Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Binge is Just Another Word For Gorge

Press release time!

ABC will keep you entertained and laughing all summer

ABC summer highlights

Monday, December 5, 2016 —

ABC will keep Australian audiences entertained throughout the long summer days with a stocking full of specials, premieres and events throughout December and January.

The festive fun kicks off with ABC iview’s Binge on the Best of Australian Comedy featuring some of Australia’s best comedians and actors in shows that will keep audiences laughing. These include (amongst many others) Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me (all 4 series), Luke McGregor and Celia Paquola’s loveable new comedy Rosehaven, Shaun Micallef’s unique political comedy The Ex-PM, side-splitting satirical kitchen comedy The Katering Show (both series) plus two new series Fancy Boy and Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am will premiere.

Wrapping up 2016, Charlie Pickering, Tom Gleeson and Kitty Flanagan dissect the year with their trademark caustic humour in The Yearly with Charlie Pickering. A range of Christmas specials will delight audiences including the convivial Steven Fry in the QI Christmas Special (his last ever!), the comic Would I Lie to You? Christmas Special, [etc etc let’s cut it off here – ed]

Here’s pretty much the only new news in all that:

The Yearly with Charlie Pickering – Wednesday 14 December at 8.30pm

Notice we didn’t say “good news”.

There’s also New Year’s Eve coverage mentioned, but no names are as yet named – and considering the controversy that’s regularly erupted every years that the ABC has put comedians in that slot, it’s probably reasonable to assume that whatever they’ll be saying while waiting for the Sydney Harbour fireworks to go off, it won’t be funny (or even “funny”).

But hey, when the ABC is giving us the chance to binge on the best of Australian comedy, who are we to complain?

Vale Rosehaven (and Upper Middle Bogan)

A hefty chunk of the ABC’s scripted comedy wrapped up last night, and it’s a sign of just how forgettable much of the ABC’s output has been over the last year (okay, years) that they’ve already both pretty much vanished from our memories. Why is it only the shockers we remember? We’re still waking up in a cold sweat after nightmares about Randling.

Of the pair Upper Middle Bogan was clearly the superior project, even though this third season did show a little wear and tear. It’s a definite flaw in the Australian model that most of our scripted comedy is neither as proudly formulaic as your average American sitcom nor as sharply observed as the best of the UK’s output, leaving us with shows that often start to feel a little tired by their second series (*cough Utopia cough*). Strong performances and enough storytelling hooks to keep the storylines coming helped out, but this time around it was fairly clear that of the ten or so characters only about half were reliable laugh-getters.

That said, one of UMB‘s constant strengths has been the way it’s been able to wring laughs out of mixing and matching the entire cast, and the way the two families seemed more integrated this season did pay off. Unlike a lot of Australian comedies where it’s clear that the writers really only came up with a handful of comedy pairings – again, in Utopia there’s never any reason to put Rob Sitch and Celia Pacquola together because they’re both playing the same character – even when UMB had two characters that were comedy idiots (oh wait, that was everyone except for the nerdy daughter, the angry mum and the snooty grandmother), they were usually different kinds of comedy idiots (ditzy versus mellow, for example) and so could strike off each other in funny ways even when the plots were lacking.

(also, has there been another comedy in recent memory that was so consistently about rich people? Bogan or not, both sides of the divide were on the whole extremely cashed-up, and while the show was both well aware of this – see the episode about buying all the best possible camping gear for a trip meant to toughen the kids up – and often mocked it, it still kind of felt there was a culture clash angle there that wasn’t being fully exploited even when the show was trying to talk about money)

Rosehaven, on the other hand, only really came to life when stars Luke McGregor and Celia Pacquola were together, because despite being a scripted (by them) series where they both played characters that were not Luke McGregor and Celia Pacquola for long, long stretches it felt like a show where they just hung out together and riffed about stuff. There was a whole bunch of your typical fish-out-of-water material lying around, but the series never really felt all that interested in picking it up.

Part of the problem is that there were really two shows here. One was about the friendship between Luke and Celia’s characters, and if this had been a halfway decent US sitcom that would have been the whole focus – come up with some vaguely coherent hook for the show (“it’s like The Odd Couple, but one’s a chick!”) that won’t be too distracting and just let them be funny together.

