2014
08.30

One of the things that frustrates us about the current media – in all its forms – is that there’s not enough following up. Politicians make crazy claims about their future plans, newspapers print them, and then ten years later someone looks around and goes “oh, they never did build that billion-dollar scheme, did they?”

We’re not expecting the media to put together a running tally of schemes announced that have mysteriously fallen by the wayside – if they did that what would be the point of Utopia, for one thing – but we do kind of think that when a firm date is attached to something when that firm date rolls around the press should go back to see how things are going. So with that in mind, remember this?

DAVID Thorne is best known for his witty email exchanges that go viral worldwide and pop up in Facebook feeds every so often, but the former Adelaide man can now add TV writer to his list of credentials.

Thorne, who grew up in Modbury and now lives in Virginia, US is working on an eight-part TV series for the American cable and satellite network HBO, alongside Arrested Development’s Jim Vallely.

Named after Thorne’s blog, 27b/6 , the comedy show is set in a small advertising/design agency and is pitched as a cross between The Office and Eastbound & Down.

“I signed a few contracts, sat uncomfortably in on a few meetings, and rewrote scripts written by writers they brought in,” Thorne says.

The 40-something has also been working with Australian comedian Chris Lilley on a mockumentary called Cold Feet; America’s Bunny Slopes, due for release around September.

Around September, you say? And yet zero word has been reported on this since then. Seems odd that when HBO can give you an air date six months in advance for the new season of Game of Thrones, the only person talking up Thorne’s work with them is Thorne himself.

We mentioned this earlier this year. We were pretty sceptical even then; now we’re openly derisive. Thorne is a self described “internet prankster” – why didn’t anyone think to contact Lilley about their “working together”? Doesn’t HBO have a phone number?

At least the Sydney Morning Herald has come around to our way of thinking: they’ve taken down their article we linked to where they praised Thorne and reported as fact his upcoming work with Lilley. Though a google search for it did turn up this variant from June featuring one interesting difference from the SMH version:

Cold Feet will air in the US in August and in Australia and Britain in September, followed by a DVD release in October.

How was anyone out there stupid enough to fall for this? Wait, don’t answer that, we’ll be here all day.

2014
08.27

You may not have noticed what with the all-out media blitz for Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me, but the ABC launched a few other comedy programs in the last few weeks. Press release time!

Reality TV is TV right now. Everything else is just making up the numbers. And yet, for all its cultural force, we barely discuss it. But that’s all about to change.

Join Tom Ballard and a panel of industry experts for a half-hour of sharp, cracking panel discussion where they’ll dissect the week in Reality TV, both home and abroad, share war stories and give us the low down on what really goes into making Reality TV.
Panellists for episode three are:

• Ryan “Fitzy” Fitzgerald – Former Big Brother housemate, host of The Recruit and co-host of Nova’s Breakfast show, Fitzy & Wippa;
• Marion Farrelly – Producer of Big Brother, Farmer Wants A Wife, and The Recruit;
• Andrew Shaw – TVNZ Commissioning Editor of everything from New Zealand’s Got Talent to Changing Rooms.

During episode three, Tom and the panel will:

• Round up some of the best moments from the past week in Reality TV in This Week In Reality. Shows include The Amazing Race, The Bachelor, The X-Factor and E!’s new cosmetic surgery offering Blotched;
• Take a look at the future of TV singing contests;
• Analyse one of Big Brothers best scenes during The Big Moment; and
• Play another round of Real or Fake.

Ending the show on a high note, Tom showcases The Final Three – a countdown of international Reality Gold.

Hey guys – forget all that chat you’ve been having about reality television at work and down the pub and at social gatherings and in the comments threads of recap posts and television forums and on social media; here comes the ABC to show you how it’s done.

Do we even need to tell you this is The Gruen Transfer does Reality TV? No “kinda” or ‘basically” qualifiers here either: this is exactly The Gruen Transfer on reality television right down to pointless audience cutaways, Tom Ballard’s hair and shitty jokes. Hey, everyone who ever thought any of the Gruen programs were intelligent, insightful looks at the media landscape: WRONG.

What Reality Check does do is make it extremely clear that the Gruen formula is nothing more than bundling a collection of wacky clips together then getting a bunch of “experts” to drain all the fun out of them. So on that level, Reality Bites is actually better than Gruen: because they’re still shopping around for “experts” and haven’t yet settled on a reliable yet Margaret-and-David level painful “opposites attract” duo, the guests aren’t yet grand masters when it comes to making sure all eyes remain firmly fixed on them. Which means for much of the show you can block them out and just enjoy the wacky clips.

