The people of this country may have delivered an inconclusive result this election, but one thing was certain: politics provided a lot of inspiration to our comedians. Australian Tumbleweed’s specially assembled panel of top analysts (You mean our usual writers – Ed) take a look at the results…
The Chaser were back with another of their trademark election series, the twist being that they expanded their on- and off-air teams to include some of the new-ish faces they’ve been working with on The Checkout. But while Chas and Andrew’s “Under the Desk” segments focusing on how the media have been calling the campaign were as good as ever, most of the pranks looked stale and pointless. It seems security guards and receptionists across the land have cottoned on to the possibility that The Chaser might come a-calling, meaning the team could rarely get near their targets to deliver their pre-planned zingers. Not that their zingers contained much zing this time around. Smuggling toy boats into Peter Dutton’s election night party? If that’s really the best you can do, why bother?
The underlying problem – and it seemed more noticeable than usual this time around – is that for The Chaser politics is just a bunch of semi-famous people being covered on various news shows most people don’t watch. You could make a near-identical show about football players, or actors, or any other group that does a lot of things in the public eye. There’s nothing in The Chaser’s work that provides any real reason as to why we should give a fuck about politics – after all, they clearly don’t. There’s no anger, no insight into how personalities shape things, not even any really decent skewering of the way the political process forces people to behave in unusual ways. Find a technical flub or bungled quote, point it out, move along.
But Malcolm Turnbull took 23 words to answer a one word question on Q&A! Did anyone come away from that bit not realising that Turnbull actually had given a one word answer – “yes” – surrounded by some very human fumbles and false starts? Unlike other ABC shows that have to labour under the concept of “balance” (*cough* Mad as Hell *cough*) where they balance things out by actually making decent critical points about both sides of politics, The Chaser seem to think that by making each individual bit completely toothless the overall result will offend nobody. Replace “offend” with “entertain” and you’re getting closer to the mark.
Whether this is because their real interests lie elsewhere – as we’ve mentioned numerous times before, Chas and Andrew’s bits that directly tackle the media are often excellent – or the result of an actual policy to avoid any real consideration of what politics means, the result is a show that is often close to insulting in its superficiality. Maybe The Chaser need to follow the lead of one-time receptionist and security guard botherer Michael Moore, who in his latest film Where to Invade Next just went around interviewing people and letting them and his research tell the story. With a lot more success than anything The Chaser’s Election Desk managed.
The law of diminishing returns also applied to Jungle Production’s The Member, a mockumentary about Senate candidate Miles Holbeck. 10-15 years ago, the Holbeck character approaching members of the public and trying to get their votes with no policies would have been funny, or at least a fresher-seeming idea. But in 2016, we’re over that kind of thing. Especially when it’s this crap. Oh, and the title of the show doesn’t work. He’d only have been trying to be a member if he’d been running for the House of Reps, which he wasn’t. Although calling it The Senator would have been a less successful dick pun.
Mad As Hell, which probably wasn’t expecting to be doing anything election-themed this year, rose to the challenge with its usual aplomb and provided some of the funniest election comedy of the campaign. Part of its success is that, to coin a phrase, it plays the ball as much as the man or woman (though we do appreciate the way this week they took up our suggestion to take a swing at Annabel Crabb’s twee persona). Whereas The Chaser and The Member seem to be very much making fun of individuals, Mad As Hell went after the system and the circumstances as well.
It didn’t hurt that much of Mad as Hell‘s humour is based on first making an observation – something The Chaser does almost as well – but then running with it down various very funny corridors (sometimes literally). Making a “stop the boats” joke about Malcolm Turnbull’s promise that gay marriage legislation will “sail” through parliament is one thing; having Micallef put on a sailor’s cap, realise Rear Vice Admiral Sir Bobo Gargle is there for no good reason, then have him leave and take The Kraken with him is another level entirely.
Overall, it was the shows which went after the system that won the satire war this election. Clarke & Dawe had plenty of fun with the dullness of the campaign, while the episode of Sammy J’s Playground Politics Roll of the Dice is the kind of thing that people should be shouting “He fucking nailed it!” about but didn’t. Which is a shame, because Playground Politics is for us the best new comedy we’ve seen all year. A simple concept, executed flawlessly, that really packed a punch. We hope it’s back for more soon.
As for the future, who knows what it holds for us? A Mad Max style future for sure, but is it the original film’s version with a religious extremist dealing out justice on the highways, or the one where Angry Anderson is in a position of power and influence? And while we’re asking the tough questions, where was Charlie Pickering in all this? Surely he should have been out there nailing it left right and center. Maybe someone nailed his door shut? One can only hope.
But one election result seems likely: in the fictional world of Rake Cleaver Greene might just become a Senator, with his sister Jane and his old enemy David sitting on the benches beside him. We don’t normally talk about dramedy on this blog, but what a great series this has been. Especially the alliance of Jane with Cal McGregor. Was it opportunism, a chance to kick Cleaver or a genuine romance that drew them together? And how quickly will it all unravel – and what great satire will it unleash – when the Rake crew move, as seems likely, to Canberra?