The other was your more traditional fish-out-of-water dramedy where some city dude finds themselves stuck in the country surrounded by quirky comedy types and the comedy just happens because we’ve seen it all a million times before. But much of the comedy (and the drama) comes from having a lead who is a fish-out-of-water – not a fish-with-another-fish-they-can-turn-to-right-there-by-their-side-in-the-water. “Oh no, I’m finding it really hard to adjust to this new town oh wait lucky I bought my bestie with me” is not a formula for laughs, drama, or much of anything else.

It almost would have been preferable if they’d been playing a married couple; at least then they would have been a unit trying to fit into a new place. But by having them as best friends too often the show felt like it was just telling the same kinds of stories twice. The episodes that worked best were ones where they had distinctly different situations going on – Celia dealing with the council workers hanging around the house while Luke was being bullied at the local radio was a highpoint. But mostly they were too similar – not as characters, but in their situation as young urban types adrift in a country town (again, putting them in a location where the setting wasn’t a big deal would have made for a better show because it would have shifted the focus to their differences rather than the way that they were the same) – to really make it feel like we needed the show to be about both of them.

But good news! Neither show was a complete disaster. Upper Middle Bogan probably won’t be back, but producers Gristmill definitely should be – their generally optimistic mainstream suburban comedy is exactly the kind of thing Australia needs to make on a consistent basis. As for Rosehaven, well… hopefully it’ll improve as the two leads get a better handle on what kind of show they’re making. Though considering it’s partly funded by the Tasmanian government, fingers crossed that show doesn’t turn out to be “quirky tourism video”.

Cheap Laughs and a 30 Year Growth

Back in the mid-80’s, some people in the UK came up with an idea for an improvised comedy radio show called Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which was a sort of mash-up of theatre sports and stand-up, inspired by a regular improv night at London club The Comedy Store. Following the radio series, it was quickly brought to TV by Channel 4, then sold to ABC in the US.

The series ran in both countries for a decade and was enormously popular. Legendarily popular in fact, achieving the sort of cult status that makes the likes of TV executives at Foxtel think it’s worth bringing here 30 years after it started. But is it?

Sort of.

Sure, being able to switch on the telly and see the kind of anything-could-happen sketches you’d otherwise have to make a special trip to a comedy club to watch was an exciting novelty in the mid-80’s, but 30 years on not so much. Comedy clubs are everywhere, stand-up’s on TV all the time, and large chunks of broadcasters’ comedy budgets are given to comedy panel shows which are mostly improvised. There’s also YouTube. Which means a revival of a 1980’s improv comedy format is going to look a bit shabby unless it’s given a 2016 twist, or happens to be really, really funny.

Host Tommy Little and performers such as Cal Wilson and Steen Raskopoulos do their best, but Whose Line Is It Anyway? Australia is basically a cheap show with cheap laughs; it probably cost about $5 to make, and if you want sophisticated humour go elsewhere, because this is the kind of easy gags and off-the-cuff, sweary comedy you’ll find at your local pub’s monthly comedy night.

The makers do a good job of giving the show the feel of a pub comedy night – something a surprising number of stand-up TV shows fail to achieve – but…there’s a bit where the cast are given some inflatable yellow and black things and they pretend to be bees, and the audience laugh way more than they should at it. Yes, it was a low moment, but still…

Look, we get it, part of the appeal of Whose Line Is It Anyway? is moments like this, and the reason it’s lasted so long as a format is because watching comedians trying to improvise a sketch is quite compelling. Will they make us laugh? Will they fall on their face? And if they do, can they come back from it? Except – and here’s where it all falls apart for us – there are clearly some parts of the show which are scripted or semi-scripted. The songs, for example. And when the rest of the show isn’t amazing, even if you take into account that most of it is improvised, it’s hard to watch these songs without thinking “Couldn’t they have given these performers a bit of time to make this even better?”

Here on this blog, we’re always going to argue for the very best comedy it’s possible to make. And we’re never going to accept arguments like “Not enough budget” or “Not enough time” when we’re watching a show that isn’t as funny as it should be. Maybe the performers need a bit more experience making this kind of show before they get really good at it – you don’t become Colin Mochrie overnight – but the producers and commissioners might also need to think about how they can make it better, which might mean more budget and more time.

