Some shows come to us on a clear wave of passion and enthusiasm. Others arrive as the result of extensive product-testing and marketing. And then there’s Agony Uncles, which looks like the winner of a competition to come up with the cheapest possible programming alternative to running a photo of Tony Jones for half an hour.
Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem, what with comedy often thriving under conditions where “cheap and shoddy” would be a compliment. But despite a tagline of “When you have absolutely no-one else to turn to” and an on-line description of “Confessional. Illuminating. Inappropriate. Wrong.” Agony Uncles isn’t really a comedy. What it is, is EXACTLY what it looks like: a bunch of male actors and comedians mostly in their 20s and 30s giving out advice about women and relationships.
See, from the aforementioned publicity we thought they’d be playing characters – or maybe just exaggerated versions of themselves – telling funny stories and giving over-the-top and just plain bad advice to comedic effect. No. These guys are giving the kind of vague, bland “honest” advice you’d expect to hear from guys down the pub. And like guys down the pub, their advice is not that interesting when you’re sober and utterly useless once you’re drunk.
Just to give you the gist from tonight’s episode, it seems that opening up emotionally to a woman early on is bad. Pick-up lines are lame, but they often work. Women are attracted to the pheromones of a male, and also money and power (if you’re John Elliot). The supermarket is a good place to pick up. A woman’s relationship with her father is an important guide to how she’ll be with a man. Women over 35 who’ve never married you should avoid. Also avoid psychos, but the sex can be great. Married guys are bang up for gay sex. Crack onto the hot girl’s ugly friend to make her jealous. Wingmen are really handy, unless they aren’t. It’s more masculine to call a girl than text. Landlines were bad for romantic calls because you’d always get their dad. John Elliot won’t date people from the Labor Party. Okay, that last one was kinda good.
Whether you find this stuff useful or not, it’s not really all that funny. Nor, about seventy percent of the time, is it trying to be, which makes the various promotional activities around this show feel a little like the ABC was handed an utterly pointless turd – and let’s be honest, this show has no point whatsoever unless you’re either a rabid Lawrence Mooney fan (he had an anecdote that was a firm highlight) or a fifteen year-old boy craving the kind of cliched advice that turns out to be completely crap in real life – and desperately tried to come up with an angle to lure people in for at least the first week.
Part of the problem is that most of these guys don’t do relationship comedy, so while a handful of the anecdotes are pretty funny, the bulk of this material is presented like it’s actually interesting on its own merits. Remember, this is a show that seems to think you need to be told that unmarried women over 35 are undatable and that texting a girl you like makes you less of a man.
A bigger part of the problem is that nobody in their right mind wants to hear a guy like Josh Lawson or Brett Tucker talk about how hard it is to pick up. These guys are movie stars and comedians and to be honest they’re all pretty easy on the eye; when it comes to meeting women (or men) none of these guys are on struggle street.
(ironically, creator and voice-over man Adam Zwar actually does have the comedy persona to make this “it’s hard out there” material work. Yet apart from some frankly mystifying shots of him at the start of episode one – seemingly taken from various earlier projects – he doesn’t appear on camera. And as a voice-over man he’s a great writer.)
But this show’s biggest problem is that, the occasional funny story aside, the actual advice here is the same old tired sexist junk everyone over the age of sixteen already knows. That’s not to say the “facts” they’re handing out aren’t actually applicable in the real world. But if you’re going to make a television show based around information on the level of “treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen”, you can’t simply present these insights as surprising and new. They’re not. Again, they could be an accurate reflection of the way things are between men and women, but if you’re going to trot out cliches and pass them off as entertainment you really have to add something new to the mix. This show doesn’t.
So there’s nothing new here, and what is here is nothing more than a bunch of Zwar’s mates talking to camera, intercut with old stock footage of men and women doing average things. Maybe if they were saying insanely entertaining things this would be a worthwhile half hour. Instead they’re just coming up with the kind of tripe you’d get from a “men’s columnist” in a Sunday tabloid. Occasionally smug, generally pointless, often annoying, sometimes insulting and in at least two cases a great way to make a formerly likable comedian seem like a bit of a tool, Agony Uncles is no help to anyone.