Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Any Questions For Tom?

Are you a fan of Tom Gleeson? Is Tom Gleeson the reason why you watched every episode of The Weekly? Do you have fond memories of the days when he used to promote himself as “the ginger ninja”? Do you have the best-of DVD of Skithouse so you can rewatch the best of his “Australian Fast Bowler” sketches? Do you own a copy (preferably signed) of his book Playing Poker with the SAS, in which he recounts his adventures delivering comedy to the Australian armed forces serving in the Middle East? Do you find him funny? Do you find him really funny? Do you find him so funny you’ll watch a show simply because he’s in it so of course it’s going to be funny? If that’s the case you’re still shit out of luck because Hard Quiz is arse.

Hard Quiz is a show where the very first contestant is introduced with “expert topic: flags”. Sure, flags are interesting, what with the way they flap around in the wind and have patterns and logos on them and… ah, fuck this for a joke. This is prime time entertainment on a national broadcaster in 2016? Someone answering questions about fucking flags? Thank God someone else is an expert on “The Brat Pack”, otherwise oh wait the rage is still building. “Expert topic: Doctor Who” Of course it is.

“Welcome to hard quiz – the quiz is hard to do, and I give everyone a hard time”. Wow, there’s two things right there we have no interest whatsoever in watching. Fortunately, Gleeson is lying: the quiz is not hard to do, as it’s basically general knowledge questions based on the contestant’s chosen subject. If you know nothing about the topics chosen, rejoice: you’re going to have a few random bits of context free information thrown at you. Bet you’re feeling smarter already.

[We’re going to get technical for a moment so feel free to skip ahead to later paragraphs where we say mean things about Tom Gleeson]

The trouble with “comedy” quiz shows that involve the general public is that if they’re to have any hope of being funny they have to avoid making fun of the general public. Anyone seeing a problem here?

Comedy, generally speaking, boils down in part to power dynamics. People with less power or status making fun of more powerful people is funny; reverse it and it’s bullying. On a regular quiz show, the host has the power because they’re the host – even more so if the host is an experienced stand-up comedian who’s on-air persona involves him being a bit of a dick. If the host is ruthlessly mocking regular folk, that’s not funny: anyone seeing a problem here?

Fortunately the creators of Hard Quiz are not idiots, and Gleeson largely confines himself to gentle ribbing of the regular folk. Unfortunately the creators are also not geniuses, and so we still have a show where the big comedy hook is meant to be Gleeson making fun of the contestants. Only he can’t, because that’d be bullying. Only he has to, because otherwise this is a bog-standard quiz show without the ramshackle charm of The Einstein Factor, which was crap.

This isn’t rocket science: you simply can’t have a funny quiz show where regular folk answer proper quiz show questions. Comedy doesn’t work like that. You might get occasional funny moments, but unless you either have a): professional funny people answering or b): a format that is designed to be funny (you know, It’s a Knockout), it doesn’t matter what you put in because you are not getting funny out. Which in a way is good news because this is a show where people answer questions about flags.

But what about Tom Gleeson? Here’s a question Hard Quiz constantly poses yet never gets around to answering: why get a guy whose comedy act has basically been a): I’m a smart arse, and b): I’m a dumb guy who acts like a smart arse, to host a quiz show? A smart arse hosting a quiz show just looks like a fucking prick: it’s easy to be a smart arse when you’re holding all the answers.

So again, the good news is that Gleeson is not an idiot, and he largely dials down his usual act for something more avuncular and gentle –  he’s basically a DFO Tom Gleisner. But the question remains unanswered: why get Gleeson to do a job that largely requires him to not act like presumably popular comedy figure “Tom Gleeson”? Did the ABC lose Lawrence Mooney’s number, because this is the kind of thing he – and literally dozens of other comedians – are better at and better known for.

“When I was a kid, I was scared of Doctor Who. Now I’m just scared of people who like Doctor Who”. And now we get to the third big reason why Hard Quiz is shit: who wants to watch a show where you’re mocked for knowing stuff about a subject? Is there a secretly huge idiot audience for quiz shows who tune in simply to see smart people fail? And if so, why not get on legitimately smart people (rather than regular people the audience is presumably meant to identify with) so their failures actually mean something?