Sure, this stuff is roughly on par with a time-filling segment on Hey Hey It’s Saturday – the glory days when Clive James would host this sort of thing are well behind us, thus proving the irreversible decline of Western Civilisation – but in theory crazy clips from stupid television shows are fine with us. Just ditch the panel, get someone actually off-the-cuff funny to host, and make sure at least 25 of the show’s 28 minutes is clips and you might have something watchable.

Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

2014
08.27

Okay, so despite Please Like Me tanking in the ratings- yes, despite wall-to-wall media attention in this country it rates less than, oh, every other show you’ve ever heard of – local critics continue to go nuts over it. Here’s a quick cross-section that’s been brought to our attention:

There’s this:

American and Australian critics compete in their love for the show. James Poniewozik, TV critic for Time magazine called it one of his favourites for 2013 and, more recently, the magazine gave it prime real estate in a story titled How an American Network Saved One of TV’s Best Twentysomethings.

And this:

The Top Ten Australian Characters on TV

Phryne Fisher

1 Billie Proudman (Kat Stewart in Offspring, Ten)

2 Alice Ross-King (Georgia Flood in Anzac Girls, ABC)

3 The Micallef persona (Shaun Micallef in Mad As Hell, ABC).

Elizabeth Bligh

4 Elizabeth Bligh (Noni Hazlehurst in A Place To Call Home, Seven).

5 Ja’mie King (Chris Lilley in Ja’mie: Private School Girl, ABC).

6 The Politician (John Clarke in Clarke and Dawe, ABC)

Josh Photo: Supplied

7 Josh (Josh Thomas in Please Like Me, ABC2)

8 Gemma Crabb (Julia Morris in House Husbands, Nine).

9 Caroline Tivoli (Claudia Karvan in The Time of Our Lives, ABC)

Gemma Crabb Photo: Natalie Boog

10 Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, ABC)

And this:

When the actual plot is explained, it’s clear that everything happening is fairly dramatic, but when you’re watching the show, somehow the Big Things that are so often Dramatic are treated with a comedic touch that manages to be light without making light of anything. They’re going for realism, Thomas told BuzzFeed, but it’s also narrative, and “stuff has to happen.” When you reflect on the show, he said, you realize, though, “Wow, he’s had a really rough fortnight.”

Plus glowing reviews in TV Week and The Green Guide.

Previously we asked why – why all this love for a little watched show on a minor channel starring a guy from Celebrity Splash and a bunch of Optus commercials? We concluded it was because Thomas was the kind of quirky inner-city goofball a certain segment of the Australian media could happily get behind – but it’s gone far beyond that now.

So now we reckon this: Please Like Me is one of the few – actually, it’s pretty much the only – Australian made television show being shown in the US. And because no-one in Australia is actually watching it, critics here can happily praise it to the high heavens safe in the knowledge they’re not going to be contradicted… which wasn’t a freedom they had with the last Australian show to air overseas, Chris Lilley’s Jonah from Tonga.

That makes pretty much all these articles and reviews talking up Please Like Me nothing but clickbait. For once Australian TV writers can talk about a local show – which they kind of have to, because no-one on the internet gives a shit about what they think about overseas shows (we can read much better overseas writers’ thoughts about them) -  while also, in theory at least, taping into a much larger overseas audience of readers. More readers = less chance of being sacked and replaced with a slideshow titled Top Twelve Times Beyonce Yawned In Public.

Obviously, actually saying concrete things about Please Like Me isn’t part of the plan. Pointing out the show’s flaws would only turn off the fans, and people who aren’t fans aren’t going to read your article anyway – it’s only when something becomes so popular it’s impossible to ignore that it becomes possible to attract an audience of haters. So everyone writes the same crowd-pleasing article about how good Please Like Me is in the hope of attracting the same mass audience of mildly interested chumps.

Man, we’re totally doing this internet thing all wrong.

 

2014
08.23

We’ve been pretty hard on Fairfax’s television reviewers these last few years, what with their blatant nepotism and incessant championing of complete shit. But of late we’ve been wondering: have we gotten them all wrong?

Back when Marieke Hardy’s Laid was more than just a punchline to a joke about wasting taxpayer funds, Fairfax’s writers repeatedly praised it in tones that… well, “sickening” doesn’t really come close. At the time we figured it was largely due to Hardy being a both a Fairfax employee and friends with at least some of the writers, mostly because the writers often made sure to mention their friendship with Hardy. But what if we were mistaken?

