Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Mad To Be Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vale The Weekly Forever and Ever Amen

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

Charlie Pickering and Tom Gleeson on the set of The Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fucked if we can see how.

Back to Back in Black (vale Mr Black)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skit Box’s new YouTube series

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

Poster for Skit Box - The Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taboo-boo-hoo

Okay, so this is a show where a comedian takes a bunch of terminally ill people out to the Hunter Valley to do a bunch of wine tastings, ride around in a balloon, and talk about how they’re going to die. Good times!

We’re not big fans of shows like Australian Story because we have enough sad stories of our own to tell – “remember the time we had to watch all of Angry Boys?” *breaks down in tears* – but we’re going to guess it’s pretty much this kind of thing where people talk about how they deal with their horrible situation for the “entertainment” of the viewers.

What we’re also guessing is that Australian Story doesn’t feature occasional cut-aways to Harley Breen delivering a stand-up comedy set based on what he’s learnt from hanging out with these terminally ill people. That’s the big hook with Taboo – that out of a group of people’s extreme (and let’s be honest, somewhat grim, in week one at least) situations we’re going to get a bunch of comedy.

So do we? Naaaaaah.

A large, large chunk of this show is all about hanging out with the various terminally ill people and checking out how they live their lives – lots of drugs, obviously, but also lots of sad music and people on the brink of tears as they come face to face with their mortality in a way many of us never quite get around to – which is perfectly valid for a TV show but again, where’s the comedy?

It’s not that there aren’t laughs to be had here – probably not with the mum who mentions her husband also has (a lesser) cancer, but each to their own. It’s more that because this show is coming from a place of respect (there’s never the slightest chance that anyone will think this is a show that’s laughing at the subjects rather than with them) the comedy is always going to be firmly on the safe side of the street.

Of course, there are loads of mild quips about them dying: that’s the whole point of them being on the show. And realistically, the producers have found four people with fairly open attitudes to their illness; this is not a show where Harley Breen desperately tries to get a laugh out of someone in denial, or sobbing uncontrollably, or filled with rage at the world. These are terminally ill people it’s safe to invite into your homes. They’re not going to kick a hole in the wall or piss on your kids while shouting that it’s unfair that they have to die while you get to live.

And this niceness seeps into what comedy there is on Taboo. When it turns out that one of the patients actually had botched lung surgery (the doctor fucked up and cut out a healthy chunk of lung by mistake), you’d think that might make for a good joke. But no: instead we get jokes about how she has “butthole cancer” because “it has a real ring to it”. Did you really need to spend a weekend with a dying cancer patient for that one?

(okay, the bit where one of the dying guys wants a plaster cast made of his dick so when his partner finds someone after he’s gone she can use it to fuck the new guy was pretty good)

Overall, this is too nice to really get down to the kind of nitty gritty that makes for good comedy. What’s left is yet another Australian television show where a wafer-thin pretext (hey, let’s do some painting! Or drive around to your old house!) is wheeled out so a “regular guy” host* can just hang out with some people with a story to tell. They seem like nice people; their stories are often moving. But where’s the laughs?

“Not everything in life is funny” says Breen towards the end of the first episode. No shit; it’d just be nice if more of this show was.

*obviously the real way to make this kind of show actually funny is to let the subjects tell jokes about themselves, and the moments where these guys do just that are pretty much the comedy high points here. But if Ten made a show that was just dying people making quality jokes about themselves there’s a chance that might be a little too much for mainstream Australia to cope with, so best to have a professional on hand to sand the rough edges well and truly off.

The New King of Comedy

With Taboo making its debut later this week on Ten, we now have the unusual situation where one commercial network all on their ownsome is showing roughly double the amount of Australian comedy than the ABC. Yeah yeah, we know: is Mr. Black really comedy? Let’s put it this way: it may not be all that funny, but it’s a shitload closer to comedy than The Letdown.

And really, if we’re going to pick nits here, how much comedy does the ABC air these days? Rosehaven is maybe kind of like a comedy, but it’s a lot closer to one of those cosy UK rural series only without the murders; The Letdown is basically an observational comedy that thinks merely observing things is good enough. Get Krack!n ain’t coming back; Utopia is, so at least that’s something.