Clearly we’re overthinking it, because Hard Quiz – a comedy quiz show that features the notoriously unfunny “fast money” and “mastermind” style segments if you get far enough into it – isn’t really a comedy quiz show at all. It’s just a regular slow-paced, dull as fuck quiz show that by week three will be hosted by Tom Gleeson playing someone utterly indistinguishable from any other game show host.

Here’s our Hard Quiz: why is this on in prime time instead of buried somewhere where it can gain a cult following? Why is it named after a forgettable segment on the ABC’s least successful news satire of 2016? Why is it pretty much the same quiz show format that’s been running since the mid-50s when the ABC’s big imported quiz show hits – QI and Would I Lie To You – are shows where funny people answer questions in funny ways? Why, if they absolutely had to make a quiz show that was completely forgettable, didn’t they come up with a better hook than “snarky guy is snarky host”? Why would anyone come back to watch this for a second week?

Oh right, we forgot about hate-watching. See you same time next week!


Line? Line?

Press release time!

Media Release: Monday October 17, 2016

Whose Line Is It Anyway? Australia

Premieres November 27 only on The Comedy Channel

Foxtel’s local version of the much-loved comedy series, Whose Line Is It Anyway? Australia will launch exclusively on The Comedy Channel Sundays from November 27 at 7.30pm.

Whose Line Is It Anyway? Australia is a fresh and fun take on the popular original series’ from the UK and the US with a fantastic mix of experienced and new improv performers. Expect the unexpected when the quick-witted cast tackle the various improv challenges thrown at them each week.

Host Tommy Little is joined by seven exciting and talented ensemble cast members – comedy superstar Rhys Darby, stand-up festival favourites Cal Wilson, Tegan Higginbotham and Susie Youssef, along with world-class improviser Steen Raskopoulos, and newcomers Bridie Connell and Tom Walker.

In each of the ten episodes four of the cast will perform improv sketches together thrown at them by host Tommy Little and suggestions from the audience with no-one knowing where they will end up. The performers get themselves into insane situations with improv challenges often demanding singing and dancing – but most importantly they must deliver the jokes. The host then awards various amounts of points – that don’t even matter – to the best players and funniest sketches.

Ten-part series Whose Line Is It Anyway? Australia was filmed in front of a live audience in Melbourne with house band led by Kit Warhurst. Whose Line Is It Anyway? Australia is Executively Produced by Kevin Whyte, Guesswork Television, and Craig Campbell, +61 TV exclusively for Foxtel. The Australian series premieres Sundays from November 27 at 7.30pm only on The Comedy Channel.

Eh, it’s kinda hard to get all that excited about this – despite what the press release says, “fun and fresh” does not seem to be the words to use about this revival of a “much-loved” format – but in a way that’s kind of the point. The Australian television comedy ecosystem is so threadbare that it’s constantly having to re-introduce the most basic elements required for survival, and in this case that means a cheap and cheerful improv show where just maybe someone will catch fire and grab the public’s imagination. Or perhaps just literally catch fire, we don’t know what kind of improv games they have planned.

Just because there’s almost nothing to get excited about here doesn’t mean reviving Whose Line is it Anyway? is a bad thing; far from it. This is exactly the kind of basic comedy program Australia needs to be making three or four times a year if we’re ever going to find people who can work their way up the television ladder and eventually create something that isn’t part of the current ABC line-up.

It’s just not something that, the presence of a house band aside, we’re currently champing at the bit to watch.



New Beginnings in Rosehaven and Upper Middle Bogan-land

You can see the logic in sandwiching Rosehaven between Upper Middle Bogan and The Last Laugh – established, popular favourites help launch the newcomer – problem is, unfamiliar, slow-paced Rosehaven’s such a contrast to the well-established characters and fast-moving storylines of Upper Middle Bogan that it looks less good than it possibly is. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell after just one episode.

