Extreme re-working: How The Chaser’s Extreme Vetting went from bad idea to good idea in just four episodes

Remember those suggestions that The Chaser would stay with Triple M after Radio Chaser finished up? Well, if by “Triple M” they meant “Austereo’s new podcasting platform Podcast One”, then yes, The Chaser now have a podcast there called Extreme Vetting.

What’s it about? Well, it takes Peter Dutton’s new super ministry and the general theme of surveillance as its premise, and sees The Chaser subjecting potential subversives to interrogations on behalf of the government. Or, to put it another way, it’s The Chaser interviewing some comedians and other media types with a topical high concept slapped on it for…marketing reasons?

Look, fair enough, “The Chaser interviews some people” isn’t a great sales line in a competitive market, but shouldn’t a high concept add value to a show? And we’re not sure this one does…

Episode 1 sees Charles Firth and Dom Knight interview ex-pat stand-up Sarah Kendall, a good comedian with an interesting background, but the interview’s just awful. Kendall either isn’t aware of the secret agent scenario she’s involved in, or can’t be bothered with it, or can’t think of a way to make her participation in it funny. And neither can Firth and Knight. Not that it stops them.

Every couple of minutes the pair stop the interview so they can leave the room and plan tactics for the next stage, like actual cops or ASIO agents would do…except it’s not funny, it just breaks the flow of what could have been an interesting, amusing conversation.

By Episode 2, with John Safran, Firth and Knight have clearly had a re-think and are dialling back a lot on the whole interrogation thing. They interrupt the interview a few times to do their whispering in the corridor bit, but the show’s mostly an amusing chat with Safran. If you haven’t heard about Safran’s book Depends What You Mean by Extremist or want to hear his contemporary take on his infamous stunts with Shane Warne and Ray Martin, or how he put a fatwa on Rove, then it’s worth a listen.

Rob Sitch is the guest in Episode 3, which again is a good interview in which Sitch has lots of interesting things to say about The Late Show, The D-Generation, The Castle and various other projects he’s worked on, with minimal interruptions from The Chaser. It’s a similar story in Episode 4 with Peter Chudd creator James Colley, and if anything, there’s even less of the interrogation stuff.

So, lesson learnt: if you’re going to take an established format and give it a high concept twist, make it worthwhile or ditch it quickly. And after years of The Chaser running less-than-promising concepts into the ground, who knew they could do that?

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