The Roast is a concept which never quite manages to die. We don’t mean in the sense that pretty much every era of recent decades has thrown up a nightly or weekly topical comedy show, more that this particular team’s attempt to make a topical comedy show never manages to get axed. But you know that, we’ve talked about this before, you keep seeing it listed in TV guides and you keep not tuning in. Not even YouTube can bothered if the stats from The Roast’s channel are anything to go by. It’s just not very good. But why?
We’re not going to attempt to work out why this keeps getting re-commissioned – the ABC wants them to be the next Chaser, they’ve got compromising photos of Mark Scott – pick your favourite crazy theory, we don’t know! What we’re going to try and nail is why The Roast sucks.
1. The Host. If there’s one thing the great TV satires of the past couple of decades have taught is that there’s plenty of laughs to be had from a host who’s completely unaware that they and the situation they’re in are completely insane. From Chris Morris (On The Hour, The Day Today, Brass Eye) to Shaun Micallef (Mad As Hell) to Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report), this isn’t about being a straight man introducing wacky news reports, this is about “The News!”. The conventions of news and current affairs shows are kinda ludicrous when you think about it – especially the ones which include any kind of on-air editorial – so comedians need to get stuck in. On The Roast the closest you’ll get is a gag about how the TV built in to the set is actually a microwave. LOLZ!
2. The Reporters. Again, there are plenty of ways you can get laughs by giving the reporters some character. Any character. On The Roast the reporters are a bunch of near-identical middle-class white guys, except for the Asian woman one, who’s different because she’s an Asian woman. Put it this way, it’s a good thing the male reporters have different haircuts or we’d never notice the difference between them. Dozens and dozens of fake news shows in the past have managed to give their league of young white guys various wacky characters; just sticking a wacky hat on one of these guys would be an improvement.
3. The Stories. When The Roast does a parody news report it often goes like this: host Tom Glasson reads out an intro about an actual news story, cut to a sketch which is based around one tiny, often not very pertinent, aspect of that story, the sketch goes on for a minute and there’s basically only one joke in there, which is the one about the not very pertinent aspect of the original story. This is not a roadmap to quality comedy. It’s not even a couple of lines drawn in the dirt directing people to a smirk.
4. The Jokes. Often there aren’t any. Oh, it might seem like you’re watching something that contains jokes, but if you look closely you’ll find that all you’re actually getting is observations delivered with a layer of snark smeared across the top. This kind of thing is fine on occasion, especially when you’re dealing with politicians (as so much of The Roast does). But when that’s all you’ve got to say on a topic, you don’t have a television show – you barely even have the comments on a politics-themed blog.
5. The Perspectives. When you have what looks like a crew made up entirely of smug, entitled, well-off white guys – oh yeah, and that Asian woman written to sound exactly like a smug entitled, well-off white guy – it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally have some kind of perspective that wasn’t that of a crew of smug, entitled, well-off white guys. Usually here we’d say that part of the problem is the format: a send-up of bland news reporters covering the news is by it’s very nature going to contain elements of the bland, middle-class perspective it’s sending up. But then we remembered that Mad as Hell manages to cover an extremely wide spectrum of types and experiences while doing the exact same thing as The Roast and being roughly a zillion times funnier at it.
6. The Jokes Again. You know when you take a current situation – oh no, the government wants old folk to work longer / kids are being told to skip university and jump straight into the workforce / etc – and then you exaggerate it for comedic effect? That’s almost never funny unless you put some actual thought into the kind of exaggerations you’re going to make. So The Roast seems to do it at least once every episode, making sure to only ever go down the most obvious and least interesting path. Let’s bring back child labour and make old people into slaves! Oh ho ho.
7. The Fact It Never Seems To Get Any Better. Even most crap comedy shows change and grow over the course of their lifetimes as the cast and crew focus on what works, ditch what doesn’t, deal with changing interests and cast members, and so on. Not The Roast. Apart from the news being mocked, you could stack a current episode up against one at the start of the show’s run and you’d be hard pressed to detect any difference at all. Does this mean the show achieved perfection out the gate, thus leaving no room whatsoever for improvement? No. No it does not.
8. The Fact That It Never Gets Axed. It’s a head-scratcher! And an annoying one at that. Is The Roast hitting that right level of blandness and inoffensiveness that keeps hundreds of firmly average shows on air for years? Or does someone at the ABC seriously think they’re awesome? Got a theory? Post it in the comments.