Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Move As a Team, Never Move Alone

Press release time! Hang on a second, these aren’t comedies…

Five popular ABC dramas set to return

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 — In good news for lovers of great Australian drama, ABC TV has commissioned new series of the popular series Janet King, Rake, Jack Irish, The Code and The Doctor Blake Mysteries.

Marta Dusseldorp will star in a second series of Janet King; Richard Roxburgh returns to the role of Cleaver Greene for a fourth series of Rake; and Guy Pearce will return in a new six-part series based on the books of top selling crime writer Peter Temple in Jack Irish: The Series.

Craig McLachlan reprises his role as the charming Dr Lucien Blake in a fourth outing of The Doctor Blake Mysteries; and Dan Spielman and Ashley Zuckerman return for a thrilling follow-up series of The Code.

Okay, perhaps the return of Rake is relevant (and welcome) news here. But what makes this worth mentioning in general is the way that the ABC drama department seems to a): be able to create shows that work then b): keep them going.

We now pause our impending beat-up of the ABC’s various comedy departments to acknowledge an inconvenient truth: it’s a shitload easier for a drama series to be sold overseas than it is for a comedy, and once that sweet overseas cash starts coming in the ABC are going to milk it for all it’s worth. The relevant comedy comparison here is the “success” of Please Like Me, aka the only ABC scripted comedy to get a third series since The Librarians in 2010.

(And word is s3 of The Librarians only happened because the ABC wanted to get out of greenlighting a second series of the same production company’s Very Small Business.)

But the other relevant factor here is that while all these dramas have very visible public faces – they’re basically star vehicles, like all successful television – they also have solid production teams behind them. That’s something very few local comedies can claim. Craig McLachlan might be the star of Doctor Blake, but he doesn’t write the episodes; arguably that’s why the show’s lasted so long and also why – for what it is – it doesn’t completely suck.

In Australian comedy though, the star is almost always pulling double duty as the main writer. No surprise then that high profile shows have short runs while the shows we get that do run for months lack star power to bring in audiences (or just to give the show a distinctive voice). Everywhere else in the English-speaking world there’s comedy where a big name is backed up by a solid writing team (ever checked the credits of Inside Amy Schumer?); here only Shaun Micallef seems to work that way – and it’s no surprise he’s one of our most consistently funny performers.

We’re not saying that every comedy show needs a team of writers. We’re saying that in between the two extremes of Australian comedy – shows largely driven by a writer-performer, and sketch or panel shows with a writing team but no real face to bring in the public – there’s a promising middle ground we’re ignoring. Unless you count The Weekly, but if Charlie Pickering’s your role model then there’s not much help we can give you.

Why Change a Winning Formula

Amongst all those solid but firmly average comedies currently enjoying long runs is Foxtel sketch show Open Slather. Half its cast, some of its production team and the formula of the show are all very familiar from long-running weekly sketch shows of the 80’s and 90’s such as The Comedy Company, Fast Forward and Full Frontal, which is fine – those shows were popular at the time and are fondly remembered – but as the weeks of Open Slather fly past the show isn’t exactly developing…which isn’t exactly inspiring us to watch.

But we do, and just when we thought they’d got through all the Downton Abbey and Random Breath Test sketches…there’s a whole bunch more of them. Great. It’s not that we don’t kinda admire the way in which a relatively small team seems to have written and made seemingly hundreds of sketches on the same theme, it’s more that this isn’t our definition of comedy. What joke there was to start with has been done now. Many, many times. We’re bored now!

Amongst the parodies of well-known and long-running TV series like Masterchef, Mad Men, Real Housewives of… and Game of Thrones, and the “contemporary lifestyle” or “modern workplace” social satire sketches, we almost wish they’d thrown in something topical – a parody of The Killing Season, say, or a take on Zaky Mallah’s controversial Q&A appearance. Sketches about politics or ABC shows aren’t really done on Open Slather – and that’s a reasonable and fairly typical commercial television creative choice to make – but it feels odd to watch a local comedy in June 2015 and not see anything about some of the programs and issues that have fired up politicians, media pundits and social media junkies in June 2015.

