Little sketches of horror(s)

This is Littleton is a new four-part sketch show set in the municipal offices of the fictional City of Littleton. It premiered on ABC2 tonight, and treads well-worn ground in TV sketch in that it features recurring characters (Little Britain, Live from Planet Earth) and is set in the suburbs (The Comedy Company, The Wedge).

The characters are the usual mix of ethnic and gender stereotypes, sociopaths, freaks and weirdos that you get in shows like this, including a wannabe-glam trophy wife of an elderly man, a Schapelle Cordy-esque young woman trying to get out of a Balinese jail, two old Greek men who discuss incongruously youthy phenomenon (such as Snapchat), and an over-zealous IT manager. And based on the two episodes of This Is Littleton we’ve seen so far there’s not much in the way of character development or storylines. Sure, the IT manager gets a bit of plot in episode 2, but those two Greek men? Expect them to perform roughly the same sketch, week in, week out, and for it to be about as funny.

The cast that play these characters are all relative newscomers, with Triple J Breakfast’s Matt Okine and Ronny Chieng the best known performers, and generally speaking they all do quite a good job with the material. But let’s be clear, this it isn’t their material, even though many of the main players are stand-ups and sketch writer/performers. And perhaps if some or all of the sketches were written by or with the cast this show might work better, or at least feel less disjointed. Maybe it might even have some sort of point?

Good sketch shows, like Mad As Hell, are the work of an established team who have a shared vision and understanding. The is Littleton feels like yet another one of those shows where a bunch of people who (mostly) haven’t worked together before are thrown in to a room and invited to deliver someone else’s half-arsed concept. We hate to remind you of The Wedge and Live from Planet Earth again, but The Wedge and Live from Planet Earth! Jesus, when will people in Australian TV learn that this isn’t a great way to do sketch?!

Having said that, here’s an ABC press release we received last week…

FRESH BLOOD FINDS NEW COMEDIC TALENT

ABC TV and Screen Australia will commission 25 projects for Fresh Blood, an initiative to find the next generation of comedy performers and producers.

The successful 25 projects each receive a budget of $10,000 to produce three, 2-5 minute short form comedy sketches to premiere on ABC iview this year.

With a record of 20 million program plays in December, iview  is Australia’s most popular catch-up service and an ideal fit for ‘social sharing’ short form sketches.

“Fresh Blood is one of the most exciting projects for us, “says Richard Finlayson, ABC Director of Television. “Not only does it continue ABC TV’s commitment to nurturing and supporting fantastic Australian comedic talent, it gives 25 aspiring comedians and comedy groups the amazing opportunity to see their ideas turned into content that will premiere on iview later this year.

“It’s the kind of leg up any young, up and coming comedy hopeful would kill for, and I can’t wait to see the results.”

“There’s a rich pool of Australian comic talent working outside the system making quality content for digital distribution,” said Graeme Mason, CEO, Screen Australia. “Through the Fresh Blood initiative, we’re thrilled to offer some the opportunity to take their careers to the next level with this injection of funds, and the relationship with a major broadcaster and Federal screen agency. Fresh Blood is a dynamic addition to Screen Australia’s suite of support for practitioners using newer technologies and platforms to reach their audience.”

ABC TV and Screen Australia have received an overwhelming 492 applications, since the call-out for “Fresh Blood” went out last October. Due to the high calibre of creative entries, 25 projects are to be commissioned, one more than the 24 projects originally sought.

“It was a difficult task to select just 24 from an amazingly talented field, so in the end we had to choose 25 because it was just too hard,” says Sophia Zachariou, Acting Head Entertainment, ABC TV.

“The 25 projects range from puppetry and animation to absurdist sketch and I have no doubt that the clever, funny people in and behind these Fresh Blood projects are going to be big names in Australian comedy in the future.”

Fresh Blood will be produced by ABC Entertainment TV and is the first digital commission for iview. It positions the catch up service as a creative platform for innovative content.

…and while this is a way for up-and-coming established groups to get their unique visions out there, don’t think we’re automatically going to like what they produce. The material has to be good too. And the thing is, if This Is Littleton were funnier we wouldn’t care that the cast didn’t have a hand in the writing because we’d be laughing too much to mind.

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9 Comments

  • alr says:

    I was thinking Portlandia from the adverting and hype, a show that has more then one dimension, likeable characters and something I can forgive for the odd failure.

    So I was expecting Littleton to be on the modern sketch comedy trend, of being more character driven, instead it was disjointed sketches featuring very dislikeable suburban stereotypes.