*

Paired with Whose Line Is It Anyway? Austrlia on the Comedy Channel is the long – extremely long – awaited comedy series from Working Dog, Pacific Heat. If you remember their radio “drama” series from the 90s (or even their FM Playhouse stuff from the 80s) that eventually led to the not-exactly-fondly-remembered Funky Squad, then you know exactly what to expect: a police drama – think action rather than whodunnit – only with a lot of dumb characters and dodgy stereotypes.

The story itself is largely played straight, at least in the first episode, and the animation, while fairly limited, doesn’t really hinder a show based largely around verbal jokes. You could argue that better animation would actually be a drawback: the jokes here are often so rapid-fire that having anything more going on visually would be a distraction. Unsurprisingly, the biggest laughs come from the interaction between Rob Sitch (playing his usual preening dickhead) and Santo Cilauro (playing his usual numbskull), but everyone gets something idiotic to say eventually. Working Dog have been doing this since the 80s, and they’ve got this kind of freewheeling stupidity down pat.

Comparisons with US animated spy sitcom Archer are both unfair and impossible to avoid. Archer is a sitcom with characters that, if not exactly 3D, at least have a couple of sides to them. It’s a show that, if not exactly deconstructing spy movie cliches, gets a lot of its laughs from “what would happen if real people – or people realer than the usual spy movie types – were put in spy movie situations”. It’s an office sitcom about a bunch of snarky dicks only they occasionally go on missions involving super-villains or cyborgs or space stations or drug lords.

Pacific Heat also has a drug lord in its first episode, but the joke there is that he has a broad Asian accent no-one can easily understand, which wasn’t exactly cutting edge comedy back when Get Smart was doing it in the 60s. It’s not a show interested in doing anything more with its cliches – and those cliches are thirty years old at times, though there is a back-at-base hacker character to bring things up to the cutting edge of a NCIS spin-off – than stringing them together to make the basics of a cop drama which they can then throw a lot of dumb jokes at.

So the story just provides a series of standard scenes that writers Sitch, Cilauro and Tom Gleisner can then stuff full of as many jokes as they can. There’s some rapid-fire wordplay in here; if you laugh at one joke you’re probably going to miss two. Which is fine, as only every second or third joke really lands. It’s silly in the Get Smart mould (a scene set in a strip club is about as racy as it gets, and “racy” is definitely overselling it) and about as modern: again, a bunch of jokes about an Asian drug lord’s dodgy accent are retro in a way that’s unusual for 2016.

The result is a show that feels like a call-back to… well, we’ve already mentioned Get Smart, but shows like Police Squad! and Sledgehammer also come to mind. No-one here is remotely plausible as a character, and they’re not meant to be. Most of the Working Dog members got their start in comedy performing in university revues, and an extended revue sketch is what this feels like: everything here has only as much depth as it needs to make the jokes work and the jokes are thrown out fast because those jokes are all it has to offer.

Perhaps that’s why Foxtel has teamed it with Whose Line Is It Anyway? Australia: they’re both shows that, in very different ways, are about a bunch of performers going from moment to moment trying to get laughs.

Vale Have You Been Paying Attention?

What can we say about Ten’s comedy stalwart Have You Been Paying Attention? that we haven’t already said during its long and stellar run? It’s the kind of comedy show that we happily tune into each week, but one of its big virtues is its consistency – which means that once you point out all the good things about it, there’s not a lot new left to say.

It must be slightly galling for the ABC, which has tried to get a show like this to work for the last decade or so, that Ten and Working Dog hit a bullseye first time out. Presumably their success came about because being on a commercial network means they had to come up with something that was entertaining – which sounds like one of our typical cheap shots but… okay, it is. But it’s not just that: whereas pretty much all the ABC’s endless run of failed quiz and panel shows (and you can probably add Hard Quiz to this bonfire) have stressed personality, HYBPA? stresses jokes.

The ABC’s efforts all took their time, giving the contestants time to tell personal stories and anecdotes; aside from the brief intros and the start of each episode, HYBPA? doesn’t care who’s making the news-related wisecracks. There’s been a tiny amount of character development – mostly involving Sam Pang (who, if HYBPA? was on the ABC, would have been given his own show where he wanders around abandoned football grounds or something by now) – but it’s a sidebar, not the main course. There’s been zero attempt to build up any contestants into “personalities”: you come on, give a bunch of snappy answers that may or may not have been provided to you by the crack Working Dog writing staff, and leave with nary a spin-off or Christmas hosting gig in sight.