Of course the real problem with Open Slather isn’t the decision to not parody ABC shows or to do political or topical comedy, it’s more the decision to do repeated sketches and lots of them. It’s partly one of finances – hire some stately home and a few early-1900’s costumes and wigs for the day, shoot a billion Downton sketches, et voila: 20 episodes worth of sketches in the can! – but it’s a cost cutting decision that severely effects the quality of the end product. Sketch shows on TV are about variety – different scenarios, different characters, different styles – and if every week your show features parodies of the same well-known shows, and a smattering of other stuff that isn’t that great, then it’s going to get a bit boring.

The initial buzz around Open Slather has definitely died down, largely because its predictability means there’s nothing more to say about it, and in today’s TV market that’s a huge problem. The reality shows and big budget dramas Open Slather is parodying understand that they need to keep things fresh and exciting to keep audiences watching, yet Open Slather itself seems to have settled in to a firm creative rut. Sure, there have only been six episodes so far, but if they want to keep people tuning in for the remaining 14 they’ll need to do something very, very soon.

Full Frontal could so easily have been a sold but average sequel to Fast Forward, but then along came Shaun Micallef and friends and suddenly it had spark. Open Slather needs to find its Shaun Micallef. In the days of The Comedy Company and Fast Forward the idea of repeated sketches and recurring characters was fine, but attention spans are shorter these days and thanks to the internet there are more comedy choices, from more parts of the world, delivered in more ways, than ever before…and of all of them, why would you pick Open Slather?

Drone Warfare

We were going to write an epic post this week, examining the malaise that currently seems to be infecting Australian (television) comedy. But then we realised we just couldn’t be arsed. And who do we blame for our lacklustre efforts? Why, Australian (television) comedy, of course. Because right here and now, in the middle of 2015, it’s a bit shit.

For once we’re not talking specifically about the quality of material being served up, though that’s pretty shit too. No, our current problem is with the seemingly endless run of firmly average shows currently sucking the life out of the comedy scene. Remember all those times we said television comedy shows need time to settle in and find their feet? Well, now we’re facing the opposite problem: too many shows that have settled in for the long haul despite having bugger all reason to keep turning up on our screens week in week out.

Take The Weekly – we’re not even half way through the run and already it’s basically dead to us. Not because it’s a terrible show (while the glib answer here would be “it is” because, uh, it is, a terrible show would at least be worth watching in a car crash fashion), but because week in week out it’s the same show. The same not all that good, never particularly memorable, Tom Gleeson only really can do one thing can’t he, show.

And that would be fine if it was the backbone of a decent night of varied comedy – Spicks & Specks ran for seven or eight years non-stop, and that was before ABC2 started running repeats three times a night. But currently – and for the foreseeable future – The Weekly is all we’ve got. The Agony of Agony wasn’t a comedy; Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery isn’t about talking to comedians; Adam Hills: The Last Leg is a UK import; Utopia is a repeat. Whoo-hoo.

Faced with a shit line-up like that, it’s hard not to think the reason why we’ve been getting a burst of publicity about Shaun Micallef’s upcoming sitcom is because it’s the only new comedy the ABC has planned between now and the end of the year. Let’s not forget, both Gruen and The Chaser’s Media Circus are coming back before the end of the year, and they’re both as tired as fuck; repeats of Mother & Son would seem more fresh and lively.

The view’s hardly better elsewhere. Open Slather still has close to four months left to run, and everyone’s already stopped caring about it. Dirty Laundry Live and Have You Been Paying Attention? are both good shows, but there’s zero surprises there these days. And what else have we got? Even Hamish & Andy have given up on television this year.

Again, this would be just fine and dandy if somewhere – anywhere – we could see something that qualified as exciting. You know the way Australian television drama is constantly churning out short-run, high quality efforts based largely around being “event television”? Why can’t comedy do that? It’s not like there’s any shortage of experienced talent out there (note: we didn’t say “funny”), and paring even a marginally well known name with an interesting-sounding project would be enough to generate some interest – it worked for Peter Helliar and It’s a Date, didn’t it?

For comedy to be a vital part of the Australian television landscape, it needs to exist like everything else: on two levels. Drama, news programs, sport, reality shows – they all have a combination of steady regular efforts (your nightly news, your evening renovation, your soap opera, your Footy Show) and special events designed to get the audience excited (your big breaking stories, your final show-down, your flashy mini-series, your Grand Final). And all we’re getting from comedy at the moment is the safe, bland, predictable fare.

