Check This Shit Oww-t

We all want to think of each television show that makes it to our screens as an individual work of art, generated by the creative people responsible as a response to the unknowable urges of their hearts. But let’s be honest: in much the same way as your local News Ltd newspaper is going to have at least one grumpy columnist who hates the Labor government, “political correctness” and any form of welfare not directed at people earning $60,000 or more, so too do television stations have various programming niches they want filled by anyone who happens to be handy.

This extends far beyond just news, sports and weather. Channel Ten, for example, has a regular “quality Australian drama” slot, hence in 2013 we get Offspring, Mr & Mrs Murder and Puberty Blues. Seven has had a “middlebrow Aussie drama” slot for well over a decade: remember Always Greener before Packed to the Rafters? And the ABC? Well, it seems they just can’t get enough of their semi-informative quasi-comedy current / consumer affairs shows.

All of which is a long-winded way of letting you know that The Checkout is basically Hungry Beast, but with consumer goods. Wait, or is it The Hamster Wheel, only with consumer goods? Maybe it’s The Gruen Transfer, only without smug advertising arseholes being condescending. Ah, you know what we mean.

It’s all here: flashy graphics, loads of general information you kind of already knew (what, computer printer companies make all their money from selling the ink cartridges and car companies rake it in big time by demanding you only use their garages to have your car serviced, AKA the “razor-and-blade” business model? SAY WHAAAAoh we knew that), specific takedowns of individual products, hosts trying to be earnest while winking at the camera to let you know that you shouldn’t get too worked up about all this outrageous capitalist activity, fake infomercials making fun of infomercials while being perfectly happy to use the infomercial format to get their message across, and clips from big names (providing yet more consumer advice. So yeah, Hungry Beast has risen from its grave and tattooed BRAND POWER across its knuckles.

But is it comedy? Well… kind of? In much the same way as Hungry Beast tried to reinvent news and current affair for a new generation only to realise that particular generation was busy getting all their news and current affairs from the internet, so does The Checkout try to reinvent consumer affairs – something that ACA and Today Tonight actually do moderately well – for the 21st Century. And by “reinvent” we mean “more ‘eye-catching’ flashy graphics, lots of short info-grabs, and jokes”. Consumer affairs is the kind of thing you’d image an ABC audience would be interested in, and appealing to “da yoof” is certainly something the ABC is interested in, so it’s win-win. Right?

Here we get “sketches” where people read out a letter about cat food being all the same (but with flashy graphics!); Julian Morrow asking people to create angry videoes about corporate bungling for “F-U-Tube”; fake ads about baby wipes pointing out that baby wipes are bad for babies; the repeated mentioning of the fact that advertising makes crazy, unlikely claims that we all swallow unthinkingly; the just as repeated mentioning of the fact that companies will re-brand identical products over and over to capture as wide (and as gullible) an audience as possible.  Worthy? You bet. Informative? Sure. Funny? Well… kind of?

Jokes about talking to camera and pranks about trying to get a company to adopt a slightly more dodgy product than the ones they’re already selling are Chaser 101. And if you were to think that this fairly straight consumer affairs show feels like a show with around 30% Chaser, 70% Hungry Beast in its blood, we wouldn’t argue with you. Is that value for your entertainment dollar? If you really care about consumer affairs, it’s worth a look. If you’re just looking for a laugh, the numerous references to the wording of various legal statutes and regulations aren’t exactly the dictionary definition of “kak-tastic”. But you do get to hear Julian Morrow get all shouty; you didn’t get that on The Unbelievable Truth.

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8 Comments

  • Billy C says:

    Just wait for the segment on planned obsolescence. I thought it was okay. Better than Hungry Beast because it had a consistent tone and purpose. Still it felt like it was telling me a bunch of stuff I already knew or didn’t really care about. The TPA segment could have been done seriously on a news channel and it would have served the same purpose.

  • Pete Hill says:

    I remember Always Greener. Like other Australian TV shows like Love is a Four Letter Word, The Alice and Mcloud’s Daughters, you know the show has jumped the shark and is on its last legs when one of the characters starts having conversations with a ghost. It will happen on Packed to the Rafters, you just wait, another major character will snuff it and then start appearing in the backyard and have deep and meaningfuls with one of the cast.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Let’s be honest Australian TV is never going to be genre defining/breaking because we
    a) Don’t have the talent e.g. Iannucci and co creating ‘The Thick of It’ out of seemingly nothing which brings us to point
    b)Don’t have money e.g ‘Modern Family’ which is able to pay a huge ensemble of moderately funny people to be hilariously funny together which brings us to point
    c)Don’t have the culture. Australia is boring- there is no internal conflict. The UK seems to have a battle with itself regarding class and high/low culture. The US is fighting between ‘freedom’ and a deep Puritanism. Australia has taken a bland middle option which let’s not be unhappy with this- it leads to a good life for most people. This however doesn’t create good art/entertainment.

    Is it a mistake that most of our ‘older’ comedians tend to be ex-professionals (or could easily become professionals) suffering from existential crises (in this regard the UK is similar)and ‘younger’ comedians who are marginalised minorities? Most of stand-ups are not like the stand-ups of the UK and US- white, 30-48, male and heterosexual.