It doesn’t hurt that HYBPA? is staffed almost entirely by radio personalities who already have personalities, and when comedians do appear they almost never do on a steady basis. It gives the show a feeling that the show itself is what’s important – it’s not a showcase for a bunch of people looking to move up or a way for the network to find talent to host some other lame idea. It exists to amuse the viewer, not as part of some management strategy to develop the brand or promote a stable of stars.

… and at this stage those of you that actually watch HYBPA? are spluttering into your soup because hang on a second, isn’t this the show that now regularly shoe-horns in two or three “guest quizmasters” each week to promote some dodgy Ten show, outside event, or just their own damn selves? And yes, good point: there’s little doubt that part of the reason the show has lasted so long – and it’ll be back next year – is because it provides Ten with a decent opportunity to cross-promote shows people like us would never watch on a show that people like us tune in for every week.

But Working Dog have been around this block a few times already, and most of the time with the guest quiz masters they manage to walk a fine line where the ones who are funny get to be funny and the ones who are jokes get to be made fun of. They’re rarely a highlight of the show, but host Tom Gleisner is extremely good at being funny without making fun of the stiffs he’s lumbered with, and their role on the show – read out some questions – means that when someone is no good they only slow things down rather than derail the show outright.

At it’s core, HYBPA? is a delivery method for jokes. There’s just enough proper quiz answers to make it feel like an actual quiz, with just enough banter between the contestants to make it clear it’s not a real quiz. It’s edited for pace so there’s no dead air – and that includes the kind of attention-seeking waffle from guests that other panel shows indulge – and it has a host that keeps things moving along while making it clear that he’s not the focus of the show. It’s a competent show made by professionals who are there to make a good show, not a good showcase for themselves. Once again, it’s been one of the comedy high points of the year.

Stan in the Place Where You Live

Press release time!

MEDIA RELEASE – 21 NOVEMBER 2016

AUSTRALIA’S BIGGEST COMEDIANS TO FEATURE IN A SERIES
OF STAN ORIGINAL COMEDY SPECIALS ‘ONE NIGHT STAN’.

Australia’s highest profile comedians will each star in their own
groundbreaking feature-length comedy special, filmed live this summer
at the Melbourne Comedy Theatre and premiering on Stan in 2017.

ONE NIGHT STAN is an Australian comedy festival held exclusively for Stan.
Australia’s highest profile comedians Wil Anderson, Judith Lucy, Tom
Gleeson, Celia Pacquola, Tom Ballard, and Sam Simmons, will each star in
performances of their award-winning shows filmed live at the iconic
Melbourne Comedy Theatre this summer exclusively for Stan.

With ONE NIGHT STAN joining the smash-hit Stan Original WOLF CREEK,
as well as the recently returned AACTA and Logie-Award nominated original
comedy NO ACTIVITY, Stan continues to change and evolve the TV
landscape in Australia. The line-up of Stan Original programming will continue
to expand with several other high-end drama and comedy projects currently in
development.

“After the huge success of WOLF CREEK and NO ACTIVITY, which just had
a massive second season launch, we are thrilled to be exploring new genres
as part of our ever-growing slate of Stan Originals,” says Stan Content Chief
Officer, Nick Forward. “We are proud to be the first streaming service to
commission stand-up comedy specials in Australia, and we’re excited to start
by working with the best in the business.”

“Aussies love their comedy and the stand up circuit has long been a
showcase of the best that the Australian comedy industry has to offer. ONE
NIGHT STAN will unite comedy fans with the country’s most respected
comedy talent – and the laughs can be enjoyed from the comfort of their living
rooms, or streamed on their favourite devices anywhere, anytime,” continues
Forward.

Tickets are on sale now through Ticketmaster and comedy.com.au.

So now you know. Oh wait, we already knew this. Still, nice to have it confirmed.

“One Night Stan”. Sheesh.

Lets Do the Time Warp Again

“I’ve got a text message here – why does the ABC bother making shows like this that nobody watches?” – Jon Faine.

“Can I just say, thank goodness the ABC is making shows like this” – Debi Enker.