When comedy stops being exciting, people stop talking about it. Sure, shitty websites are still running clips from The Weekly claiming Charlie Pickering “nailed it”, but in the real world? Or even just any place where human beings gather to discuss things face-to-face? No-one cares. And pretty soon, unless someone out there comes up with a show, or a sketch, or a performance, or even just a single damn joke that gets people talking about comedy, the only thing anyone will be nailing in Australian comedy will be the lid shut on the coffin they’re burying it in.


*edit* Holy crap we totally forgot about the upcoming fifteen endless weeks of this sack of shit. Kill us now.

Tonight is Your Night, Bro

Press release time!

Late-Night Talk Show Darren & Brose Coming Soon To ONE.
Premieres Thursday, July 2, At 11pm.

Network Ten is set to give local comedy television a shot in the arm with the launch of the exciting new late-night comedy chat series Darren & Brose.

From writing, producing and performing team Darren Chau and Brose Avard, Darren & Brose is a local, half hour late-night comedy show, combining celebrity chat and desk segments with mix of sketches, parodies, pranks and music.

The first episode will feature Australia’s first lady of comedy Julia Morris, dual Gold Logie winner Denise Drysdale, television soap icon Stefan Dennis, Logie Award winning presenter David Reyne, comedians Dave O’Neil and Lawrence Leung and an Aussie sporting anthem from Mike Brady.

Upcoming guests include sporting legend Max Walker, rocker Brian Mannix, marathon great Steve Moneghetti, comedian Sam Pang and the very cheeky Dickie Knee, with more announcements to come.

Darren said: “We want to give people laugh to end their day and there’s not
much we won’t do.We even crashed a1500-seat event and arrested innocent people for crimes against fashion.”

Brose added: “The sketches have been really fun to make and as bloke in my thirties, I’ve discovered that it’s never too late to start dressing up as an Avenger.”

“We’re massive fans of both late-night talk shows and sketch comedy shows,so we’re very excited about bringing them both back to Aussie TV with our show Darren & Brose,” said Darren.

Darren & Brose premieres Thursday, July 2. 11pm.On ONE.

About Darren Chau And Brose Avard.

Darren and Brose met at university, have performed sell-out seasons at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, hosted one of the highest rating shows on Channel31 and were selected as a finalist for Network Ten’s‘ Eleven out of Ten’ pitching competition at SPAA, beating out thousands of submissions nationwide.

Brose Avard is a successful TV warm-up performer, he has starred in several national advertising campaigns and his comedy acting credits include Prank Patrol and Kath &

Darren Chau has created a dozen TV shows, co-created a FOXTEL channel, broken numerous ratings records, won several awards including the ASTRA for Most Outstanding Light Entertainment Program and been an official judge of the International Emmys.

Dickie Knee’s coming back! Why didn’t they lead with that?

At an extremely moribund time for Australian television comedy – but more on that in the coming days – this is the closest thing to exciting news we’ve seen in a while. It’s (relative) newcomers getting a shot on commercial television! In a timeslot where presumably it doesn’t matter if they don’t get a million viewers in the first week! It might even be good!

Ok, maybe not. There’s a bunch of decent reasons why talk shows have struggled for a long, long time in Australia, and this probably isn’t going to turn the ship around. Because it’s sinking. And you can’t turn… ah, let’s move on. Maybe Network Ten is the ship that’s sinking here? Trying this kind of show in 2015 really is the kind of move you’d only expect from a commercial network in dire straights.

(also, while we’re rambling: arresting people for crimes against fashion? Isn’t that the kind of thing The Chaser were doing a decade ago?)

Still, all that really matters is that for once we’re getting some comedy on a commercial network in a timeslot where (hopefully) the talent will be given the leeway to actually be funny. And at a time when Australian television comedy seems mostly just going through the motions, any risk-taking at all is to be applauded.

We’re just hoping when the applause dies down we’ll be able to laugh at it.

Return of the Media Circus

Back in the early days of this blog we wrote a lot, an awful lot, about The Chaser. The media at that time was full of The Chaser’s War on Everything, the Make A Realistic Wish Sketch, Gerard Henderson’s constant attacks on “The Chaser boys”, and much, much more. Now? Not so much. Which is fair enough – time, comedy and The Chaser have all moved on – but to what? The Checkout? No, despite its occasional forays in to comedy it really doesn’t count. Oh look, here’s a TV Tonight story from several days ago which says they’ll be back at the end of this year…

EXCLUSIVE: Good news for Chaser fans with Media Circus set to return later this year.