There’s been a fair bit of talk around here about this recent column by Fairfax Green Guide editor Debi Enker praising Josh Thomas and his show Please Like Me:

 What’s the matter with you people? Why aren’t you watching one of the best comedies on TV? It’s not as though we’re over-loaded with great home-grown offerings. Yet one turns up, into its second season and still ticking along nicely, and no one’s watching.

Yeah, that’d be because it’s kinda shithouse.

Now, usually we’d take time out to point out that a lot of what Enker – one of Australia’s top television critics, don’t you know – says doesn’t make a whole lot of sense:

This is a low-key but incisive comedy about awkwardness and it’s more interested in how the characters interact than what happens to them.

You can’t really make a comedy “about” awkwardness, any more than you can make a comedy “about” laughter. You make a show about situations or events that cause awkwardness, which – we’d argue – means you’re not actually making a comedy. But even if you are, surely “how the characters interact” IS “what happens to them” – character-based dramas such as love stories and the like are all stories about “how the characters interact”.

As for “incisive”, pretty much the only insight provided to date is “awkwardness is really awkward” – it certainly hasn’t been “awkwardness is funny”. With his endless series of scenes where characters stand around making chit-chat that goes nowhere – yes, Thomas has made a sitcom that’s not as funny as commercial radio – Please Like Me is basically an aimless soap opera where every scene is designed to make someone feel embarrassed. Usually the home viewer.

But then we read today‘s “Couch Life” column by Ruth Ritchie in the Fairfax press, which contained this gem:

Closer to home Josh Thomas’ second series of Please Like Me (ABC2, Tuesday, 9.30pm) is a world away from Louie and yet there are similarities. Josh Thomas, like Louis C.K. has shaped a sit-com around the personae he has allowed us to come to know in variety and panel TV. He plants his gay awkward hipster character in a share house and throws in some dysfunctional family. The result is a very original, moving, hilarious show that is impossible to pigeonhole. As authentic and unusual talent as Josh Thomas is, the chance of one so young and so … un-Rove McManus achieving a show of this quality is slim and a tribute to all involved. He must get sick of the comparison with Lena Dunham and Girls. Both are young and unlikely looking stars. They embrace their outsider status and make it work in their favour. Josh Thomas probably has more heart, his humour springing from a less brittle and facile well than that of self-absorbed young folks in Brooklyn.

The fuck? Why is everyone over at Fairfax suddenly pushing the same “Josh Thomas is Your New God” angle?

(comparing Thomas to various cult comedy figures from the US? Check. Expressing surprise that something this “good” could be coming out of Australia? Check. Use of the word “awkward” like it’s a compliment? Check.)

Normally we would have simply assumed the usual rampant nepotism and been on our way. But as far as we can tell, there’s no direct link between Thomas and Fairfax (if anyone knows different, please let us know). So then why are they doing this? Kinne was a better show (and also on a non-core channel), but Fairfax all but ignored it. They can’t seem to say a nice word about Mad As Hell without making some snide comment about how Micallef is “too smart” for the masses. Hamish & Andy? They don’t even rate a mention.

Our best guess is that these writers honestly and deeply believe that whatever its flaws, Please Like Me is a Fairfax show. It reflects the core values of Fairfax readers: it’s an insipid, bland white guy (who likes guys sexually but isn’t in any way threatening) drifting through a variety of inner-city locales pondering slightly quirky questions in between dealing with his mentally ill mother. It is “ironic” and “edgy” and “not for everyone”. It is a show Fairfax can Get Behind.

We’re not saying some sinister figure in editorial has sent down an edict ordering public displays of support for Thomas: in much the same way that political writers don’t rise in News Corp unless they share the core beliefs of Rupert Murdoch, clearly television writers don’t get regular work at Fairfax unless they value bland, “quirky” upper middle-class Australian comedies over, well, pretty much anything else we make here.

And to some extent, we’re fine with that.  Newspapers, like all forms of media, reflect a set of values that (they hope) are attractive to their readers. If you’re somehow able to reconcile your personal poverty with supporting a political party that wants to make you even poorer, you read the Daily Telegraph; if you think replacing every single shop within a fifteen mile radius of the CBD with a cafe or boutique homeware store is a great idea, you read the Sydney Morning Herald. If you don’t agree with either there’s no real point complaining: they’re simply not for you.