Upper Middle Bogan starts with the Brights moving to a much-anticipated new home which Danny has designed. This is his meisterwerk, a house of such architectural brilliance that an import only magazine is coming to interview him about it. But when the rest of the family finally clap eyes on it, Danny’s minimalist dream home quickly goes from much-anticipated to irritating, wanky laughing stock to something each member of the family thinks they can improve upon, with amusing results.

By the end, the house is almost a character in its own right. Something that along with Brianna’s quest to get onto reality TV with her partner Younis should provide laughs-a-plenty for the rest of the series. In contrast, Rosehaven, like the sleepy rural town it’s set in, took a more relaxed pace when it came to setting up characters, plots and laughs for the future.

When we meet best friends Emma and Daniel, they’re about to move out of their shared flat in inner-city Melbourne as she gets married and he moves back to his hometown in rural Tasmania to help out at his Mum’s run real estate agency. They’re both full of hope and optimism for their new lives, but within days, possibly within hours, of Emma’s Bali honeymoon kicking off, she realises she’s made a mistake and, not keen to face her family just yet, she flies to Tasmania and surprises Daniel just as he’s coming to terms with the fact that he’s back in the rural town he gleefully escaped a decade ago, trying to run a small business that he doesn’t know how to run. Oh, and some of his Mum’s tenants used to bully him at school, and he really doesn’t know how to deal with them.

As a set-up to a fish-out-of-water sitcom goes, this is textbook. Except, sometimes, it’s hard to know where this is heading and who the main players are. The townsfolk we meet are the standard mix of mildly eccentric rurals, but we don’t spend long enough with them to get a sense of whether we’ll meet them again or not. Similarly, Emma and Daniel are pretty nothing characters. Sure, they have a lot of smart ‘n’ sassy US-comedy-type exchanges, but it’s difficult to get sense of why they’re such good friends. This isn’t Seachange inland or Housos gone rural (phew!) but perhaps it would be better if it was: at least those shows were good at establishing themselves in episode 1.

Will Rosehaven sustain interest over the coming weeks? Hard to tell. But as first episodes go this wasn’t a stand-out. And, consequently, episode two doesn’t feel like a must watch (although we will watch it). Upper Middle Bogan on the other hand, with its well-established character dynamics and good writing, is more than welcome back on our screens.

Kick to Kick

Press release time!

Footy season may be over but new ABC TV series is just warming up

Lisa McCune, John Howard and Vince Colosimo to join exciting new Indigenous cast

Tuesday, October 11, 2016 — ABC TV, Screen Australia and Film Victoria announced today that filming has commenced in Melbourne on THE WARRIORS, a provocative new 8 x 30’ Indigenous comedy drama series.

Created by Tony Briggs (The Sapphires) and Robert Connolly (Paper Planes, Barracuda), THE WARRIORS is set in the world of Australian Rules Football. It explores the elite world of professional sport through the eyes of two new recruits – plucked from obscurity to fame and fortune – and two established players as they are thrown together in a share house in Melbourne.

With temptation at every turn and a lot of football, there’s no guarantee these young men will run through the banner for the first game of the season.

After a nationwide casting search, 18 year old Gordan Churchill will make his acting debut as Maki, the number one draft pick.  Gordan was discovered in the remote Indigenous community of Warnum in the Kimberley Region.  The series also introduces WAAPA graduate Nelson Baker as Zane, the number five draft pick.

Lisa McCune is the team’s tireless communications manager, Vince Colosimo is Coach Mark ‘Spinner’ Spinotti charged with getting the wooden spooners back in finals contention.  Club president, footy legend Bill Shepherd, is played by John Howard, returning to the world of Australian Rules Football after starring in the 1980’s classic The Club.

Comedian Ben Knight is Scottie who is returning from his third knee reconstruction, and Reece Milne (Home and Away) plays Doc, the seasoned team-captain charged with showing the rookies the ropes. Newcomer Tasia Zalar is Zane’s sister Ava, who joins the boys to try out for the women’s league.