“The Chaser is back with a second season of Media Circus, I think in October, for the last 8 or 10 weeks of the ratings year,” Chris Taylor told TV Tonight.

“But I don’t think it’s been formally announced yet!”

Last year’s series combined parlour games with news from the media, hosted by Craig Reucassel, with teams comprising such faces as Ben Jenkins, Zoë Norton Lodge, Scott Abbot, Julian Morrow, Tom Gleeson, Tracey Spicer, Hugh Riminton, George Negus and Peter Berner.

The Chaser’s Giant Dwarf Productions is currently producing The Checkout for ABC.

Mmmm…parlour games and news from the media – what a comedy combo!

But seriously, as much as we’ve criticised The Chaser over the years they are capable of better than this. So we’re asking the question: what’s the problem? They’re experienced, they’ve got profile, they’re reasonably good, they presumably still come up with ideas for new shows, so why aren’t we seeing more of them in something decent?

Apparently it’s not because they secretly hate each other, although several of them have solo projects on the go (the second series of Chris Taylor’s Plonk is now on Stan, for example). So, is it that they’re demanding too much money? Are they considered old hat now? Are their new show ideas not very good? Or is it now impossible for people over 35 to appear in any humorous programme that doesn’t involve a panel, talking heads, or John Clarke and Bryan Dawe?

Part of the problem, possibly, is that The Chaser so “ABC” that they can’t switch to a commercial network, meaning that once the ABC tires of them they have nowhere else to go. Or are The Chaser planning to do a Working Dog and take more behind-the-scenes roles, producing their own shows but casting other performers in them?

Either way, we’re not hugely excited by the mooted return of Media Circus. And not just because series 1 was pretty lacklustre as far as Chaser projects gone. No, it’s more that even in the pantheon of Australian topical panel shows The Chaser’s Media Circus wasn’t a particularly good one.

Forty Whacks With a Wet Noodle, Bart

One of the many things that still puzzles us about The Weekly – what, you thought just because we stopped moaning about it that we’d stopped watching? – is the way it seems to be gathering praise from various corners of the press for delivering hard-hitting segments that are clearly weak as piss. To quote one of us from a recent conversation because nobody else seems to be mentioning it:

People seem to like the way it’s not really funny yet really strident about non-controversial issues.

Put another way, a lot of people seem to be impressed by the way The Weekly runs an extended segment each week tackling a “big issue”, without actually paying much attention to the kind of topics they choose to tackle. Every time your favourite content aggregation site tells you “This clip from The Weekly nailed it when it comes to gambling ads”, the question should be “nailed what? To what? With what?” Wait, that’s three questions.

If you’re making a top-level news satire where the big draw is meant to be your in-depth examination of the pressing issues of the day, shouldn’t the issues you examine be… well, not gambling commercials? Because what the actual fuck is there to say about gambling commercials aside from “they’re pretty skeevy, because they’re ADVERTISING FUCKING GAMBLING.”

How long did it take you to read that? Let’s be generous and say five seconds. And yet The Weekly spent six whole entire full-length minutes on it last night. It was a reasonably well-crafted six minutes considering it was basically a Gruen segment that had wandered onto the wrong show, but six minutes? To point out that gambling ads are sleazy? What’s on next week – eight minutes on the shock revelation that water is wet?

Because we’re not complete and utter bastards, let us briefly display some understanding here. The Weekly has a small writing staff compared to the shows that it’s ripping off seeking to emulate (The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight), so for this kind of in-depth report they need more time – which means they have to focus on more general issues rather than breaking news. And because they’re on the ABC, they can’t take sides on actual controversial issues, which means they end up taking the obvious stand against some uncontroversial evil. Gambling is too tough for them to confront: they’re going after ads for gambling.

The reason people like John Stewart and John Oliver is because they take a stand on things. Things that are actual things, not commercials for a thing that’s an actual thing. The trouble with The Weekly is that it isn’t funny enough for the comedy to stand separate from its targets, and the targets it chooses aren’t strong enough to justify the comedy.

