Is it just us – and it usually is just us – or did that bit at the very start of this week’s The Weekly (now back for 2017!) basically say new regular Briggs was hired because he’s black? Obviously that’s not what they planned to say with their hilarious and of-the-moment parody of that “we can’t all wear white” kerfuffle on Nine’s afternoon news chat show three weeks ago, but when his arrival is presented as the solution to the problem of the show’s cast all being white – instead of the much larger problem of the show’s cast often not being funny – well… yeah, maybe it was just us. It’s not like this show makes a habit of confused and muddled messages.
Before the holidays we heard from a source that one of the main reasons why we keep seeing The Weekly time and time again despite nobody seeming to watch it is because it’s cheap – an episode costs (or did when it first began) around half what an episode of Mad as Hell takes to make. And yet somehow Mad as Hell is a dozen times more hilarious; maths is a funny thing. Unlike The Weekly, which is so cheap to make because roughly a third of the entire show now is just news clips from other networks with Charlie Pickering turning up every now and again to a): explain the context, or b): make the kind of joke people were yawning at on The Glasshouse a decade ago. It’s barely television: watching the news with a smartarse mate would be funnier.
Of course, having a third of the show being jokes over other people’s news clips worked just fine for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, but that’s because they had good jokes and – more importantly – had a charming, funny, likable, funny host (now? Maybe not so much). Pickering, on the other hand, seems actually uncomfortable interviewing castmate Briggs; we refuse to speculate why.
Oh, ok: maybe it’s because Briggs has an actual point of view that can be used to generate decent comedy – his line about how he’s okay with eating lamb on Australia Day “even if lamb is the only thing you openly admit to slaughtering” was the closest thing to an actual controversial opinion The Weekly‘s ever had. The nearest Pickering got to a point of view was some comedy whinging that his co-workers didn’t want him to go down the pub with them, which for an outrageous joke seemed fairly plausible to us.
It’s not that The Weekly is completely devoid of comedy: there was one joke about morse code that was as old as… well, morse code, but it still got a laugh. But then there was material like the bit about a One Nation candidate that didn’t boil down to “he attacked single mums on government handouts but his party leader is a single mum on government handouts” – that was the actual punchline. Here’s an observation: just observing something that’s going on isn’t always enough in comedy. Sometimes you have to put a bit more effort in to make it into something that’s known in the trade as “funny”.
But maybe that’s not a good idea either. This episode’s Tom Gleeson segment – he seemed to have had his time cut down to make room for Briggs, so thumbs up there – was a bit on fake news (or as Gleeson called it, “alternative facts”) that felt like a couple of overly eager puppies had watched a bunch of Clarke & Dawe segments and thought some wordplay would be fun to try. Only where Clarke & Dawe would have finished up with a punchline that was a smart summing up of the issue, this bit of garbage ended with:
Pickering: “You’re fake news!”
Gleeson: “You are!”
You’re not quite up there with Clarke & Dawe just yet, guys. Maybe wait a few decades. Then quietly give up.
Fortunately, at some stage in proceedings Kitty Flanagan came along and did a bit that once again made us wish she was on some other, much better show. Or even just that they put her segment up the front so we could watch it each week instead of giving up five minutes in.
Her attempt to hold a real-life “pub test” wasn’t even that great a segment (though drunks passed out down the pub will always get a thumbs up from us); it’s just that Flanagan is a funny performer with a distinct comedy point of view that isn’t about being aggressively smarmy or willfully ignorant. If the ABC gave her a solo show we’d watch it, which puts her ahead of her co-hosts, both of which have been given their own shows and… yeah.
Being cheap is a problem with The Weekly, but it’s not the problem. There are ten writers listed in the end credits for a show that’s roughly one-third interview. If it takes ten writers to come up with the limp shots Pickering is making at stale news topics, something’s wrong. If Pickering is writing his jokes all on his own, something’s wrong. If The Weekly can’t do better than just covering the news using other peoples’ clips and occasionally dropping in a “yeah, good one Trump”, something’s wrong. If this is as good as The Weekly‘s going to get, something’s wrong.
And if the ABC thinks this pointless news recap show is actually something to be proud of, then yeah, there’s something wrong.