The problem is, even if you’re 100% on board with Fairfax’s values Please Like Me is still not very good. Comedy might be subjective, but seriously guys: there’s just not all that much to laugh at here. And so what pisses us off about all this hollow praise is that it’s a sign that Fairfax’s television writers have decided that they’d much rather support a show based on cultural values than on actual quality. Which means we have all this space devoted to talking it up, only it reads more like the writers are trying to praise a show that they don’t really have that much praise for.

For fuck’s sake, Ritchie calls it “very original”, and then two lines later we get  “[Thomas] must get sick of the comparison with Lena Dunham and Girls.” Which one is it? And if you’re going to call a show “hilarious”, it helps if you can quote one single solitary joke from that show. If you found it funny, explain why – without simply assuming that awkward = funny (you do realise we have different words for those two things because THEY’RE NOT THE SAME THING).

Put another way, why is it in praising Louie Ritchie was able to quote an actual funny line to support her opinion of that show (“What are you afraid is going to happen if you hold hands with a fat girl? Are you afraid your dick is going to fall off?”), yet the best she could do for Please Like Me was to let us know that the “best material in the show belongs to the bipolar mother played with special deftness by Debra Lawrance”?

Could it be that she found one show actually funny while the other was, well, you know… just the type of show that Fairfax supports?

2014
08.20

“I’m not the problem today mum, you’re the problem”

Well, no Josh, you’re always the problem in Please Like Me. But for a brief shining moment early on in episode two of series two, it looked like maybe that problem had been solved. Josh was the put-upon son, his crazy mum was crazy, and as comedy set-ups go hey – isn’t it about time someone ripped off Mother & Son?

But that would be a situation, and Please Like Me is the standard bearer for an era where having a situation in your sitcom is death. Life doesn’t have situations, right guys? Life is random and awkward and so the best comedies should reflect that. Even if that isn’t funny. Which it isn’t, especially if you’re not all that good at writing comedy. Presumably being so badly written it’s like the events on-screen just randomly happened is what passes for good writing these days.

Ok, serious question: does anyone know if episodes of Please Like Me run at different lengths in the US? Because this one had a really weird structure that kind of felt like either it ended too soon or went on too long. First Josh drops his mum off at the private hospital, then he goes to a party and so far so good – but then about five minutes before the end he suddenly leaves the party (plots resolved: zero), goes back to the private hospital where he meets a couple of big name actors playing patients, has maybe three minutes with them THE END. Nothing’s resolved, but then again pretty much nothing was built up to either: it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.

Something else that’s a sign of bad writing is repeating phrases over and over in the hope that they’ll magically become funny. Sam Simmons used to do this a lot; it never worked. So when Josh says “Elder Flower Gin Spritzer” three times in ten seconds (some random guy also says it during those ten seconds), that’s ten seconds when we’re not laughing. Plus it’s another awkward semi-flirtation scene between Josh and a cute boy: remember how Seinfeld used to just cut to “hey, it’s Jerry’s new girlfriend” every episode? That’s because actual relationships are funny in a lot of different ways; the first tentative steps in a relationship are funny – if they actually are funny – in pretty much the same “awww, it’s so cuuuute” way.

As this second episode wears on, one difference between it and Mother & Son – ok, there’s literally dozens of differences, but here’s one – comes to mind: in Mother & Son, at least some of the laughs came from never quite knowing whether the mother was senile or just really cunning. A lot of comedy is about the balance of power between the characters, and having the Mother possibly be just really sneaky made it possible to laugh at her ditzy antics in a way we couldn’t if she really was mentally ill. Josh’s mum, on the other hand, is just mentally ill. Not really that funny.

As for why we were thinking so much about Mother & Son during an episode of fresh new youth comedy Please Like Me, that’s because when we did pay attention it was either Josh being a stud or Tom revealing the “fact” that he has a really large penis. Oh, and Josh’s penis is “aesthetically pleasing”. See, this could, in theory, be funny if it didn’t feel like it was actually an advertisement for Josh Thomas’s real penis. Basically, the scene felt like the comedy equivalent of this column:

Today, some statistics report a third of women still never experience orgasm, which suggests to me I’ve been very lucky with partners or I’m dating great actresses.

There’s certainly been the odd one unable to reach the stars but, being of sunny disposition, I’ve tried not to wallow in culpability. A good tradesman never blames his tools, and all that.

Overall, however, this wholly unsatisfactory experience has been dwarfed by the numbers of women I’ve met who go off like a frog in a sock. There’s even been a few notable occasions when I’ve put in such embarrassingly little effort I’ve asked “Do I need to be here?”

