Initially we thought Open Slather was going to be two shows roughly bolted together. As The Comedy Channel’s high profile return to original Australian comedy, the promos traded hard – very hard – on the idea that this was gathering the titans of local sketch comedy circa 1990: Magda Szubanski, Gina Riley, Jane Turner, Michael Veitch, Glenn Robbins, and Marg Downey, with the slightly more recent Shane Jacobson and Stephen Curry bringing up the rear.
But having been around the block a few times ourselves (and having actually read the various press releases), we noticed there seem to also be an awful lot of lower-profile names involved. So we settled in on Sunday night expecting to see a show with two kinds of sketches: a handful of ones where the big names tossed off a classic comedy character or two, and a whole lot of ones where the big names were nowhere to be found.
And that’s pretty much what we got. Only we got a whole lot more besides. Australian sketch comedy hasn’t exactly been thriving these last few years, but there’s been a slow but steady trickle of it nonetheless. And a lot of those shows have developed, even only vaguely, their own styles. Pretty much all of which were on display in Open Slather.
The sketch about a shirtless guy who danced around outside the weather bureau to figure out what the “feels like” temperature was? Straight out of the Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting handbook: come up with a quirky idea, then just have a character stand there saying “this is stupid” (the joke is that the “this is stupid” character is right, but also shunned!)
The sketch about a guy who lets off a massive fart after his date leaves, only to have her come back to try and get her keys and he won’t let her in? Could have come off an episode of Kinne, what with that show’s focus on relationships (and sometimes farts).
The Fifty Shades of Grey music video? Didn’t Double Take do this kind of thing every week in a desperate attempt to “go viral”?
The Masterchef parody that turned all existential and started going on about “the multiverse”? That was the kind of thing Mad as Hell might have done, only in half the time and with a much stronger punchline.
The Downton Abbey sketch? It’s not a good sign when Wednesday Night Fever got there first. Same with the Clive Palmer impression oh great you’ve put the two of them together.
Actually, the Downton Abbey sketch was a handy reminder of why this kind of sketch show often doesn’t work any more. Back in the Fast Forward days – you know, the reason why anyone remembers the “big names” in this show’s cast – there were four television channels (five if you counted SBS, which no-one did), a bunch of radio stations, a few magazines and that was pretty much it for Australian culture. If you wanted to make fun of something, easy: everyone knew what you were talking about.
These days pop culture is so all over the place that there simply aren’t the kind of mass audience shows Fast Forward used to make fun of. Downton Abbey might have come close three years ago, but that was… well, three years ago. And there’s been nothing since. As for building your sketch show around show parodies and making fun of commercials? Who even watches commercials these days?
So the best stuff here was mostly the stuff that just told a joke. Curry and Jacobson’s priests wondering about dinosaurs was good; Glenn Robbins’ various drug tests for drivers was admirably straightforward and got the hell out each time the joke was told. The character parodies were generally pretty strong, even if the sketches they were in (especially that endless 60 Minutes sketch) weren’t.
(Madga’s “Gina Minehart” sketch on how mining works was exactly the joke we expected: “what’s mine is mine. What’s yours is also mine”. We need never see that character again)
And then there was the end credits bit where complaints from the Domino’s Pizza website were juxtaposed with footage of starving refugees. Huh? Not only was it tonally a full 180 degrees from the rest of the show, but what was the point meant to be? “Stop complaining losers, there are people out there with real problems”? So what, no-one in Australia should complain about anything because people in other countries have it so much worse? You’re going to have to be a shitload funnier to get away with that point.
Still, there were enough decent sketches in Open Slather to make it worth sticking with. There was also a Rake parody called Rack where the only joke was that the lead character kept saying “cunt”. It’s almost impressive the way the show worked so hard to make sure no-one could possibly enjoy every sketch. Here’s hoping they eventually figure out who their audience is meant to be.