But what do we know? It seems to have stabilised ratings-wise over the last month or so at around 600,000 viewers nationwide, which makes this prematurely snarky outburst from The Australian the funniest thing to come out of The Weekly to date:

Charlie Pickering’s ABC program The Weekly is tanking in the ratings, losing almost 40 per cent of its audience by the third episode.

The half-hour news comedy, which airs on Wednesday at 8.30pm, started with a metro audience of 724,000 viewers but this dropped to 556,000 by its second episode and fell ­further to 443,00 last week.

While the taxpayer-funded ABC does not need to concern itself with ratings, managing ­director Mark Scott follows them closely. Less than a half a million viewers on a weeknight is considered a poor result for the public broadcaster and the ABC is likely to be regretting its decision to commission 20 episodes.

To make room for The Weekly, the ABC dumped Shaun Mic­allef’s Mad As Hell, which had been averaging 600,000- 800,000 viewers a night.

Last Wednesday, Pickering’s program competed in the same timeslot as SBS’s Struggle Street, which attracted 1.3 million viewers nationally. Some parts of the ABC were not helping matters, with 7.30 devoting a segment to Struggle Street on Wednesday. In a publicity drive ahead of The Weekly, Pickering got many former colleagues at Network Ten off-side by speaking out about interference while hosting The Project.

Sure, it’s always fun when a shit show rates badly. But if you see ratings as the be-all and end-all, then sometimes you have to face facts: there are a lot of people out there with pretty shitty taste.


Ilic Communication

So when we crawled out of bed this afternoon, what did we find but a wall of stories telling us this breaking news:

Australian satirist Dan Ilic has been “fired” by Al Jazeera youth network AJ+ for recording an audition for The Daily Show in an Al Jazeera studio.

The former star of ABC TV’s The Hungry Beast, who also founded the Sydney satire radio and live show, A Rational Fear, said he was “annoyed” at the unfortunate outcome given AJ Plus’s great work and his enjoyment working there.

Ilic’s strong work on the network while based in San Francisco as its ‘Senior Satire Producer’ — including some “ballsy” vox pops at the Super Bowl media day resulted in the offer to audition for the next iteration of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, to be hosted by Trevor Noah.

It is believed AJ+’s parent company Al Jazeera was alerted to Ilic recording and editing an audition showreel by himself in an AJ studio and management in Qatar sacked him, despite protests from AJ+ management.

Ilic said he was looking for further opportunities in the US where “super interesting things are happening in media.” In the meantime, he has a couple of months in Sydney where he will look for TV commercial or other work.

He joked, “If I’ve learnt anything during my time at Al Jazeera it’s journalism is not a crime, unless you’re a BBC journalist exposing the deaths of migrant workers during the construction of football stadiums in Doha. Or you use the studio for 40 minutes.”

The dig at his former parent company, the Qatar state-funded broadcaster, follows the arrest last month of a BBC journalist attempting to film the appalling conditions in which migrant workers are attempting to build venues for the contentious 2022 Qatar World Cup. Conversely, Al Jazeera, co-opted global media to help release three of its English employees, including Australian Peter Greste, from Egyptian jail

Hardly earth-shattering news we thought, but not for the reason you might think. What puzzled us wasn’t why it was suddenly big news that a mid-list comedian best known for skilful self-promotion had been fired for being too smart for his own good (though it is a fun story), it was… wait, that was what puzzled us. Only we were puzzled as to the “suddenly” part.

You see, a full two weeks ago someone brought this publicly viewable picture on Instagram to our attention:


(The woman in the picture is a reporter for A Current Affair – not exactly an organisation known for sitting on scoops.)

So Dan got canned at least a fortnight ago, and didn’t seem to be hiding it. Which leaves us wondering: why is this news now? Could it be that someone (maybe even Dan himself) noticed that this particular wacky sacking hadn’t hit the headlines – after all, even we couldn’t be bothered mentioning it – so they put out a press release and everyone jumped on board? And if so… well, we have to salute the master of self-promotion for once again getting his name out there.

Maybe next time it could be attached to something funny?

Spin Cycle

Dirty Laundry Live is a show that came up the old-fashioned way: a panel show focusing on celebrity gossip on the ABC’s second network, it was basically a low-key time-filler until it turned out to be surprisingly watchable and so swiftly – well, swiftly by the standards of the ABC – moved up to the big time. The system works!