Yes, it’s time to talk about Please Like Me – well, it was time to talk about it on 774 ABC Radio this morning, where the Green Guide‘s Debi Enker was giving a (final?) full-throated defense of a show that no-body’s been watching since season one.

This is nothing new, of course. But it was when she said words to the effect of “Please Like Me hasn’t been getting the attention, the audience, the acclaim that it deserves” that we choked on our weeties. Not been getting enough attention? Please Like Me? Say what now?

Let’s do a quick comparison here. How many articles / profiles did you see for the third season of Upper Middle Bogan? Just from a quick online search, we found a few references to filming having started, a couple of interviews – almost entirely from News Ltd – some mentions in the regular TV review pages and that’s about that.

As for Please Like Me… well, this kind of coverage is pretty impressive for a show in it’s fourth season:

Breaking just about every Australian television mould and taboo, Please Like Me speaks directly to a generation jaded beyond their years by everything social media has wrought upon their young lives.

And let’s not forget this, or this, or this – or the fact we’re talking about someone on a very popular morning radio show in a major capital city complaining that the show she’s currently talking about isn’t being talked about enough.

To be fair, Enker did say “it’s not really a comedy, it’s not laugh-out-loud funny”, which gets two big thumbs up from us. But then – and this is a move we’ve heard so many times before – she pulled out the ol’ “we’d love it if it came from overseas line”:

“We’re very quick to embrace idiosyncratic voices when they come from overseas, with shows like Girls and Louie, but we’re not so good when it comes to local talent”

Yeah, did Australia really embrace those shows? Were those shows ever embraced by anyone more than a narrow margin of comedy hipsters and online opinion writers? That’s not to say they’re bad shows – just that if they were made here they’d probably get the same mix of critical adoration and audience apathy.

And speaking of audience apathy, the real gold with this chat came when host Jon Faine got around to asking Enker how Please Like Me actually does in the ratings. Not great is the short version.

“That’s a low number under any circumstances” said Faine.

“That’s a disappointing failure,” said Faine.

“It’s a very disappointing return,” said Faine.

And we didn’t even mention the part where he said the ratings were so low they were within the margin of error for that kind of survey.

Enker, of course, is a professional, so she promptly brought up the magic of iView. But Faine, being someone who works at the ABC, was having none of that, pointing out that iView figures are only mentioned by the ABC when they’re good.

And have we heard the iView figures for Please Like Me?

No. No we have not.

 

Blood on the Streets

Press release time!

The Home of Australian Comedy gets some Fresh Blood this December

Screening from Thursday 8th December on ABC2 and iview

Monday, November 14, 2016 — The graduates of the inaugural Fresh Blood, will premiere on ABC iview and ABC2 this December following the three-year Screen Australia and ABC development initiative. The two, six-part sketch comedy series, Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am and Fancy Boy will premiere on 8th December with all episodes available on iview as part of Binge on the Best of Australian Comedy and airing weekly on ABC2 at 9.30pm and 10pm respectively.

Created in 2013, Fresh Blood aims to kick-start the careers of young comedy writers, performers and directors.  From the initial 494 submissions received, 24 teams were selected to make a series of shorts for iview. Five of the teams were then selected to produce a half-hour comedy pilot and then two pilots progressed to a full series commission.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am is an outrageous comedy from the all-woman Skit Box team, the creators of viral sensation ‘Activewear’. The show is a fun and twisted cavalcade of sketch, music video and narrative comedy. Join a world of yoga mums and superheroes, travel back to a 70’s swingers party, and meet our all-female police force and the world’s biggest pop band – The Sheetles.

Fancy Boy’s predominately male cast delivers laughs that are moody, manic and downright dark.  Each episode is an interwoven narrative following warped characters like the couple whose communication breakdown leads to a kidnapping or the artist who loses everything because of his obsession with finding the perfect fart sound.

Both series will be available to watch in their entirety as part of iview’s Binge on the Best of Australian Comedy, which returns on December 8th bigger and better than ever. With over 60 hours of great Australian comedy to watch, iview will keep Australia laughing throughout summer.

So, uh, now you know.

Oddly, this particular press release seems to have left off the part where “This 6×30 minute sketch series has been commissioned thanks to a partnership between ABC TV, Screen Australia and NBCUniversal’s ad-free comedy streaming channel Seeso.” Didn’t take long for Trump’s America to fall out of favour with those leftie pinko commies at the ABC, did it?

