Tractor Monkeys is back! Can’t you feel the excitement in the air? The electricity humming across this great land as in homes and pubs and vacant lots people look up with a thrill in their hearts at the news that Tractor Monkeys is back! Finally life has meaning again. Finally we have cause to go on. Finally. Finally.
Oh wait, Tractor Monkeys is shit. Sorry, our mistake. Why this total waste of everything put into it was brought back for a second series would be a mystery, but we all know why: the ABC screwed up their planned 2013 revival of Spicks & Specks – in itself an attempt to correct a previous mistake – and so had to fall back on bringing back a show no-one liked, watched, or even remembered from earlier this year. Your tax dollars at work!
To go even deeper into rumour, we heard that the ABC’s plan for reviving Spicks & Specks was to bring back the format but use the cast of Tractor Monkeys – Monty Dimond and Dave O’Neil – as team captains, Merrick Watts as host. This was such an amazingly stupid idea that even the ABC had second thoughts… but they’re still going to do it if this season of Tractor Monkeys takes off. And oh look, now it’s on at the all-but-automatically higher rating time of 8pm so they can claim it’s doing better in the ratings second time around! Yeah, this fight ain’t fixed at all.
(But seriously, judging by his work hosting Tractor Monkeys having Merrick Watts host anything more involved than a small child’s birthday party is an astoundingly bad idea, and if his name appears anywhere on the press release announcing the return of Spicks & Specks it will fail. FACT.)
Reportedly they’ve tweaked the Tractor Monkey format so it’s not so much comedy death this time around, but whatever they changed wasn’t detectable by the human eye. “Hilarious” old clips mocking the fact that people in the past weren’t exactly like we are today? Check. Watts shoe-horning in questions every time a conversation threatens to become interesting? Check. Editing so clumsy it makes Randling look like the work of Thelma Schoonmaker (look it up)? Check. Team captains who feel exactly like third rate versions of the already nothing special Spicks & Specks team captains OH HOLY CRAP THE RUMOURS WERE TRUE? Check-a-roonie.
It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for a show that breaks out the vagina and scrotum jokes five minutes into its very first episode. It’s less hard to feel sorry for the much-hyped Hannah Gadsby when her big joke for the night was answering “What did Mary Quant name the mini skirt after?” with “her Quant.” It’s funny because it sounds a little bit like “cunt” you see! And obviously “mini skirt” really means “cunt” so… hang on a second, I’m sure there was an actual joke here a minute ago.
We all know these panel shows live or die by the chemistry between the panellists – none was on display in this first episode, by the way – so it’s hardly fair to complain that for an episode supposedly based on fashion there was a fair bit about dancing, slang and music videos. It is fair to complain that the big final game was a): basically Celebrity Head from Hey Hey It’s Saturday but even slower paced and b): the kind of thing Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation would either have rejected outright or managed to turn into actual comedy. TAYG was a solid, quirky, funny show that made no lasting impression on the Australian audience: if you can’t do better than that, go home.
Tractor Monkeys was a failure in pretty much every way the first time around. Having it back on our screens is good news for nobody apart from the people involved in its production. For all the talk about how they’ve tweaked the format, they’ve changed nothing that counts and improved it in no way that matters. Tractor Monkeys might be worthwhile at 6pm on a Sunday night when its utter pointlessness and long laugh-free stretches could go unnoticed by all but the elderly and infirm: having this crap back on in prime time for the second time in a year is a fucking insult.