Unfortunately, last season this move to the big time also involved a move to a longer format, which (in our opinion at least) was less successful. When your show involves people sitting around talking crap, often more doesn’t equal better: there’s such a thing as wearing out your welcome, you know. So with season three, our big question – as we already know Lawrence Mooney, Marty Sheargold and Brooke Satchwell can be both smart and funny – was this: is the show going to tighten up?

After three weeks, we can finally provide an answer: nuh. Despite the many and varied attempts to mix things up, fifty minutes of this show is at least ten minutes too long. Still, considering pretty much every Australian panel show of the last decade has worn out its welcome at the five minute mark of episode one, that’s pretty impressive stuff.

If we knew exactly why this show works when so many others have failed, this blog would be a ghost town and we’d be off raking in mad cash from the commercial networks. But at a guess, it doesn’t hurt that it has a fairly specific remit. Panel shows that are too broad are usually shit because what’s the point? You can talk about general stuff with your mates. You want a topic that’s specific enough that you might learn something yet general enough that you won’t get lost. That’s usually sport or music, only sport has its own programs and music equals Spicks & Specks and the ABC shat the bed there.

Having a decent panel composed of various slightly different funny people would also seem like an obvious starting point but then you turn on your television and Peter Helliar’s still getting work so clearly we need to point it out yet again. Lawrence Mooney is the perfect host for this kind of show – a happy-go-lucky type with no worries about going sleazy yet able to look just a little embarrassed at how sleazy he’s going – Brooke Satchwell is the insider happy to be in on the joke, and Marty Sheargold is a sure-fire laugh getter presumably only hampered in his seemingly inevitable rise to the top by the occasional moment where he seems just a little bit creepy.

But that’s another strength of the show: unlike most panel efforts where it’s a flat out battle to get the funniest lines out there and so the shoutiest person – hello to Kate Langbroek if you’re reading – wins, Dirty Laundry Live has a core trio with different strengths. Marty will take it too far, Brooke will rein it back in, and Lawrence gets to deliver the capper that signals it’s time to move on. It’s pretty much the formula that’s made the various Gruen shows work; why it hasn’t been applied more often remains a mystery.

Hang on, no it isn’t, because it clearly comes off here as something they stumbled across by accident. The main factor in what makes Dirty Laundry Live work seems to be that they were largely left alone to figure out the show on their own. It’s a panel show about celebrity gossip: does anyone seriously think the ABC bigwigs are taking pride in it at dinner parties?

Not every Australian comedy show needs to be a massive break-out success, though fuck knows we could do with at least one a decade. Dirty Laundry Live isn’t that success, but it does deliver what it promises on the side of the box: a show that revels in mindless celebrity gossip while occasionally wondering why we give a shit about mindless celebrity gossip. The quiz show aspect isn’t great but it keeps things moving, the cutaways to other panel members laughing at jokes is annoying but we get that some people need to be told they’ve just heard a joke, and it’s all at least ten minutes too long (the sketches with John Wood scrape by largely because oh look, it’s John Wood).

But hey, we laughed. Which is more than we ever said about Tractor Monkeys.

OAM? OMG! Plus Fresh Blood

They say you’re only cynical of honours and medals until you or someone you like gets one, and yes, we’re cynical about this kinda thing. But it’s worth noting that amongst this year’s recipients of a Medal of the Order of Australia (or OAM) is comedy legend Rod Quantock, “for service to the performing arts, and to conservation and sustainability”.

Quantock, known for his left-wing activism and stand-up dissecting the policies of Liberal Party figures such as Jeff Kennett, John Howard and Tony Abbott, isn’t your typical OAM recipient. “My only disappointment is it’s not a knighthood”, he joked in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. So are we, come to think of it, although fans of 1980’s British comedy may be pleased to hear that Lenny Henry is to be knighted in the UK.

Past comedy recipients of Australian honours include Barry Humphries, Clive James, Bert Newton, Garry McDonald, John Doyle and Rolf Harris, although Harris was later stripped of his.

* * *

Meanwhile, at the other end of their careers are the comedy teams involved in Fresh Blood whose sketches made for ABC iView last year are finally being broadcast. Wil Anderson is the host of three half-hour compilations and we have to ask why. Since when has any type of sketch comedy been funnier when introduced by someone? Even if that someone is a comedian. Not that Anderson does any gags at all. So, yeah: pointless.