  • Matlock says:

    Looking at the credits, I thought the ensemble were also the writers including some outsider writers?

    Funny enough, I wasn’t a big fan of the DJ Sweetlove Aunty Donna skits; but here, in comparison to everything else, it was probably the best part.

    So far, it feels like there’s no point being set in “Littleton; unless they’re gonna set up a community full of a quirks and traits in the next 3 episodes like Portland in “Portlandia” which I guess it’s trying to be I don’t see the point of it being set specifically in “Littleton” if it’s just going to be disjointed sketches that’s probably just going to have the same characters do their same type of jokes week in and week out which is borrrrring.

    P.S. Touched by An Angle Grinder and Aunty Donna are apart of Fresh Blood and I have high hopes they’ll deliver. I think they should’ve just given Aunty Donna the TV show.

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    We’re going by IMDB which lists five writers, and of them only one is in the cast.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Yeah the DJ was the best part of the show mainly because he had more than one schtick to play off. Portlandia has cohesion because it has a pair of ‘straight’ characters that gives us somebody to identify with as they go on their ‘journey’ throughout Portlandia.

    I thought Okine was pretty bad especially compared to some of the ‘unknown’ female performers.

    ‘Fresh Blood’ we’ll see.

  • BIlly C says:

    Well I watched it on iview and I won’t be bothering to watch it again. I don’t know if it’s because of the budget but every sketch is way too long. They just keep milking and milking the premise. Too many are essentially monologues and very stagey (Matt Okine’s rapper, the dance instructor). The direction is really odd. Lots of wide shots when jokes are being delivered. We need close ups for punch lines. It’s like they didn’t have time to record the close ups or didn’t record them properly to allow for the editing to adjust the timing.
    The two old greek guys in particular was in desperate need of closer shots.

    Also really different styles of acting from very natural to really over the top. Beth Buchanan’s little cameo really showed the differences in style. She actually made me laugh.
    The DJ guy from planning was okay if a little long. The murdering the dog was a 20 second sketch that was stretched and gained nothing through the length. The performers are really milking it because they have so little to work with. Okine is the exception, he looked like he’d rather be somewhere else and was phoning it in. When you get the co-writer of Lowdown and the co-writer of You And Your Stupid Mate and Take Away in charge what are you going to end up with? I have to assume they took a lot of decent scripts and ruined them as some of these young stand-ups are really pretty good.

  • Rutegar says:

    Good old BBC plundering ABC’s vault of sitcom premises with no intention of financial remuneration.

    http://www.comedy.co.uk/guide/tv/scrotal_recall/

    A sitcom following the disastrous exploits of twenty-something Dylan Witter, who must contact everyone he’s ever slept with to tell them he has Chlamydia.

    Dylan’s not proud of the number of women he’s slept with, so he decides to use this quest to make sense of a decade of squandered opportunities, broken promises, and romantic car-crashes.

    Love hurts, especially when you urinate.

    Dylan seeks out a different girl from his STI contact list, as he remembers a sexual encounter he’d previously tried his hardest to forget.

    Joining him on this trip down memory lane are best friend Evie, and terrible influence Luke. Both have been by Dylan’s side for the past decade, mopping up the blood, sweat and tears.

    The result is a unique comedy brimming with humour, heart, and mild genital discomfort.

  • simbo says:

    Channel 4, but given most Australians can’t tell the difference anyway…

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    Interesting news given this…

    “Another ABC series is set for an international adaptation -this time from the UK.

    Black comedy Laid, created by Marieke Hardy and Kirsty Fisher, has received a pilot order from ITV2.”

    Source: http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2014/02/laid-gets-uk-pilot.html

  • Sockington Green says:

    It seems that over and over again, creators of Australian sketch shows rely almost entirely on premise, thinking that this is enough to let them get away with not writing any actual jokes. Sometimes the premise is good (in which case it’s almost invariably stretched well beyond its humour limit) but usually it’s not (in which case it’s almost invariably stretched well beyond its humour limit). Any guide to sketch writing will advise you to throw in a joke at least every 30 seconds. Instead, what we keep seeing is ‘Come up with quirky character based on an unimaginative suburban stereotype, make them say stuff their character might say, repeat’.

    Granted, some of the characters/stereotypes in Littleton are quite well observed, but that’s not the same as funny. I only cracked a smile once (at one of the three or so actual jokes in the episode) and, as has been pointed out, there’s not enough character development or even just absurdity for it to not matter that there’s no ha-ha.

    In summary, this is yet another display of wasted potential and I’m hungry.