“What attracted us to this project was both the concept of following four mischievous footballers experiencing the highs, lows and often funny situations of life as an elite athlete, as well as the opportunity for Indigenous creatives to partner with highly regarded practitioners and accelerate along their career trajectory” said Penny Smallacombe, Head of Indigenous at Screen Australia.

“Film Victoria is delighted to be supporting the team behind The Warriors and also providing skills development opportunities for a number of Victorian Indigenous screen practitioners” said Jenni Tosi, CEO at Film Victoria.

“The Warriors is a wild ride that sees our characters teeter between temptation and dedication with the added layer of cross-cultural relations. It’s brilliant to be able to deal with this subject matter through a no-holds-barred comedy” said Sally Riley, the Head of Scripted Production.

THE WARRIORS is a landmark Australian television project, exclusively written and directed by some of the country’s finest Indigenous talent including Jon Bell (Cleverman), Tony Briggs (The Sapphires) and exciting newcomer Tracey Rigney.  Directed by Adrian Russell Wills (Wentworth), Beck Cole (Black Comedy), Steven McGregor (Croker Island Exodus, Redfern Now) and straight from a director’s attachment on Alien: Covenant with Ridley Scott – Catriona McKenzie (The Circuit, Redfern Now and The Gods of Wheat Street).  Produced by Arenamedia with John Harvey.

THE WARRIORS will air on ABC in 2017.

Obviously this is very good news. Australia (and the ABC) needs more local production, the concept sounds halfway decent* and the talent behind it is strong – we’ll be there opening night for sure. But is it good comedy news?

Putting aside the fact it’s hard to know if it came through the comedy department – “Sally Riley, the Head of Scripted Production” oversees scripted Comedy, but also Fiction, Children’s and Indigenous (which she used to run, and where she was involved in Black Comedy, Gods of Wheat Street, 8MMM Aboriginal Radio, Redfern Now and Cleverman) – this seems a lot closer to the ABC’s lengthy tradition of lightweight drama than it does something that’s actually all that hilarious.

You know what we mean: the lead is basically played straight while the more occasional the role the nuttier the character becomes. It’s a story where a fish out of water is constantly doing that “comedy react” thing as they are plunged into a crazy world full of knockabout comedy characters. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be impressed at the way it tackles important issues, etc.

“But geez, Tumbleweeds,” we hear you ask, “they literally describe it as a “no-holds-barred-comedy” – what more do you ungrateful bastards want?” Um, maybe a production team with a track record in comedy? Tony Briggs and Robert Connolly have made and appeared in more than their fair share of decent drama and they’re a large part of the reason why we’ll be tuning in but comedy? The Sapphires had Judith Lucy, but past that…

We’ll say it again because we know our rep as haters often means people don’t bother to read everything we write: this looks like an exciting production and it’s one we’re excited about. But c’mon: if you’re making a “comedy drama”, don’t then go on to call it a “no-holds-barred-comedy”. And if you think promoting a lightweight drama as a comedy is the best way to get people excited about a show, why don’t you just make more comedies?



*this’ll be a good test of a theory held by one of us that the reason why Australia loves sport but seems largely disinterested in dramas (or comedies, or quiz shows) about sport is because a): the people who love sport can simply just watch actual sport (and shows looking behind the scenes at sport), and b): the people who don’t love sport have so much sport rammed down their throats simply by living in Australia that they have zero interest in watching a drama or comedy about sport.


The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow

Anyone else noticed that Australian television comedy has been close to stone dead over the last month or so? Sure, HYBPA? keeps on ticking and Soul Mates popped up there for a while but otherwise? Very quiet indeed. And when there’s no comedy there’s not much to write about, as our collection of increasingly erratic and barely on-topic posts over the period has no doubt shown.

As for why things have been so grim, well, it’s always a very minor pleasure when we’re proven right about something, but it seems like we may have been on the money when we pointed out that the ABC’s comedy output in 2015 was being bolstered by shows – 8MMM and Maximum Choppage come to mind, though Please Like Me probably counts too – that were originally scheduled for ABC2, and that when they ran out in 2016 the cupboard was going to look very bare indeed.

