The Fresh Blood Sausage Factory – part 1

Fresh Blood is finally here. You remember Fresh Blood

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.

All the sketches from each of the 25 teams are now on iview, with a selection also available on the ABC iview YouTube channel. So, what do we think? Well… Don’t get us wrong, we’re in favour of new talent initiatives, but some of these people have some work to do if they want to take it beyond online videos. Here’s the first batch of our sketch-by-sketch mini-reviews:

We quite liked Aunty Donna when we reviewed them a year ago, and their funeral sketch is definitely one of the better ones in Fresh Blood. It’s a nice, well-made parody of internet LOLZ and therefore perfect for iview and YouTube. There’s a couple of times across their run of sketches where what seems like a fun line or moment (the sting after “I got my hair cut in this shirt”, the surly teen prankster saying “I smashed all me Pogs”) ends up being run into the ground, but they’re good lines nonetheless.

The Australia Think Tank is four people sitting in an office in Canberra being one of those pointless departments the government will probably ban if it ever discovers them…which might be a good idea. In one sketch the Think Tank debate which amphibian creature should be declared Australia’s national frog. Their other sketches are about as funny, based largely on a slowed-down form of riffing around a central idea (ie, what to get Andre Rieu?). Isn’t this the kind of thing you’re supposed to do before you film the sketch? Still, not every single joke sucks; if the fifteen minutes were edited down to 90 seconds, it’d be a pretty good 90 seconds.

Still think bogans are hilarious? Really? The crime investigation parody AZIO – The Bogan Spy Agency might convince you otherwise. The problem with the conceit of these sketches – that bogan crimes need a bogan investigator – is that the bogan investigator in question couldn’t investigate his way out of a flannelette shirt factory…except that’s not the joke. The “joke” is that he’s a bogan who calls everyone “Bra…” and is quite confrontational. Right…

The series of BedHead sketches starts with a modern spin on the classic will they/won’t they plot, in which a girl stays over at a guy’s place and sleeps in the other half of his bed. As they both try to fall asleep we hear both their thoughts Peep Show-style. Except that unlike Peep Show the awkward moments generated by this situation aren’t that funny, whether you can hear inside the characters’ heads or not. This one gets five episodes (instead of the usual three) to explore the vagaries of modern relationships, only much of the time it feels like the writers are yet to actually have a relationship. A sex scene that features a woman saying to a man “is it in?” is not something to be proud of in 2014.

Another team who’ve probably been watching too much British comedy, but this time of the “dark” variety, is Corn Cobs. In one sketch they get a bit League of Gentleman (or Psychoville) when a lost boy turns up at the food truck and has to be gotten rid of. Generally speaking, there’s no circumstance in which dumping small boys on suburban buses comes across as anything other than not hilarious. And that proves to be the case here. Other sketches show a similar enthusiasm for “odd” rather than “funny”, which is great unless you’re not stoned, in which case “pointless” is probably what comes to mind.

#Couples is a series of sketches about over-the-top comedy character couples who are probably going to break up soon. And there were we thinking This Is Littleton was our lot for this type of comedy in 2014. Having a sketch where one person in a relationship acts completely crazy for the entire sketch before calming down and saying “get some rest, you’ve got your mother’s funeral in the morning” might seem hilarious if you have literally never seen another sketch in your life, but when you’re lumped together with 20-odd other sketch groups, you need to aim a little higher.

Crazy Bastards is an 80’s version of Mad Men set in Sydney. But resemblance to the much-admired American series ends there, as this is an out-and-out broad comedy. In one episode we discover the “real” origin of the famous grim reaper bowling AIDS awareness ad, another has the team trying to sell “fizzy water” Solo to men. Across all three episodes we see the characters wearing awful of-the-era clothes and drinking heavily. Despite these promising comedy ingredients it isn’t particularly funny, though the idea of “secret origins” of 80s icons is the kind of idea that could pay off given a bit more polish.

If you think it’s taken a long time for someone in (relatively mainstream) Australian comedy to do a Kickstarter parody then Crowd Failure, a series of short sketches about ludicrous inventions, makes up for it. For this kind of thing they’re impressively diverse – they really do feel like they’re coming from a variety of different sources thanks to the variety of film styles (and casting), and they aren’t just variations on a handful of narrow themes. In theory they could pump these out forever, and as this was one of the better Fresh Blood offerings that’s fine with us.

A few general observations after our first batch of reviews:

1): Even three minutes is a LONG TIME. You need a lot of funny material to fill three entire minutes, and way too many of these sketches have one decent idea and a lot of padding. Often less is more too: there are a lot of funny lines here that would be great as a one-sentence laugh. As 40 seconds of sketch comedy, not so great.

2): That rake joke from The Simpsons really ruined comedy forever, didn’t it? Yes, occasionally if you do something for long enough it goes from funny to unfunny to really funny; most of the time though it just becomes massively boring.

3): Pretty much everything here was better than The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting. Even the bad sketches here felt like they were made by people who were actually interested in sketch comedy, not in adding another line to their resumes while waiting for a callback from House Husbands. If the ABC learns nothing from this beyond realising that when you’re hiring people to make sketch comedy it’s a good idea to hire the people who want to make sketch comedy, it’ll still be a success in our book.

 

Up next: we tackle the next eight Fresh Blood entrants. Will they be better, worse, or meh?

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