In contrast, whatever you think of shows like Kinne and Mr Black, they’re comedies first and foremost; Have You Been Paying Attention? requires no qualifications at all. And if we’re letting The Weekly into the comedy club – c’mon, it’s an interview show with a news round-up bolted on the front – then Taboo deserves a look in even if 75% of it is just hanging out with terminally ill people. With any luck they’ll do an episode on Tom Gleeson’s career after his latest Logies push flames out.

Normally this would be a good thing. Okay, it still is: the more options out there for comedy, the more chances there are of Australia actually getting something decent. But it’s bad news for the ABC, which is traditionally bad news for comedy. Anyone else noticed they haven’t announced they’ll be running their Fresh Blood program again this year?

Making local comedy runs against the current global logic of television production. It’s niche material that doesn’t travel: while you might be able to sell the format rights overseas, there’s very little chance that you’ll be able to sell the actual show anywhere. And if you’re in a small market (Australia!), the main way to attract overseas money is by making the kind of television that does travel – murder shows, shows about murder, thrillers that usually involve murder, and series where people investigate murders. Not a whole lot of laughs to be found there.

While Ten’s approach might not make a whole lot of sense from that angle – and let’s be clear, that is 100% the angle the ABC is taking with its scripted programming; good luck finding anything there that isn’t a co-production alongside someone with deep pockets overseas – it’s the smart play if you happen to be running a network that relies on ratings, because here’s a fun fact about Australian comedy: it’s (relatively) cheap and it rates (relatively) well.

Australian drama has to compete with drama from all around the world and good luck with that. Here’s one stumbling block: we simply can’t afford to make a Chernobyl, let alone a Game of Thrones (remember Cleverman? Us neither) and they cost pretty much the same to watch as some crapsack local murder show.

But Australian comedy only has to compete with overseas comedy, which – as previously mentioned – doesn’t always travel well; there’s a shitload of mainstream US sitcoms nobody here has heard of, and for good reason. And the stuff which does travel often doesn’t have widespread appeal: there’s a lot of viewers here who like to laugh but don’t really want to watch the second season of Fleabag.

Obviously there’s a case for making local drama – local stories, local jobs, blah blah. Which the exact same case as for making local comedy, only local comedy is cheaper and rates better. In good times when the cash is a’flowing, sure – why not do both? But now, when money is tight and the ABC really needs to start putting a very strong case to the public that they’re vital to Australian culture, some hard decisions really do need to be made.

Because the ABC’s lack of comedy in 2019 can only be described as a massive fuck-up. For the last six years their budget has been under the hammer, and much as we’d like to feel sorry for them, when they did have money they made shows like Myf Warhurst’s Nice, so… yeah. Now the cuts are really going to bite, and with a federal government perfectly happy to see them sink under the waves, their only real hope for survival is to appeal to the general public. You can see where we’re going with this.

For most of this decade the people running the ABC have chosen to focus on making a range of shows of marginal interest to most Australians in the hope of bringing in enough money from overseas to continue to make shows of marginal interest to most Australians. Which is no surprise; this is what they’ve always done. But in the past they had enough spare cash to throw mainstream audiences a bone in their comedy programming; once the money dried up, that stuff was the first to go.

If the ABC is to have any hope of survival under this government they’re going to have to turn to the general public and say “you still like us, right?”. And on the whole, Australians do – only for a lot of them, that like is based on the kinds of shows the ABC stopped making years ago. Remember shows aimed at teenagers? Remember satire that wasn’t Charlie Pickering reading a news story and ending with “what’s up with that?”? Quiz shows not hosted by Tom Gleeson?

(seriously, if the only possible counter-argument to us is “but what about Hard Quiz“, the ABC might as well shut up shop now. ABC management’s bizarre commitment to betting pretty much all their remaining chips on the non-existent “popular appeal” of Charlie Pickering and Tom Gleeson deserves its own Royal Commission)

Obviously the ABC hasn’t had the cash to indulge our every whim. But Ten’s current line-up points out an inconvenient truth: dumb local comedy is (relatively) cheap and it often rates (relatively) well. By turning their back on that, the ABC has made it a whole lot harder to appeal to exactly the people they’re now relying on.

Yes, maybe those people would never watch the ABC anyway and yes, maybe trying to go mainstream would have just been a waste of money and oh wait Spicks & Specks used to bring in a million viewers a week every week and the ABC axed it. And replaced it with Randling. Didn’t they recently knock back a reboot of Seachange, their most successful show in living memory and the basis for two decades of commercial knock-offs? Why yes they did:

The reboot was discussed initially with the ABC but Mott says the national broadcaster had responded by saying it “did not feel right for them at the time.”