Without those shows, and with an understandable programming strategy of grouping their original comedy output into blocks so they’ll boost each others ratings, and without any cheap & cheerful series they can let run for three or four months – remember How Not to Behave? Dirty Laundry Live? – it seems that the ABC at current funding levels simply can’t afford to keep up a consistent comedy presence throughout the year.

Though speaking of funding models, some good news:

The first comedy from the ABC Comedy Showroom to win a full season is Ronny Chieng: International Student.

It will air on both ABC and Comedy Central in the US.

Chieng, currently a correspondent on The Daily Show, revealed the news in a podcast with the UK’s Des Bishop.

Asked about his background as an immigrant to Australia, he said, “Tune it to ABC or Comedy Central US. June 2017. My new series addresses it.”

We’re pretty excited about this, as we were big fans of the pilot:

Is It Funny? We laughed a lot. Ronny Chieng’s got a good eye for highlighting stupidity and pomposity, and this compliments Declan Fay’s spot-on skewering of Aussie bloke culture (always one of our favourite elements of The Sweetest Plum).

Should It Get A Series? There’s a lot of potential for a series, here, with Ronny and his gang of the fish-out-of-water international students pitted against the poshos, baffled by Aussie culture and student traditions, and running into a variety of other weird and wonderful university characters. We’d like to see more from Anthony Morgan’s wrestling-obsessed law professor, and Felicity Ward’s postgraduate student, driven so mad by her research that she doesn’t seem to have left the library for years, but mainly we like this because it’s one of the best piss-takes of university life and Aussie culture we’ve seen for a long time.

And we’re also not that surprised that it seems to be a co-production with Comedy Central, which is usually code for “the US is stumping up all the cash to actually make it”:

Comedy Showcase only went to air as a way for the ABC comedy department to get cheap programming by airing pilots: after two years of Fresh Blood – the winners of which all seem to basically be financed by the online arm of US networks, which tells you how much actual investment the ABC is putting into making new comedy – why would they run a totally separate competition to find a completely new show they’d then have to pay money to make?

(that said, if a US network decided they wanted to put money into any one of those pilots the same way they did Please Like Me or Soul Mates, then we’d see them on air in a heartbeat)

So we’re a little torn. It’s great news that the best of the Comedy Showcase pilots is actually going to series (though what happened to the audience voting side of things that was supposedly part of the deal?), but what if the best pilot had turned out to be from a comedian who wasn’t already working for a US network? Would we still have seen their show getting the thumbs up, or are we in a place where without US money the ABC simply can’t afford to greenlight new comedy series?

Because that doesn’t seem very funny at all.


The Return of Bazura

Ok, so it’s not all-new episodes of the much-loved movie-based comedy program The Bazura Project, but it’s close: the Bazura team have finally got their website up and running and it’s a doozy.

We shouldn’t be surprised really. The Bazura Project always was a show that took a fairly obsessive view of a subject much-loved by obsessives, and the fact they never got to put a DVD out back when just about every other Australian comedy – even fellow Channel 31 stablemates like The Shambles and… that quiz show comedy where they gave away meals from a food truck or something… is a real shame. Commentary tracks!

This website goes a very long way towards making up for that lack. We’re fairly sure that “making-of” clip about how they did the opening credits to their “Guide to Sinema” (their ABC2 series and the only one not hosted on their site) is all new. Plus there’s enough behind-the-scenes stuff – not to mention all the episodes we only ever saw in blurry crap-o-vision because C31 reception was rubbish where we were a decade ago (by which we mean, a decade ago we were in an Australia without digital television) – to keep everyone but the most hardcore of fans stumbling over new (to them) clips.

Old movie news and reviews of old movies may not be your thing. We’re not entirely sure it’s our thing and we bought a copy of the collected reviews of Anthony Lane from a $2 book shop (it’s great toilet reading, seriously). But there’s also a whole lot of jokes and the thrill of watching a show get steadily better (or worse if you watch the episodes in reverse order). Also, it’s free Australian comedy and you can never have too much of that.