Anyway, we’ve known this was coming for a long time now, and while we didn’t exactly love their respective Fresh Blood efforts (see here and also here) at least it’s better than the ABC giving up entirely on the idea of nurturing fresh talent. Of course, this fresh talent has currently nowhere to go in this country – with The Ex-PM and Utopia both coming back to the ABC in 2017, that’s pretty much all of the scripted comedy slots taken unless you can find overseas funding – but hey, at least they’re giving them a chance to impress the overseas investors.

And impress local audiences too, of course – well, the ones still watching the ABC’s neglected digital channel during the out-of-ratings period. But when you’re aiming to “kick-start the careers of young comedy writers, performers and directors”, then clearly being part of a self-described binge at “the home of Australian comedy” is as good as it gets.

 

Tear Her Down

“I don’t believe in defining one’s sexuality – I’m pan-sexual.” “Is that where you rub your cooch up against a pan?”

That’s just one of the numerous, uh, gems you’ll find in Foxtel’s new Australian sitcom, Fix Her Up. Well, it’s not exactly Foxtel’s new sitcom: Fix Her Up first appeared on Channel 31 but has been snatched up by the national (pay) broadcaster, presumably because the opening credits are a halfway decent parody of the opening to The Nanny.

The show itself takes place in an almost all-female construction company: sales agent Jane (Katharine Innes) is the one who makes the cross-town trip (from Toorak to Footscray) in the opening credits, traveling from a world where actual humans live to one filled with cliches like the man-eating wog chick, the good-natured dim-bulb nerd and the hippie with a nasty streak.

If you’ve watched much Channel 31 comedy then you’ve probably got a good idea of what to expect here: minimal sets, slightly echoey sound, a cast that’s playing it broad and a lot of jokes-with-a-capital-J. Yeah yeah, we always go on about how important jokes are when it comes to making people laugh – it’s the be all and end all of comedy – but it does occasionally help if the jokes don’t feel like they’ve been hammered into place and the guy with the hammer’s still swinging. One of the subplots in episode one is about someone unwittingly tricking a co-worker into looking like her lesbian partner so she can win a holiday: subtle, this is not.

That said, while Fix Her Up is definitely rough and ready, it is at least trying to be (and occasionally succeeding at being) funny and that counts for a lot. Australian television comedy has, for the last decade or so, often been mostly about looking slick (those overseas sales don’t just happen, after all) with the comedy something of an afterthought; here it’s plain that getting laughs is the first goal… and if that’s because cheap gags are the only thing they can afford, well, we’ll take what we can get.

Don’t get us wrong. When it comes to Australian comedy this is in no way a high water mark; it’s more of a damp stain. But it does have a certain rough charm about it, mostly around the slightly more nuanced character of Jane (who is positioned as the one sensible person in her nutty workplace, so it’s not an accident). It’s an old-fashioned, broad-as-the-side-of-a-house sitcom, and these days that’s rare enough to make it worth a (possibly brief?) look.

 

 

For the fourth series, will you Please Like Me?

Please Like Me is back! And here we are again, having to review a series that almost no one in this country watches and that’s only on our screens once more thanks to American money. Not that this stops Fairfax’s finest saying this kind of thing about it…

Perhaps there is indeed a limit to how much they can take of Josh’s snide remarks and withering put-downs. And if so, the question remains, does that go for the audience as well? As time goes on, Josh’s redeemable qualities are in danger of becoming fewer and fewer.

There’s only so much a cute lip-sync – of which there is a particularly gorgeous one in this episode, involving a teddy bear on a bus – can do to endear someone who is so consistently, so apparently pathologically nasty.

…and then giving it five stars.

Of course, a reviewer not engaged in this kind of doublethink* would have pointed out that the lip-syncing teddy bear scene had nothing at all to do with the story and was most likely there as something fans can snip out and upload to the social network of their choice. So, not so much a “particularly gorgeous” scene, more the type of cynical content seeding strategy we’ve all so missed from when Chris Lilley was the King of ABC Comedy.

As for the rest of the episode, there was the usual start-of-series upheaval that will form the backbone of coming plots: housemate Tom and his girlfriend are moving out, while things aren’t going so well for Josh and Arnold. (Oh, no!) Mind you, the endless dramas about Arnold being too hot for Josh might have a bit more weight if they didn’t feel like a way to keep Josh’s hot BF around while addressing the somewhat unlikely nature of their long-term relationship.