When your feelings lead you to make shows like Tomorrow Tonight, maybe it’s time to start using your brain instead.

Who does it best?

This isn’t strictly a like for like comparison, but we’ve had a few thoughts about Have You Been Paying Attention? and Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation.

Shaun Micallef cover his face with his hands next to the Talkin' 'bout Your Generation Logo and headshots of the shows' team captains superimposes over their team names: X, Y and Z

Both shows, on the surface, are the same kind of show: a game/quiz hosted by a 56-year-old white male comedian, in which celebrities compete against each other in amusing ways. The concept of both shows is also built around the host’s natural talents.

In the case of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation’s Shaun Micallef, the show’s chock full of strange rounds, questions that don’t quite make sense, surreal musical interludes and odd side-reference to some piece of ancient pop culture. When Micallef lets loose on the keyboard or leads the show down an unexpected comedy cul-du-sac, he’ll crack up the teams, the studio audience and those watching up home. Classic Micallef.

Meanwhile, over at Have You Been Paying Attention?, Tom Gleisner is a pretty good serious quiz show host, but crucially he can match and often outdo the contestants in the snarky remarks stakes. His multiple weekly comedy “battles” with Sam Pang rarely disappoint – and are now a fan favourite.

But the differences between the two shows tell us a lot about what broadcasters think audiences like.

Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation, which airs at 7:30pm, is clearly aimed at a family/multi-generation audience. Laughs often come second to the nostalgia aspects and the actual playing of the games, and despite its high energy, it’s a slower moving show than Have You Been Paying Attention?. The thinking down at Nine, we assume, is that those watching this are doing it in small groups and want to reminisce about the relics from their childhood on screen – or explain them to younger viewers.

This isn’t a show cracking along at Have Your Been Paying Attention?’s fast pace, where it’s question, amusingly wrong answer, laugh, right answer and so on until the ad break, followed by more of the same for most of the rest of show. After a few, far slower paced question rounds, the final couple of parts of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation involve challenges, taking up the whole studio, where the teams have to, say, break out of prison Shawshank Redemption-style or to identify signs on TV detectives’ doors using only their tongues. When it gets to this part of the show, Micallef’s virtually out of the picture, along with his trademark mix of sharp and strange comedy, and it’s pretty much custard pie time.

For us, these parts of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation really drag. It’s hard not to admire the inventiveness of whoever devises these games but there’s not much in the way of laughs to be had. The contestants are trying to win the thing and aren’t likely to get waylaid by the urge to drop a few one-liners, so the only hope for comedy is if they do something hilariously slapstick (which they almost never do). It’s notable that bits from these rounds rarely make it into the promos for the show each week, whereas the gag-heavy question and answer parts do.

Tom Gleisner poses holding a question mark next to the Have You Been Paying Attention? logo

But on Have Your Been Paying Attention?, though, there are built-in opportunities for laughs and less emphasis amongst the contestants on winning the show. There’s more a sort of informal points scoring system where you win if you outwit Tom Gleisner. (Last week’s informal winner, in a surprise move, was guest question-asker snowboarding champion Scotty James, who got Tom a beauty.)

If you’re a TV executive, a show which is primarily about the gags, like Have You Been Paying Attention?, should air in a later timeslot (in this case, 9:00pm). This is when the adults are watching and they like this kind of wordier comedy.

But is that really true? Well, probably. It seems to have been the thinking down at every TV network in this country for decades, anyway. Shows like It’s A Knockout and Hey! Hey! It’s Saturday always aired in an earlier timeslot than shows like The Gillies Report and Fast Forward. Presumably, children graduate from liking slapstick to liking satire, or from liking Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation to liking Mad As Hell, at some point in their teens.

In some ways, making comedy aimed at the “adult” audience is a bit easier. All Have You Been Paying Attention? has to do is make adults laugh. It’s a very focused thing: just pump out the gags. But if you’re Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, you have to entertain multiple generations, ranging from Primary School age kids to the elderly, which is pretty tough (as anyone who ever tried to get their Baby Boomer parents to sit through Tonightly knows full well). Some people will like the slapstick, others will be bored by it and prefer the surreal bits or the questions or nostalgia.

If Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation drags a bit sometimes for you, that’s probably why. And if you don’t find Have You Been Paying Attention? funny, well…maybe comedy as a genre isn’t for you.