So that’s five stars from me David, which is also the most annoying film-related “joke” in Australian culture.



Love Gone Wrong

The Wrong Girl, aka Channel Ten’s latest attempt to force drama and comedy to breed together, is probably the closest the network is going to get to a sitcom any time soon. Lacking the dramatic heft of Offspring – c’mon, John Edwards and Asha Keddie are basically the Scorsese and Streep of Australian TV drama – or the quirky plotting of Mr & Mrs Murder, story-wise this is chick lit by the numbers. Our heroine falls over twice in the first ninety seconds; we’ve got nothing against pratfalls but maybe space them out a little, ok?

That’s not to say we didn’t get a laugh or two out of the first episode. “Based on an original book by Zoe Foster” was a pretty good one, considering the whole set-up – bubbly yet also deep blonde heroine works on a television show while torn between two suitors – struck the one of us who’s read Bridget Jones’ Diary as somewhat familiar. But familiar is what people want from these kinds of stories: it’s the little things that make genre novels work, the details around the edges of a safely predictable scenario.

So good news! If you live in Melbourne’s inner west you’re going to love the way this authentically re-creates the train trip from Yarraville Station to North Melbourne (presumably the TV station our heroine works at is based in Docklands, though in that case Southern Cross Station is closer), even if it does look like they maybe fudged the stop at Footscray (too hard to film there without getting stabbed). It’s this kind of accurate detail that can turn an average show into a winner. Did you know that The Wog Boy was also filmed in Yarraville? Now that’s a comedy pedigree to be proud of.

The first taste of actual comedy – aside from hilarious pratfalls, of course – comes around six minutes in, where our heroine Lily Woodward (Jessica Marais) a): delivers a rant about the evils of “manspreading” on public transport, then b): takes a bunch of photos of the offending manspreader and gets sprung by a couple of ticket inspectors. She then gets a ticket. The show moves on. Is manspreading really that funny that it deserves to be the first comedy bit in the first episode of a show that’s largely being sold as containing comedy?

Also, we totally get that a big part of the appeal of chick lit is that the heroine has a super-cool fantasy job which somehow also contains loads of totally relatable angst, but having the lead in a sad sack funk at the very start of your show because she’s going to have to produce a cooking segment for breakfast television sounds like, as they say, “one of those good problems”. Sure, she’s got to be bummed out now so that when the chef turns out to be a stud we get a hilarious comedy reversal, but still: “woe is me, my job making television is slightly onerous because they wouldn’t greenlight my segment about female labour around the world” feels like a sentence with at least one too many points where your lead sounds like a stupid whinger. A performance that’s around 30% pouting doesn’t help.

But you know, that’s just bad writing and things can always get better. “We’re best friends, we can tell each other anything” is not a great line; putting it just after the best friends have shagged just makes Lily seem like a hefty bag stuffed with whatever dumb actions the writers see necessary to jerk the plot along. It’s not even that “the besties just shagged and now things are totes awkward” is a bad idea, though really it kind of is when you put it right at the start of your first episode so we’ve barely had a chance to see them together as friends before the status quo goes out the window; having our heroine then fly off the handle and demand he goes home is… actually, it’s kind of consistent characterisation, considering how we just mentioned her career woes are only woes if she’s an idiot.

Before we continue, here’s a question: what kind of television show goes to the trouble to accurately portray Melbourne’s public transport system but then figures “sure, breakfast television producers get up at 7.10am every morning”? Seriously, we don’t know if this is genius – of course you want to get the details your viewers actually know about correct – or just a sign that the producers don’t actually know what people find interesting. “Train timetables or how television gets made… they’re both as exciting as each other, right?”

[hey, do they still sell “music from the hit TV series” CDs? Because this crams so many “hit tracks” into the first fifteen minutes we figured they either got the music in bulk or had a sweet CD deal lined up]

Still, this is not a show that’s completely without redeeming features. The cast! They’re pretty good, especially the broader comedy characters (her parents, the TV show’s hosts). The central trio are generally solid too, even without any strong chemistry in week one; it’s totally possible to see them growing into characters that are both likable and funny, which is more than you can say for a lot of dramedy casts. There’s the occasional smart moment in the script too – the bit about using lemons to get into a nightclub was surprising and plausible in a way that most Australian television is not – which gives us hope that things might get better.