After all, Arnold is now pulling hot dudes every time he goes out: the only drama here is how Josh is going to cope only oh wait Josh has never had a thought he doesn’t instantly express so we’ve already gone through the “oh no he’s leaving me” scene a half-dozen times already.

And it looks like all that American money’s having an impact on the show, because certain scenes have a distinctly Woody Allen vibe to them. Although, as anyone who’s seen Crisis In Six Scenes will know, that sort of thing doesn’t work so well on the small screen. Even if it is Woody Allen doing it.

But that’s twentysomething hangout shows for you. Workplace sitcoms might be stale, but at least with workplace sitcoms occasionally you can have an episode that isn’t just about everyone sitting around talking about their feelings. Especially when their feelings aren’t amusing comedy feelings but tend more towards whining about being left out of a threesome** and having to get rid of your teddy bears.

Our advice: don’t bother with Please Like Me, check out this week’s Rosehaven instead. Five episodes in, it’s starting to find its feet, and this week’s episode had more comedy, warmth and funny angst in it than Please Like Me’s had in its first three series. With not a lip-sync teddy bear sequence in sight.

 

*Good luck finding one of them

**Which could be funny if done in any matter of ways – physical comedy as Josh is increasingly pushed out of events, a Seinfeld-like riff on threesome etiquette (does someone take the lead, is it two on one, can you tag people in, etc etc) – but as usual PLM just goes for the blandly dramatic in the hope that the idea will provide entertainment where the execution does not.

Stand-Up: The Next Generation

Why do Australian television networks love broadcasting stand-up comedy? Not only has ABC2 just got into the act with Comedy Next Gen, a sixteen-part series focusing on up-and-coming stand-up – well, it’s kind of hard to call Aunty Donna up-and-coming after a bunch of pilots and a US series on the way, but they’re in the first episode (which aired Saturday night and is repeated this Thursday) so there you are – but it seems Stan are currently recording a bunch of big name award-winning stand-up shows (including Wil Anderson, Judith Lucy, Tom Gleeson, Sam Simmons – who will be doing a “best-of” show – Tom Ballard, and Celia Pacquola) to air sometime in 2017. It’s a Golden Age!

Well, not so much: there’s been at least two big series of live stand-up recordings over the last few years, both of which are still available on DVD, and the idea of putting stand-up comedy on television basically unfiltered goes back at least as far as The Big Gig (or The Smallest Room in the House if you’re talking longer sets). But still, having two different series on the go (that adds up to around 24 hours of broadcast stand-up comedy) is a pretty big vote of confidence in the form.

(oh yeah, a review: Aunty Donna are really funny and this one hour show shows them off to great effect. A lot of it is silly random LOL stuff but through sharp observation and decent character dynamics between the trio, they make it work on a level above “check this crazy shit out”.)

With the Australian comedy scene the way it is, it’s really important that these shows are being recorded. A lot of these people are never going to get the chance to put their own television shows to air; some of them may not even want to. Others have acts that seem to work best in a live setting, so this kind of series can be the only way a lot of people will see them at their best. And with there no longer being any kind of televised variety showcase where stand-ups can appear and do a tight five or whatever, this is really the only way that stand-up comedy can make it onto television.

That said, this kind of series is not the best possible showcase for stand up. Stand up works best as a live performance, duh: people realised simply filming a stage show wasn’t the best way to tell a story on film about five seconds after cameras were invented, and simply pointing a couple of cameras at a stage during a live performance is in no way the best way to show off a live performer. Seeing something happening right in front of you has an energy that doesn’t transfer to home viewing and as often that energy is what a live show needs to make a full hour of it watchable, simply recording a full show can sometimes be a less than thrilling home viewing experience no matter how good the performer and material is.

Of course stand-up can work on television. The shorter the better is often a good guide. UK comedian Stewart Lee’s stand-up series Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle only ran half an hour per episode, broke his stand-up with interview cutaways, and was specifically designed to work on television, with him often turning away to talk to camera about how his act was going. It may not seem like a huge difference – large chunks of his show were still recorded stand-up comedy – but taking the different nature of television into account just a little can make a big difference in how watchable the end product is.