The comedy Letdown

There’s a great sitcom to be written about women’s lives after they’ve had children but The Letdown isn’t it. Full marks to it for showing what it’s really like when women have children – how it’s gruelling, how there’s little in the way of support, and how your body’s just been through hell and your hormones are all over the place – but can The Letdown maybe make us laugh as well? It is meant to be a comedy, after all.

The Letdown should be at least as funny as Fleabag, a show which was heavy on the reality of women’s lives and which has tackled a few serious issues but also had funny characters and situations (the over-attentive waitress in the first episode of series 2, for example). In the two episodes of The Letdown series 2 we’ve watched so far (they’re all on iView) there’s been a kind of funny series of scenes involving clothes recycling. And to be honest, Fleabag’s over-attentive waitress made us laugh a lot more. A lot lot more.

And yes, we’ve written this kind of thing about The Letdown before. About how it’s basically a dramedy and should if it had any integrity, give back whatever funding it got from the Comedy Showroom scheme. And watching series 2, we’ve really tried to find the funny: one of us is from Adelaide and howled with laughter at the notion, put forward by the main character Audrey’s husband, that Adelaide is actually a really great place to live, especially “at festival time”. Yeah, good one.

So, we’ll just say this: it’s not the worst thing ever that The Letdown exists because sitcoms focusing on the reality of female character’s lives, especially in the years when they’re having children, are rare on the ground and it’s great that this area is being explored. And series 2 is particularly interesting as it’s focusing on the question of how having a child has affected the main female characters and their partners. We particularly liked that the makers aren’t flinching from showing post-pregnancy mental and physical health problems in all their reality. And exploring how biology, age and luck impact the outcome of having a second child. Or the tension, infighting and jealousies amongst groups of mothers of young children as they succeed or fail to have that second child. We just think this could be a whole lot funnier.

There’s a scene in the second episode where Ester, who’s desperate for a second child via IVF, is talking to her partner in a café about whether they should keep trying. As they’re talking, a waiter then comes over to take their order and recommends the eggs. Ester says she wants the eggs. The waiter goes away. Then the waiter comes back and says the eggs are no longer available. Ester then realises that it’s all over for her in terms of having a second child. “Sorry Ester, no eggs for you.” Geddit? Eggs. It’s a pun.

And that, despite all the great work The Letdown’s doing to represent women in their child-having years, is about as funny as The Letdown is ever going to be.

I Feel Like Kinne Tonight

Some comedians have one shot at fame. Plenty of others don’t even get that. And then there’s Troy Kinne.

After a lengthy run – at least by commercial TV standards – on 7Mate and a decent showing on Ten’s 2018 Pilot Week, Kinne is back once again with Kinne Tonight – airing right after Have You Been Paying Attention? which he’d have to be happy about.

He’d also have to be happy that he’s still making roughly the same show he was back in 2014. Kinne’s stock in trade has always been a mix of rapid-fire observations and slightly off-kilter public interaction stuff, and while his actual sense of humour is pretty stock-standard, his ability to keep a half hour show moving fast and varied goes a long way towards making his material work.

His material’s not all that bad, by the way. The early sketch about what happens inside one of those four-wheel drives during a car commercial was a smart idea well handled; the “James Bondi” bit (which hopefully won’t become a running character) wasn’t that original an idea but the specific details throughout made it work. Whether Kinne has a life or just pays attention when his friends tell him about theirs, his material’s always worked best when he’s dealing with observations – even if they are mostly the kind of ones that would get a laugh around a backyard barbeque.

It’s pretty obvious that as a “regular Aussie bloke” doing mainstream sketch comedy, TV executives are a lot more comfortable giving him regular work than they would be… pretty much anyone else. So it’s to Kinne’s credit that he (largely) steers clear of broad boofhead cliches unless he’s making fun of them, and the show as a whole does a reasonable job of avoiding the kind of one-sided sexist “observations” you might expect from a relationship-focused sketch show. Or any Australian comedy really, considering what Mr Black‘s been serving up.

(even the game show with the constantly offended woke contestants kept the focus of the joke on Kinne’s well-meaning but constantly offending host)

That said, a fair bit here didn’t work, which is a bit of a worry considering it’s just the first week. The sketch about a fridge with a magic notepad on the front didn’t even make sense (even if it did have a decent punchline); was it really magic or not? Doing “Things Never Said” (in this case, things never said by single people at a wedding) live didn’t really add anything to the concept either; while mixing up pre-recorded and live material helps keep Kinne Tonight feeling fresh, when a sketch is just a list of jokes some snappy editing can really help.