The sketches in this first compilation included awkward relationship comedy from Bed Head, an awkward “the bride’s not coming to the wedding today” song from Donnatelegrams, a less awkward documentary about a middle-aged couple trying to re-take their kissing world record in The Record, and a not at all awkward a song about bikies from Aunty Donna. Of these, Aunty Donna is the funniest. Their song is pointed, funny, makes good use of a cameo from John Wood, and most importantly isn’t not too long. Some of the other sketches in this series should have aimed for brevity in the edit suite, or indeed the writer’s room. Bed Head and Donnatelegrams, while they had some moments, seemed endless, and The Record only got away with its length by being documentary-style.

We have no idea which sketches will feature in the final two compilations, but you can re-live our original reviews of all of Fresh Blood by clicking here.

Spread the Good News Around

Ahh, memories:

There’s something reassuring about seeing Gina Riley, Marg Downey, Jane Turner and Magda Szubanski on telly on Sunday nights. The women of our collective sketch comedy consciousness get better with age, and they never disappoint.

Presumably Ruth Ritchie never saw Madga’s Funny Bits.

Still, there’s no denying that – going by the collective sighs coming from television critics nationwide – nostalgia for the good old days of Australian sketch comedy is a big factor in the support that Open Slather‘s been getting around the traps. Who gives a fuck if it’s funny: it reminds people of their youth and that’s what sketch comedy is all about, right?

Fortunately, week three of the show itself reveals something with a bit more going for it than just easy nostalgia and “remember when” flashbacks. For one thing, there’s a sketch about playing Baby Boomer Monopoly which is both reasonably funny and an extremely sharp reminder why it’s a bad thing that Australian comedy is almost entirely focused on the ABC. They don’t take swipes at rich old people at the ABC because rich old people are their target audience; we’ll happily eat our words when The Weekly tackles housing affordability or university fees. Or any other internal Australian issue that’s even moderately divisive.

Open Slather still relies a lot on firmly average material: a series of Game of Thrones sketches were largely pointless – no, downloaders don’t “want to find out what happens before everybody else”, they want to find out what happens at the same time as everybody else – “Man vs Awkward” is not working out and the two priests seem to have disappeared up their own arses surprisingly quickly considering it’s only week three. At least the Downton Abbey sketch came right at the end of the episode and was basically about how there’s nothing to make fun of on Downton Abbey, so they’ve finally realised that.

But in between the dross a lot of the stand-alone sketches were surprisingly strong. Hamish Blake playing God at a press conference about “ticketing problems” was basically just an excuse for Blake to do his sub-David Brent arrogant arsehole act, but as a once-off bit it still worked. And Magda playing a snarky alarm clock that sneered out contemptuous abuse every time someone hit snooze was a good idea executed well; a show full of sketches that sharp would actually be worth everyone’s time.

It’s still a show with a disappointingly low strike rate, but even the duds have a glimmer of hope. “Wipe my bum for cocaine” at least had a point about how far people will go for free drugs; the one about the guy wanting six months off to catch up on prestige television drama probably needed at least one more draft. As for the run of Family Feud sketches… yeah, if the joke is “the family is actually feuding”, try again.

By definition an hour-long sketch show has to be all over the place. If you’re running that long you have to cast a wide net, and not everything is going to work for everyone. But after a fairly jarring first week things seems to have settled down enough to create a show that tackles a wide range of material while still feeling like all the sketches belong together.

Even better, it now feels like a show where everyone is pulling their weight, rather than the name brand performers being off in their own corner. The Family Feud sketches were weak but Jane Turner as host lifted them; Magda’s alarm clock felt like a character that could take off through sheer quality rather than – as is the case with the already fatally tired ‘Gina Minehart’ – sheer repetition. Hell, if Open Slather keeps improving – and of course there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will – it might get to the stage where the stuff you like is so good it’s worth sitting through the stuff you don’t.

And as for this observation from Ritchie:

Magda’s trancelike Gina Minehart moves like a cyborg, determined to consume everything in her path. Children all over Australia are already mimicking her as they reach for the hot chips after school, droning, “Mine… all mine.”

Yeah, we’re pretty sure she just made that up.