Because as this stands this just has a few too many rough edges to be considered a success. The viewers didn’t exactly flock either: it only pulled in 684,000 people nationwide, which wasn’t great even with pretty much all of SA plunged into darkness. It’s the kind of show that seems perfectly serviceable just so long as you don’t look too closely (as we’ve been doing). The problem with making that kind of television in 2016 is that the only people left watching television are the ones who are actually paying attention – everyone else is off checking social media.

And if there’s one thing people aren’t talking up on social media, it’s The Wrong Girl.



The Heat is On

It’s been a long time coming, but that Working Dog animated series announced back in 2014 is finally within sight – especially if you’re the kind of person who’s okay with illegal downloads (and we don’t mean the Get This CD):

Netflix is amping up its animated slate with a new comedy, “Pacific Heat,” hailing from award-winning Australian company Working Dog ProductionsVariety has learned exclusively.

The series, which landed a 13-episode order for its initial season, will debut on Netflix Dec. 2 in the United States, Canada, the U.K. and Ireland. In Australia, the television partner is Foxtel and the series will premiere in late 2016.

“Pacific Heat” follows the exploits of a dynamic unit of undercover police investigators working on the glitzy Gold Coast of Australia. The glamorous, sophisticated and sun-drenched paradise masks a hot-bed of crime — everyone from drug smugglers and biker gangs to eco-terrorists and the person who invented frozen yogurt — and in order to tackle this seedy underbelly, police established a covert squad of highly-trained operatives, known as Pacific Heat. When criminals strike, the squad will be there in an unconventional and uncompromising manner, and not afraid to operate outside the law — provided at least one of them is wearing a fluorescent safety vest.

The good news is, this sounds a lot like an animated version of their numerous very funny 80s-and-90s era radio “dramas” like Johnny Swank and the adapted-for-TV Funky Squad.

Sitch says that “Pacific Heat,” at its heart, is a satire on cop shows. He jokes the idea came about because “two decades ago, we laughed that we didn’t think they could think of another cop show…We sat down one day and we almost got down to 100 with the number of shows we’ve drawn from.”

In terms of tone, Sitch says, “You could throw in ‘The A-Team,’ ‘Hawaii Five-0’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels.’” And in terms of viewership, though the series is animated, like “South Park” and “Family Guy,” the show is made for adults. But Sitch believes it will have a mass appeal.

“We, in a way, made this for adults, but we know that if you make something for adults, a 12-year-old boy will get it,” he says with a laugh. “If you make it for adults, one of the groups that will enjoy it is teenagers.”

The bad news is, Archer has been mining this kind of turf for what, eight years now? And while no doubt it’ll be a different show – if you can dig up copies of Working Dog’s old radio serials it’s well worth your time and they make it pretty clear that their silly rapid-fire approach is more about straight-up jokes than Archer‘s character comedy – the fact that to the casual viewer it looks similar is going to be a problem. Then again, who even thought Archer would still be going now? Two years ago it looked like it was on its last legs and yet here we are, worried it’s going to cut the lunch of a silly Working Dog cop parody.

It’ll also be interesting to see just how big a gap there is between December 2nd and “late 2016”. You’d have to think Foxtel wouldn’t want to sit on their hands for long – it’s not like Australians don’t know their way around a torrent site and at least some of the audience for this is going to be hard core comedy nerds *cough* who aren’t going to wait around to check out a new Working Dog product. It’s not like those guys are going to still have Foxtel a year after Open Slather died.

But you know, maybe taking out a subscription might be worth it this time. Rob Sitch doing his “pompous guy” voice? That’s got to be worth $50 a month.

