So last week’s episode of The Weekly opened with Charlie Pickering sitting behind his desk solemnly informing us that yes, while terrorism had cast a dark cloud over the week’s events the only correct way for us to move forward as a nation was to move forward as a nation or some such.
“It’s been a full-on week. Terror attacks around the world, and earlier this week one just a few kilometers from our studio. But what do we do? Maybe we could not let them take credit for shit… because all they want is attention.” – Charlie Pickering
Or just maybe, you could not begin your comedy television show with a “serious” segment about how serious terrorism is because all that does is give them fucking attention?
“This is Australia: don’t try to out-dickhead us” – the end of Pickering’s hilarious opening rant
But to be fair, Pickering’s let-hope-this-goes-viral-as-a-rallying-cry-against-terrorism speech wasn’t rubbish because it was actively bad: it was rubbish because it wasn’t about anything beyond putting Pickering’s head on camera. It said in a serious voice that… terrorism is bad? And we should stand against it using… the power of various national quirks? “Terrorists are dickheads but guess what: we’re even bigger dickheads!” Hey, dickhead: speak for yourself.
We’ve gone on and on and on this year about the various problems we have with The Weekly. None of that has changed because the show itself doesn’t change because change would require The Weekly to be a show that was made by people who cared about making decent television.
Each week The Weekly is ten minutes or so of Pickering talking over recent news footage with the occasional almost-joke mixed in, a segment where Tom Gleeson demonstrates the hard limit to his style of comedy, maybe one segment where Kitty Flanagan makes the show almost watchable, an interview we forget while it’s happening, Gleeson is back doing another interview where he lobs softball insults at people and we’re back again next week with a promise that Briggs – remember him, the indigenous member of the team who’s in all the promo photos but who for totally non-racist reasons only gets one-quarter of the air time – will be back. Why not just show repeats? They’d be slightly cheaper.
But surely this consistency in the face of a changing world is a sign that they’re doing something right? We’re going to stop you right there for a quick update from living concerned emoji Jazz Twemlow:
Four years later, and it seems the brief for the majority of satirical content is that it has to be shareable, nail something, and travel far online. The problem here is that this can drive satire into the pathology of imagining the shares you’ll get, and working backwards from there. Unfortunately what gets shares is, more often than not, a simplistic approach to one’s rivals: arrogant ridicule, laughing at how racist someone is, pointing out someone’s stupidity. It’s simplicity, and it works, especially when appealing to people whose attitudes are now expressed largely in 140-character chunks of boiled-down, thinking devoid of nuance.
And we look forward to Twemlow scurrying back to that kind of material if he ever gets another job in comedy. Good luck with that considering he also said this:
I’m sorry, but 61 million Americans and roughly 15 million Brits can’t all be racists, but that’s not a popular, or even permissible, thing for a satirist to say.
Yeah, defending racists! Truth to power, Jazz!
The thing is, this approach to “satire” is currently yesterday’s news. Websites are no longer sharing around “nailed it!” clips of “ultimate takedowns”, because unlike the situation eight months ago, their audiences now largely realise that kind of thing is useless feel-good pap. Thanks to the daily nightmare that is President Trump, people – or at least, the left-leaning people who used to pounce on “nailed it” clips – have a vague sense that shit? It just got real.
For these people, a comedian going nuts over some issue just doesn’t do it any more: they either want serious content on an issue, or they want funny stuff to distract them from the serious content on an issue that their friends keep sending them. People want The Handmaid’s Tale, not Inside Amy Schumer. The internet has, as it always does, moved on. Jazz Twemlow is out of a job.
For three years The Weekly has been built around the idea that if Charlie Pickering can nail a topic, that clip will be shared around online and drive traffic back to The Weekly. This was never a particularly good idea: all it really did was drive traffic to sites where clips from The Weekly occasionally appeared, because even at the best of times no-one thought “hey, this clip from The Weekly is so good I want to track down the rest of the show”. But now it doesn’t even do that. And hey, for once you don’t have to take our word for it:
The show is built so strongly around that viral content model it almost seems fair to ask: if a segment on The Weekly didn’t go viral, did it even really happen?
Junkee recently shared The Weekly’s take on the Cooper’s Brewery-marriage equality scandal, and earlier this year the program’s Make Australia Second segment received a modest amount of attention. But there’s been a marked drop in viral content since the first two years of the program.
So The Weekly is fucked. Don’t worry though, because as is traditional Pickering ended the final show of the year with… well, first it ended with an extended promo for Hard Quiz, a show as essential as a holographic toilet.
But then came Pickering telling us that “the other exciting bit of news [there was a first bit?] that we have is, we’ll be back to wrap up the year with The Yearly in December, and we’ll be back for season four of The Weekly in 2018 ladies and gentlemen!”
Is there any other program on Australian television that feels the need to announce its return a year out from its return date? How pathetically insecure does Pickering look shouting out that his show will be back before it has even ended? Is there anyone – anyone at all – so fearful of a future without The Weekly that they cannot go literally one single second without the knowledge that The Weekly will return to our television screens?
We briefly speculated among ourselves that perhaps Pickering announces the return of The Weekly in forty-odd weeks time each year in an attempt to force the ABC to commit to its return: “Hey guys, it’d look pretty bad if you didn’t follow up on that rock-solid commitment we told everyone you’d made…”
But a more likely scenario is that Pickering doesn’t want to give anyone else the glory of announcing the return of his show with his name in the title: not for him the tradition of letting his bosses at the ABC announce his show’s return when they announce the return of all those other shows that keep on coming back. No, it’s The Weekly With Charlie Pickering and Charlie Pickering gets to announce when The Weekly With Charlie Pickering is coming back and it’s always coming back because it’s hosted by Charlie Pickering.
Hey, remember this:
“Someone asked me about my old job, The Project, and asked why I left,” [Pickering] ranted into the microphone. “I just couldn’t watch the news any more. It never changes: bad theatre by poor actors every night in perpetuity, it’s always the same.”
What would drive a man who felt this way to put his name on a show like The Weekly? What could keep him coming back week after week for over three years? What could force him to not only keep on making this show, but announce he’d be back to do it all again next year before this year’s series had even finished?
See you in 2018, Briggs.