The moral being, talking about how great you are in bed – or how big or “aesthetically pleasing” your penis is – almost always makes you look like a jerk.

Maybe we’re idiots [pause for Josh Thomas fans to nod violently], but we kind of thought the idea of having Josh flee the mental home where he’d offloaded his mum for a party at his share house was going to be to show how the guilt from offloading his mum was going to prevent Josh from having any fun. Yeah, we know “Josh” is meant to be a bit of a dick in the series – by which we mean, Josh is kind of erratically written, what with being a dick to his friends (fine in a comedy) then some kind of sad puppy in love (also fine – just not in the same character) – but usually even shitty comedies realise that bad people still feel guilt, and seeing a horrible person struggle against an emotion that forces them to act decently can be a good source of laughs.

But instead Josh sits around talking about penises and mocking Tom when he goes to hit on a girl and staring at his latest cute boy victim and complaining that his body may not be attractive to look at and trying to get his frog costume back and obsessing about a ham he’s cooking. Lucky his mum walks out of the private hospital to make his life hell, right guys? And the cute boy also has mental health issues! This is clearly a serious show tackling serious issues with laughter. Only without the laughter.

“I’m not the monster here,” Josh says, after mocking an orphan for not having a mother. So wait, he… really is a dick? This kind of awkward comedy requires you to be a consistent jerk if it’s really going to work – there’s a good reason why Larry David didn’t spend a third of every episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm pining after a girl. But don’t worry, Josh soon finds his way back to the private hospital where the nutty patients are sure to supply plenty of laughs. Well, Denise Drysdale is one of the patients and they’re telling first time sex stories (worst one wins the last chocolate). And then Hannah Gadsby’s character says “then I was raped”.

It’s technically not a rape joke because it’s not a joke – well, not until Drysdale’s character then says “I was raped too” in a desperate attempt to get the last chocolate. What are we going to say here? Honestly, we weren’t even disappointed; Please Like Me is such a sloppy, haphazard production once you pay more than the most superficial attention to what’s going on that any old hack idea just slides right in there. This is, after all, a show that can’t actually manage to give an individual episode a beginning, middle and end – not in that order at least.

Maybe if you find Josh Thomas hilarious all this shoddy writing just passes you by. Maybe if you’re impressed by US sales it doesn’t matter if plotlines are just forgotten and situations go nowhere. Maybe if you think having young people in a show is all you need to do to appeal to young people you can enjoy an episode of Please Like Me without constantly thinking “what the fuck is this shit that I am watching?”

Us? We’re just waiting for Thomas to tell us more about his fucking dick.

 

2014
08.16

When Tony Martin and Mick Molloy officially “split” as a comedy team in late 2007, the smart money was on Tony Martin coming out the winner. Wait, “the winner”? Who the fuck thinks like that? Whatever their personal differences, we don’t know either of them personally and so – because we’re not a pack of dickheads – we have no reason to take “sides” in whatever’s going on. They used to work together a lot; now they don’t.

Still, it’s useful to compare their relative careers, especially as prior to their “split” they’d both been largely working solo anyway. Shit, their last real official joint project had been the Martin / Molloy radio show back in the 1990s: Martin had helped out on Molloy’s “ill-fated” The Mick Molloy Show and they’d both appeared in and worked on each other’s solo movies (Bad Eggs for Martin, Crackerjack for Molloy), but they’d largely stayed away from each other’s radio shows (Molloy’s Tough Love, Martin’s Get This), only making rare – and, it should be said, to our ears somewhat awkward – appearances.

So when the News Corp papers ran a story in mid 2007 saying the duo was feuding – well, Martin was feuding, Molloy didn’t seem to be saying or doing much – realistically it didn’t make all that big a difference to their on-going careers. Which, at this stage, saw Martin in the middle of a resurgence thanks to the success of Get This while Molloy was… well, not doing quite so well.

His second film, Boytown, was a box office fizzle, and in Australia unless you can fund your own films (as Working Dog did with Any Questions for Ben?, the follow up to their financially disappointing The Dish), one flop means it’s all over: despite occasional references to a script set during Schoolies Week, Mick is yet to make a third film. His news comedy show The Nation also tanked; he hasn’t fronted a comedy show since. And when Tough Love wrapped in 2006, his headlining days on radio ended too.

