It’s easy to forget how charming Mad as Hell is in its refusal to assume it’ll be invited back next year until you hear Charlie Pickering say “Welcome to the final episode of series one of The Weekly“. Series one? Forgive us if we’re wrong, but at the time of writing the ABC hasn’t announced a series two of this slightly less funny version of Behind the News; maybe hold off on announcing your Thousand Year Comedy Reich just a little longer.
If there’s one thing to be grateful to The Weekly for, we’re yet to think of it. Oh wait: remember how we used to have to put up with a steady trickle of dickheads repetitively asking “Why doesn’t Australia have its own version of The Daily Show?” And now we know why: because if we did, it would be The Weekly. And The Weekly was shit.
We’ve covered most of the reasons why it was shit over the last twenty weeks and for a show that ran twenty weeks it was remarkably consistent; remember in the lead-up to the launch we were expected to swallow this:
The Weekly also comes with a flexible format, meaning the structure can feature multiple or single topics.
“That was part of the deal. I said ‘I want a format that I’m allowed to throw out on any given week if the best thing to do is something else.’ The ABC have been very supportive of that. Obviously we have to do a version of the format so that people know what it is, before we start messing with it too much,” he continues.
Unfortunately, it seemed that the “something else” it was best to do was Mad as Hell, so instead we got the exact same show every week for 20 weeks. Did they ever mess with the format? They did a musical number once, guess that probably blew a few minds down at the chuckle hut.
So yeah, The Weekly had problems. It was hosted by a fake newsreader turned real newsreader then back into a fake newsreader so whenever he got on his high horse – which he was contractually obliged to at least once every episode – he had zero moral authority to back his outrage up. Also: not funny.
Its approach to the news was to first make all the obvious news gags, then run longer segments based on the idea that some issues were too serious to make the obvious news gags about. Unfortunately there was often no real difference between the topics worth laughing at and the topics we were meant to take seriously, which left the show looking unpleasantly opportunistic. Also: not funny.
Cheap is often a good thing when it comes to comedy – expensive flashy visuals are never funnier than shoddy cheap ones – but The Weekly felt cheap in all the wrong ways. The format was ripped off from The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight, which wasn’t a great start; the cast consisted of a host and two regulars plus some occasional foreign correspondents, which left things way too predictable; much of the half hour involved Pickering talking over news footage, which might not have felt like low budget television if the jokes had been any good; worst of all, Pickering’s material was basic and the targets obvious. He might have “nailed it” according to the kind of yoof websites that like their views parroted back at them, but if you were looking for laughs rather than social media talking points you were shit out of luck. Also: not fucking funny.
The whole show felt like they were cutting corners, only we never got to see where the money they were saving went. Was Pickering himself really that expensive to lure away from commercial television? And this poverty reached all the way down to the targets they chose to go after. Week in week out The Weekly focused on issues that were clearly one-sided and then made sure they came down hard on the side everybody sensible agreed with. You name an issue its audience was on board with, and The Weekly let them know they were 100% right to hold those views.
But hang on a second, what about this:
Merits of the report aside, even running a segment like this in the current political environment is a laudably ballsy move.
No. Halal certification is a dog-whistle issue the government is paying attention to because it’s a soft target to shore up its base. There’s zero overlap between people who give a shit about it and ABC viewers in general, let alone anyone watching The Weekly. It’s the equivalent of The Daily Telegraph running a story “exposing” the sordid truth behind the chai lattes being served in inner-city hipster dens; you do it to rile up people who already agree with you. Which makes The Weekly pretty much the same as those politicians pandering to the people up in arms about halal certification that they mocked.
Imagination, we’re constantly told, is free. If that’s the case, why did The Weekly show so little of it? Pretty much all the media coverage of the show – which we’ll be getting to in part 2 of our Weekly wrap-up – made sure to note it was run on the smell of an oily rag compared to its US equivalents. But the problem wasn’t just that a lot of the jokes being made were obvious and predictable; it was that the targets chosen to make those jokes about were obvious and predictable.
Sure, any news satire show has to work with the news at hand. But The Weekly made a big noise about going behind the surface of the news to examine the bigger issues, the ongoing dramas. So why did they just tell us stuff we already knew? C’mon: Racism is bad? Sexism is bad? Mocking the mentally ill is bad? Shooting a lion while on a hunting trip is bad?
We’re not saying they should have tried to argue those things were good – though it might have actually been funny and thought-provoking if they’d tried. We’re saying that a good news satire show should make its audience laugh and if it can’t manage that – seriously, was there a single bit on The Weekly that attracted any attention at all for being funny? Did anyone ever laugh at it, or was its audience entirely made up of people who think the correct response to a great joke is applause? – it should at least make them think.
For shows like The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight, that’s easy to do: they’re aimed at a relatively narrow pay TV audience so they’re able to go really hard on the issues – and they get both laughs and fans because of the strength of their convictions. The Weekly, being on a free-to-air network, can’t go that hard for fear of losing viewers. And convictions? Pickering seems too pleased with how things have worked out for himself to go out on a limb for anyone else.
There are ways around this problem: both The Hamster Wheel and Mad as Hell managed it by being smart and funny, but either one of the two would do. Making the obvious jokes about politicians can work as long as the jokes are funny; being authentically insightful about the way Australia works might not be hilarious, but as long as you offer new information it’s going to be interesting. And yet The Weekly decided to do neither. It just played it safe week in week out.
There are plenty of actual tough issues out there in Australia, ones where there really are two (or more) sides to the story and the bad guys just might be the people who watch the ABC. There are plenty of stupid politicians, lying media outlets and shonky business practises ripe for the piss-taking too. It’s not that hard to figure this stuff out and be funny doing it. The ABC has a long and proud tradition of putting to air shows that have managed exactly that.
What the fuck went wrong here?