcom can.

So, great cast, great production, great script. What’s not to like?

Okay, some of the gags, having been written for TV, are never going to be as hilarious in audio only. For example, there’s a running joke about how whenever Ian arrives at the commercial radio station he works at, the poster advertising the breakfast team is being removed and replaced by a poster for a new but strikingly similar breakfast team. It’d be hilarious on TV, as a recurring background gag, but it works less well when Mueller is reading it out in the form of stage directions.

Happily, though, most of the laughs in the script are in the dialogue, and they work very well here. Ian’s description of a Scandinavian murder mystery that he and Jennifer are watching doesn’t need visuals to be hilarious, nor does the horrific party scene where Ian and Jennifer have to deal with the smug parents of small children telling them they’re unfulfilled or “must hate kids”.

So, we come back to the question of why this never got made for TV in the first place. Here’s our theory: Australian TV, right now, really hates anything that has a strong point of view. So, anything that might alienate the sort of people who watch TV is out. Right out. And, unfortunately for Childproof, that includes any program featuring characters who are proudly different from the norm.

That scene where Ian and Jennifer have to justify their childfree life? There’s one of them at every party attended by middle-aged couples. On one side, there’s the childfree couple, happily talking about how they enjoy late nights in front of DVD boxsets. On the other side, there’s everyone else: the sleep-deprived parents of young kids with no time for hobbies of their own and no energy left to tolerate their friends who still drink and enjoy life.

And, weirdly, when those parents sit down in front of the TV, what they want to watch isn’t a comedy they’re going to find challenging to watch.

Perhaps that explains The Letdown: no one would ever commission it because it’s funny, but they might because it’s “relatable” to enough people.