And yet quietly over the last year or two Mick Molloy has been staging something of a comeback. We say “quietly” because while he’s firmly in the mainstream eye, he’s increasingly working outside the turf monitored by comedy nerds such as ourselves. Much as we’ve enjoyed Molloy’s work in the past, there’s no way we’re sitting through three hours of Triple M’s “The Hot Breakfast”, even if from what we see and hear it’s increasingly obvious that Molloy – and not fatuous AFL blowhard Eddie McGuire – is the star of the show.

Likewise we’re hardly fans of the pre-game waffle Seven slaps on before the AFL game on Saturday nights, but it’s increasingly clear that Molloy is more than holding his own there. Seems the axing of Before the Game on Ten was a blessing in disguise for him: while on that show he often seemed to rarely get much of a word in – for all his brash, blokey reputation it’s clear on panel shows that he isn’t one to shout over other people, but more on that in a minute – in a more knockabout context where he’s the sole comic relief he’s simply able to be funnier. Basically, someone like Lehmo works on a panel show because he’s pushy; Molloy works because he’s funny.

Which is why Molloy’s work on Have You Been Paying Attention? is what’s brought him back in focus. For a performer like Molloy, it’s the perfect set-up: improvised enough that his ability to be off-the-cuff funny stands out, structured enough with the quiz show format so you don’t spend the entire show waiting for Kate Langbroek to shut up. It’s hardly surprising that he’s rapidly become pretty much a regular there, as his jokey sleaze is both different enough from the other regulars (Sam Pang is kind of wry, Ed Kavalee is… enthusiastic?) and funny enough in its own right to make him a vital part of the show.

Originally this post was going to build up to Molloy’s first appearance on another show we figured would be a good showcase for him: Dirty Laundry Live. Uh… no. We haven’t been playing as much attention as we should have to DLL this year, so the fact that at 50 minutes it’s become something of a bloated and only occasionally funny drag had passed us by. Starting off an episode with 15 minutes (including introductions) on celebrity deaths and mass grieving didn’t exactly kick things off well either. Since when was this a serious look at the psychology of celebrity? Since when did anyone even want that?

For a live show it really could have done with an edit, even though then the monstering of Jane Gazzo probably would have been cut (she revealed at around the halfway mark that she’d been the personal assistant to Courtney Love for one solitary week, everyone piled questions on her – as you do – she waved them all off and basically said next to nothing for the rest of the episode). But even editing couldn’t have made this into a must for Molloy fans, as he returned to Before the Game mode: occasionally chipping in, telling a quick story or two, and generally not making much of an impression.

There are roughly a billion reasons to hate panel shows – you can start with “they’re shit” and work backwards – but here’s a big one: Mick Molloy is inarguably one of Australia’s most consistently funny comedians (which is to say, he’s still funny after 20 years). He’s a major talent and an asset to any show he’s on. But panel shows don’t give him a chance to shine, because – to be blunt – he’s not an arrogant arsehole (on television at least). When a format penalises a performer for a): being funny, and b): not being an arsehole, that’s a bad format.

Whether Molloy’s time in the sun will last long enough for him to get a solo project up – if he even wants to do one, as at the moment he seems content to work as a bit player – is a mystery. Maybe it won’t even last past this year’s AFL season. We’re just glad to have him back and being funny on our screens.

Now, if someone could figure out how to do the same for Tony Martin…

2014
08.13

To make a high school debating start to this post, the word “utopia” is defined as…

an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.

…and, obviously, in the case of new ABC/Working Dog sitcom Utopia that’s not quite how things are for the main protagonists.

Tony (Rob Sitch) oversees the Nation Building Authority (NBA), a government department which manages major infrastructure projects. In the first episode we see him deal with the fallout from a logo redesign, while second-in-command Nat (Celia Pacquola) has to find room for a community garden in a major residential development. Subsequent episodes follow in a similar vein as the team – which includes Kitty Flanagan as PR woman Rhonda, Luke McGregor as Project Manager Hugh, and Toby Truslove as Marketing Guru Karsten – deal with crisis upon nation building crisis, all under the watchful eyes of the nation’s media.

Some of the themes of a previous Working Dog sitcom, the weirdly unfunny The Hollowmen, are explored again in Utopia, except it has the good sense to adopt the comedic stylings of the even older Working Dog sitcom Frontline. This means we get a sharp satire on the world of politics and PR but also a re-hash of some characters types. The ditzy receptionist, the unhelpful PA, the over-enthusiastic PR lady and the wanky marketing guy…these are very familiar from Frontline, albeit instantly recognisable and well played by the cast.