Australian Tumbleweeds on Howard on Menzies

It’s easy to be cynical about the term “event television”, largely because the event in question is usually a rose ceremony or some sport, but it’s hard to deny that Howard on Menzies has been an event. Love them or loathe them, Robert Menzies and his gushing admirer John Howard strode large across the Australian political stage in their days. And even now, little Johnny can’t catch the tram or walk through a university campus without being mobbed by selfie-seekers. If only Mad As Hell was on air now to parody it some more.

Shot more than a year ago, Howard on Menzies has sat on the shelf while we got our latest Liberal leadership spill and federal election out of the way, presumably to ensure Howard did a sit down with the current PM. In the meantime, we’ve been treated to a promotional campaign for this series that’s gone almost as long as the American Presidential campaign. Or at least it seems like that. When did Micallef start parodying it? June? That’s a long pre-promotion period for two hours of television.

You’re probably wondering why we’re talking about it. It’s not a comedy. Well, not an intentional one. Here’s our justification: since the days when TV’s top satirist was Max Gillies, John Howard has been a laughing stock. Little Johnny, geeky, baldy guy with a nasal voice, big glasses, and even bigger eyebrows. Your classic 1980’s friendless-nerd, dumped by his party only to rise again, defeat Paul Keating, and spend more than a decade as Prime Minister, providing endless material for the likes of Martin/Molloy, Clarke & Dawe, Shaun Micallef and numerous others. Put it this way, it was hard to watch Howard crapping on about Doc Evatt and “the Labor party” and not add one of the Get This’ Aaaaarrrggghhh’s.

When event television happens, or a major national event, we need and want our home-grown comedians to take the piss out of it. But where were they? Micallef’s on a break, Clarke & Dawe focused on other things, and even Charlie Pickering was nowhere to be seen. If you’re looking for an actual parody of some of this series’ many mock-able moments, you’ve (largely) had to do it yourself.

Here’s something we’d like to have seen: someone nailing exactly what it is that Rupert Murdoch looks like now he’s ditched the spectacles. A 1980’s Transformer? Darth Vader? Either way, he looks shockingly weird these days, and that’s even comparing him to fellow Howard on Menzies talking head Clive James, WHO’S DYING OF CANCER!!!

Speaking of Clive James, and for that matter, Barry Humphries and Thomas Keneally, since when have that generation of our cultural commentators been fans of Menzies? Didn’t most of them leave the country because the Menzies era was notoriously one that stifled creativity and new ideas? Are we alone in suspecting there was some rather tight editing of what they had to say?

Oh, and that bit where Howard pointed out that it was Menzies, not Whitlam who was responsible for free university education…uuummm…bullshit. The Menzies government may have dished out lots of scholarships, but Whitlam’s government abolished university fees altogether. So, yeah, this wasn’t exactly a dispassionate look at Sir Bob.

We did enjoy Howard’s poor TV presenting skills, though. And whoever came up with sticking him in front of a fisheye lens that made him look like his own Rubbery Figures puppet, we salute you! It’s the most laughs we’ve got out of a camera effect for ages.

So, yeah… Howard on Menzies was far from a comedy, but it wasn’t exactly lacking in laughs either. We just wish there was a crack squad of satirists on TV right now to amplify them.

Movement at the Station

Here’s all we know: No Activity is returning to Stan with new episodes on October 26th. As the press release says:

Rose Byrne and Damon Herriman join Patrick Brammall, Darren Gilshenan, Genevieve Morris,  Harriet Dyer, Dan Wyllie and David Field for more action, more romance, more… well, just more sitting around.

We weren’t exactly massive fans of the first series, but that was mostly because it largely passed us by – hey, it was on Stan, a television channel you have to pay money up front to watch, which puts it near the bottom of our viewing options – rather than because we didn’t like what we saw.

This time around we’ve vowed to change our ways and give it the attention it deserves. Which for this blog means at least a handful of rambling posts talking about “laughs” like they were some kind of quantifiable unit of measurement.

Oh, it also seems that Hard Quiz starts October 19th at 8pm on ABC1. A comedy quiz show! It’s like it’s 2011 all over again.