One of the things Australian sketch comedy used to be known for is taking a swipe at other television shows. Whether it was Fast Forward mocking Derryn Hinch or however many times Paul McCarthy wasted our time with his sub-par Kochie impression, mocking other shows was part and parcel of the sketch comedy scene here. Until it wasn’t.
Mostly that’s due to the traditional sketch comedy scene dying a slow, painful death. Nobody in 2017 wants to be following in the footsteps of Wednesday Night Live and Totally Full Frontal. But there’s an element of throwing the baby out with the bathwater here too – after all, for close to two decades one of the main reasons people tuned into sketch comedy here was to see people rip the shit out of television. And thankfully, Mad as Hell is back on the job.
This isn’t exactly new ground for the series, of course. In previous years Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was always good for a laugh or two, and that’s just off the top of our head. But – and we’re going out on a limb here, so feel free to correct us in the comments – usually the sharpest send-ups were reserved for the final episode of the year. Or at least, we seemed to think so back in season four:
Surprisingly – or not, depending on how closely you’ve been paying attention – for a news satire the final episode of Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell contained a lot of swipes at other comedy shows. And well deserved swipes at that, whether the targets were lazy ABC “comedy” panel shows (the ‘Blather’ sketch even contained a reference to the number of episodes pre-recorded by our old nemesis, Randling), the random chatty nature of shows like Media Circus, or Dave Hughes – though the impersonation there was more affectionate than the rest.
But this year it feels like the satire is both a little bit sharper and a little closer to the core of the show. The Cleverman parody has turned up twice now (presumably because they filmed a bunch of it at once), and for a series that’s supposedly world-class television (which generally makes it critic-proof in Australia) it’s a delight to see someone pointing out that Cleverman just might not be the most amazing program ever made.
There’s also been a pretty decent kicking given to Anh Do’s Painting Party or whatever that show was called, and – perhaps more interestingly – there was the segment where Micallef explained that the interviews on The Weekly are time-fillers they get on for free because it’s basically a promotional opportunity. Which we all kind of knew, but it was still surprising to hear it said on national television – much like it was those times a few years back when Mad as Hell pointed out that Chris Lilley wasn’t perhaps quite as amazing as we’d been led to believe.
Admittedly these are all fairly soft targets and mocking television programs isn’t exactly ground-breaking. What makes this stuff work as comedy in 2017 is that after close to a decade where Australian comedy has had nothing to say on the subject of television – let alone television that’s airing on the same network (our fondness for Have You Been Paying Attention is well known, but if they were ever to really let rip on some of Ten’s dodgier offerings it’d be a very funny night indeed) – having Micallef say that other ABC programs just might be a bit crap seems a bit edgier than it might have been back in 1997.
Plus he has a point: much as we love and support the ABC, they do have a habit of coming up with shows more miss than hit. Cleverman really does think it’s cleverer than it is, Anh Do’s Brush with Fame is a bizarre idea for a chat show (unless you remember the UK painting-related chat show Rolf Harris hosted which, ew?), and the middle third of each episode of The Weekly really is just a thinly disguised advertisement for whatever the guest is flogging on the interview circuit. If our TV critics* aren’t willing to point that out, looks like it’s up to the comedians to do their job for them.
*we have TV critics?