Utopia is one of those shows that will amuse its intended audience from the get-go and has the potential to run for several series or more. And if you image a state of sitcoms in which everything is perfect, those are just some of the characteristics of a new comedy series.

2014
08.10

The first episode of Die on Your Feet, the long un-aired Greg Fleet sitcom about five Melbourne stand-ups/friends (Greg Fleet as Bob, Alan Brough as OJ, Steven Gates as JJ, Corinne Grant as Sophie and Adam Hills as Brian), finally made it to air on Thursday. And if you’re wondering why we’ve taken this long to review it, it’s because we have to rely on friends (thanks!) to get hold of this sort of thing (anyone want to crowdfund our purchasing a HD TV?). So, will we be asking our source to send us episode 2..? Maybe.

First episodes are always difficult: they’re setting up the characters, planting the seeds for some upcoming plots, and establishing a format and style for the rest of the show. But if this is anything to go by we’re in for seven more episodes of comedians sitting around trying to out smart-arse each other, and not a lot else happening. OK, there was a plot about how Brian and Sophie used to date each other, which can easily be played across the rest of the series, and this episode had a bit of “peril” for O.J., who didn’t have a spot on the Gala or an ad in the MICF programme…all of which could see him losing $40,000, but mostly it was just some or all of the five sitting around trading quips and insults.

…All of which might have been bearable if said quips and insults were really funny. Sadly not. Mostly we see them bitching about other comedians they know, who (presumably for legal reasons) aren’t actual living comedians that the audience would be familiar with, leaving anyone watching this to try and work out what they’re talking about. Add in some pointless talking head cutaways with the main characters which do nothing to drive the plot forward, and, well, there’s a lot of dead wood in this series.

Once again, we can do no better than to quote Jumperpants, who commented on Die on Your Feet following its screening at last year’s MICF:

There are a lot of reasons why it will not be bought or aired unless for drama points. Here are some.

1. Very little story. Largely a group of comedians sitting round talking about the comedy industry and not being particularly entertaining.

2. Adam Hills and Corinne Grant cannot act.

3. Shot like a soapy. Terrible lighting, there are scenes where outdoor scenes look like they were shot in a studio.

4. Way way too much swearing to play it at a reasonable hour. Most of the swearing is pointless and boring.

5. The ‘story’ is intercut with to camera pieces where the characters talk about comedy. This is not really different from the other scenes and adds nothing.

6. All of the characters are all unlikeable and very similar.

7. The ‘drama’ is awful, Corinne Grant and Adam Hills have zero chemistry and you don’t believe for a second that they went out.

8. They admitted they started shooting without finishing the script and it shows.

9. Very poorly directed. Some scenes have documentary style shaky cam, some have traditional set shots but with weird cut aways to actors saying nothing and looking blanks, probably indicating a lack of coverage. Strange use of crane shots when actors a sitting in an empty theatre for no apparent reason other than GNW having the crane in place for the Gala.

9. The ‘plot’ in unbelievable. In episode one Brough’s character laments that he isn’t on at the gala and as such will not sell tickets to his show. The other characters act like this is the end of the world and he will never get on at such short notice. In the next scene a phone call has been made and he is performing at the gala.

10. There are strange music choices. i.e original music with lyrics by the boring one from the Gadflys playing in the background that make it hard to concentrate on the dialogue.

11. No actual comedy performing shown. So it’s a ‘comedy’ about characters who are comedians who talk about comedy but you don’t get to see the characters perform. This is fine if it was a traditional narrative show but it’s cut up like a sketch show where the same boring characters are drinking together in a different location in each scene. You have very little idea about what they are like either as people or comedians. You could swap their lines around for the most part and there would be little difference.

12. The insider machinations of the comedy industry appears much more interesting in theory than in practice.

I like most of the people involved as performers, some of them I’ve been watching for over 10 years as a live comedy fan. I also don’t mind GNW’s shows. They introduced me to a lot of live comedy. This is looks like something made by someone who has never directed or written anything before. It’s that bad. Really it’s an absolute car crash. The only thing I don’t understand is how they didn’t realise it and put it in a draw forever.

2014
08.06

How many more times can it go on? How many more examples of the same thing can we put up with before a nation finally says “enough”. It’s just the same thing over and over and over again, repeated with a relentless monotony, lacking fresh insights and wit, providing nothing but the same dull feeling of having the same buttons pressed again and again and again to ever diminishing results.