There’s no big names in the (decent) cast this time so it’s pretty much Kinne’s show – aside from a live guest appearance from Ten’s forthcoming Bachelorette, which was about as much fun as you’d expect from a game of charades – but keeping the focus on him for half an hour doesn’t really hurt. He’s a likable guy who knows how his sense of humour works, and it works well enough to make his show worth a look. Yet again.

Pilot Week 2: It’s not about comedy anymore

10’s Pilot Week 2018 was a bold experiment in broadcasting, where eight budding comedies were pitted against each other in a battle to the death to see which programs featuring white men would make it to our screens.

And having copped a fair bit of flack for having a white men-heavy line up last year, 10 has taken the trouble to include lots of shows featuring women and people of colour this year. Except…and oh man does this tell us a lot about the people who run 10…none of them are comedies. Okay, one comes close, but that’s not really good enough. Is it? It’s basically saying “women and ethnics aren’t funny so here’s some other light nonsense featuring them instead”.

From the press release:

Part Time Privates

Two mothers at a local primary school decide to start a home-based private investigation business so they can enjoy flexible working hours. As their business unexpectedly thrives, they find themselves thrown deep into the world of working ‘undercover’; moving between school pick-ups, dance group and lunch orders, to threesomes, insurance fraud and failed relationships. Starring Heidi Arena and Nicola Parry.

Produced by CJZ. CJZ Executive Producers Toni Malone and Nick Murray. Network 10 Executive Producer Paul Leadon.

This at least sounds like it could be a comedy. Or maybe just a local reworking of Rosemary & Thyme. Great.

Sydney’s Crazy Rich Asians

Money, shopping, cars, events and glamour. Sydney’s Crazy Rich Asians follows the opulent lives of six very ‘extra’ characters and their local fixer who waits on their every want and need…no matter the cost.

Produced by Screentime, a Banijay Group company. Screentime Executive Producer Johnny Lowry. Network 10 Executive Producer Paul Leadon.

We’re assuming this is a reality documentary and not a new Chris Lilley series.

I Am…Roxy!

Roxy Jacenko

No publicity is bad publicity. Delve head first into the daily madness of PR guru, publicist, talent manager, reality star, author and mum-of-two, Roxy Jacenko. This entertaining and comedic access-all-areas pilot pries into Roxy’s everyday life behind her world of high glamour and outrageous excess.

Produced by Matchbox Pictures and Two Scoops Media. Matchbox Pictures Executive Producer Debbie Byrne. Two Scoops Media Executive Producer Michael Wipfli. Network 10 Executive Producer Ciaran Flannery.

This will definitely be a reality documentary…or will it? Jacenko is notorious for being a tough boss but is that really how she’ll be portrayed here?

Catfish Australia

Beloved pop idol Casey Donovan joins Walkley-nominated documentarian Patrick Abboud on the quest to uncover the truth about online relationships. Coming to the aid of every day Aussies who have suspicions about their internet beau, Casey and Patrick will join forces to uncover the real identities behind the hot online profiles.

Produced by Eureka Productions. Eureka Productions Executive Producer Tom Richardson. Network 10 Executive Producer Ciaran Flannery.

My 80 Year Old Flatmate

It’s reality TV with heart, as older Aussies offer cheap rent to hard-up millennials in exchange for company and help around the house. Creating surprising friendships and mutually-beneficial relationships, it’s a look into what can happen when you take the leap across the generation gap.

Produced by Screentime, a Banijay Group company. Screentime Executive Producer Johnny Lowry. Network 10 Executive Producer Paul Leadon.

We’ll put these two in the category of “issues millennials face” and set our dials to “ignore”.

Sigh. What a crappy line-up.

Pilot Week should be about putting to air some shows that are promising but need to be tested in front of an audience to assure that network that there are people out there who will watch them. So, what assurance does 10 need that there’s an audience for reality documentaries about rich people and showbiz? And programs about hot-button issues like catfishing and housing poverty? How over-anxious are there?

The only slightly dangerous show in this quintet is Part Time Privates, and that’s because it contains a script and stars two women who may occasionally attempt to be funny.

We bet you $50 it never makes it past the pilot stage, no matter how good it is, while all the others do.