    The only people causing mainstream ‘controversy’ are the ‘Sydney set’ radio commentators who despite being given a slice of heaven on earth still complain. And that comes from a deep conservatism even Sandilands.

    I look forward to writing for ‘The Age’ one day.

  • Jimbo says:

    Hey, I’m currently writing a sitcom (actually I’m working on two of them), AND I’m mega talented, even if I do say so myself. My sitcom is every bit as funny as The Thick Of It, although with a lot less swearing. What makes my sitcom so original is the following:

    1) It’s actually got jokes in it, and
    2) It DOESN’T have Toby Truslove in it, and
    3) There are no dick/arse/poo/dildo references

    So basically I have no hope of ever getting the ABC interested in it.

    Your c) point hits the nail on the head. The most difficult thing in creating a sitcom is the characters (jokes are the easy bit). It’s tres hard to create a neurotic and comically “big” (ie. someone who suffers extreme internal and external conflicts) Australian character. In the beginning I inadvertently created a whole bunch of George Costanza clones, but there can be only one George.

    Then I created some ordinary dinky-di Aussies, but they were as boring as batshit because in being ordinary Aussies they were always as happy as a dog with two dicks. And happy people are not funny people.

    I finally settled on a bunch of academic wankers who are basically only able to function in the environs of academia and government. The comedy comes from their attempts at interacting with normal people, and their being completely useless at doing anything productive. The problem is that my characters now resemble the very people who commission comedy at the ABC. Maybe the ABC are so stupid they won’t recognise themselves in my comic creations. Wish me luck!

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Oh god. I am tangentially familiar with working in academia but all too familiar with working in NSW state government. It was the most dysfunctional yet boring place to work. The stories, the people defy belief. That was the one thing TTOI didn’t quite get right was the malaise and some of the characterisation of the types of people who work there. Somebody like Malcolm would’ve been stabbed Ceaser like at the first opportunity. But I put it down to fiction, cultural and state vs national issues.

    I can help you write this. I’ve got time to help you save Australian comedy.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    “I finally settled on a bunch of academic wankers who are basically only able to function in the environs of academia and government. The comedy comes from their attempts at interacting with normal people, and their being completely useless at doing anything productive. ”

    You’ve got me bringing up a lot of repressed memories now. The thing is the people who I think you’re talking about can ‘interact’ with normal people much in the same way politicians interact with ‘normal people’. The truth is in work they rarely speak to ‘normal people’ and when they do they are smart enough to do this well and for short enough time without depth. Though they are unable at times to hide their condescension.

    What is more interesting (for me at least) was a sort of ‘luvvy’ speak when they’d meet counterparts in other departments, organisations etc. where even compliments were threats in disguise. ‘In the Loop’ does this very well- obvious cultural differences aside. Also on the other side was the sycophancy for ‘higher-ups’ was hilarious which wasn’t really shown in TTOI. There was always seemed to be a feeling of inadequacy (pay, power, intelligence) compared to the ‘private sector’ or the ‘old days’ and a bit disturbingly an undercurrent of sexual frustration.

    As for being ‘completely useless’ I hope you realise this is an institutional phenomenon both in academia and the public sector. The guys that end up working are like Glenn more than Ollie (though those guys are more frequent they get out when they realise they can’t get anywhere quickly) but also people who full well know that they’re not going to do much work but have job safety and a decent wage. Academics nowadays need to be able to prove they can do papers and research to get grants and funding. While TTOI correctly showed politics was lead by headlines rather than good policy by public servants.

  • Jimbo says:

    I’m glad there’s another fan of TTOI and In The Loop around here. In The Loop is the best comedy I’ve seen in a decade. You have to go back to The Life Of Brian and Yes, Minister to see such perceptive satire.

    Re the ‘completely useless’ phenomenon – I spent twenty years working for the gubmint (the big one; not some pissy wannabe state/territory government), so I know all about the type of people who end up staying. Several more years of electro-shock therapy will hopefully erase the painful memories I have.

    TTOI looks at the political/media spin aspect of government. I fantasize about joining forces with Armando Iannucci and doing a similar number on government. There is so much more material to satirize. The public only sees the spin aspect of politicians because that’s all the media has access to (or they don’t have the time to ferret out stuff using FOI). Very few outside the federal government really know what goes on inside it.

    Re the sycophancy – the most disgusting/disturbing thing I’ve ever seen in my life was the behaviour of a female deputy secretary when the minister once paid us a visit (it was always a thrill when the minister turned up because we got to fund extra special morning teas as an official expense). She was so grovelly I thought she was going to blow him in front of us.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    You know more than me.

    The most ‘urgh’ case I saw with my own eyes was when a manager essentially picked ‘out’ a girl (straight out of high school on some trainee program) as his PA (of sorts) after spotting her ‘working around’ after a month or so. As you know to be a PA for a manager is a coveted position and can be quite difficult. This girl didn’t have the scores to go on to university but evidently was pretty enough to shop around department to department as some sort of trophy. It was like, ‘Has it suddenly become the 1960’s again?’