We speak, of course, of our reviews of the work of Hamish & Andy. You’re sick of reading them, we’re sick of writing them: what more is there to say? Wait, we’re not making the same joke again: seriously, what more can we say about a series that just does the same things over and over again in different locations in front of different bemused locals?

So we weren’t surprised that the final episode of Hamish & Andy’s South American Gap Year was just more eating zany stuff and crossing large bodies of water in wacky contraptions – they even showed footage from previous series to make sure we knew these failed water crossings were “a thing”. Great. We always knew the one thing Titanic needed was more laughs.

We’re not saying these shows aren’t amusing enough for what they are; the double act of Hamish “the wacky irreverent one” and Andy “the slightly more serious and exasperated one” still works fine, and throwing them into various situations where one of them can delight in the suffering of the other is a reliable way to exploit their dynamic. But c’mon.

It’s not even like they’re such skilled comedians they can afford to rest on their laurels. Having Hamish bring along a copy of Usain Bolt’s biography to read from during their attempt to walk (via a giant inflatable plastic toilet roll) up the Amazon was hardly sure-fire comedy gold. It was obviously there as the ‘emergency’ joke if nothing else worked out – and luckily there was enough falling overboard and having the tube slowly deflate to keep things interesting – but it just wasn’t much of a joke.

On the one hand, Hamish & Andy are clearly playing to their strengths with all this: they’re good at improv, they have a good dynamic, they’re charming enough to get people watching. But those skills aren’t enough to base a television show on by themselves, and so they roam the globe doing the same pranks and stunts over and over in different locations because to do anything else seems beyond them.

At this stage we don’t know how to feel about this. Once we thought Hamish & Andy could do better; we got a few laughs out of their series Real Stories. But these days it’s become clear that this is their level, and when they stop doing Gap Year they’ll just drift off to host some kind of crazy game show or other equally forgettable gig. Or more likely just stay on radio forever; it’s not like it feels like they have any ambitions beyond palling around for 30 second bursts between commercials.

Maybe this is where commercial comedy is these days. Maybe television is just some unobtainable venue for scripted comedy and the best you can hope for if you get there is to run your one successful idea into the ground. It’s bizarre to think they’ve peaked when all they’re currently doing is wandering around going “wow, isn’t it weird that these people eat this stuff”, but after what, six series of the same show? This is as good as it’s ever going to get.

2014
08.05

Remember this?

Charlie Pickering’s final episode of The Project, after nearly five years at the desk, has aired on TEN, surrounded by family and the Project office staff…. Pickering is set to fly to the US to join his wife Sarah, while the show welcomes Wil Anderson as a guest host this week.

Which is why we were a little puzzled over this:

Charlie Pickering is back on The Project tonight as the show celebrates its 5th birthday.

But TEN advises he will also guest co-host the show until mid-August. That’s despite his grand exit -and very long farewell speech- in April.

But then we remembered this:

On-set blow-ups are a part of life when it comes to putting a live news and entertainment show to air five nights a week, according to The Project’s executive producer Craig Campbell.

But he denies that one such blow up was the catalyst for one of the Channel Ten show’s stars, Charlie Pickering, to quit.

”We have blow-ups all the time. I have them with everyone,” Campbell told PS this week, hosing down rumours of a showdown he and Pickering had last month while the show was being shot in Sydney.

”It’s part of being a member of a creative team that produces live television five nights of the week … We are under immense pressure. It comes with the territory. We are all very passionate people.”

Rumours have circulated throughout Channel Ten that Pickering himself had a rather ”combative” approach to dealing with the producers and staff on The Project.

PS approached Pickering’s management to discuss the rumours directly with him but he has not responded.

Campbell told PS: ”There are always creative differences. It’s just a part of this business. I’m sure there will be plenty more creative differences in the future.

”But there was absolutely no problem with Charlie. He has done an amazing job over the past five years … He graciously agreed to stick around a bit longer than he had originally planned.”

Rumours that some of the 40-odd staff working on the show had gone on ”stress leave” because of internal clashes were also ”off the mark”, said Campbell.

And we decided it wasn’t so much of a mystery after all.

 

*edit* And then last night there was this:

“I don’t know why you’re getting so angry, just like Steve,” Carrie Bickmore told Pickering after one news item. “Just enjoy it.”

“No we’re very different,” Pickering insisted. “Very different. I’m not like Steve. You take that back!

“No I will not ‘Move on’ voice-in-my-ear,” he told production crew.

“We’re like chalk and a completely different type of chalk.”

Which kind of suggests someone stopped giving a shit quite a while ago.