After almost five months, the replacement for the short-lived John Conway Tonight, Aaron Chen Tonight, is here – and it’s not that different to the original. And if like us, you enjoyed Aaron Chen’s stand-out appearances as Conway’s ineffectual, geeky sidekick, and hoped he’d build on that when he took over the show, this is slightly disappointing.
Given the fits and starts to get this show back on the air, it was natural to assume it would be re-tooled to suit Chen’s comic persona. But, it appears it hasn’t. At least, not very much. As the end credits remind us, this is “based on a concept by John Conway” – and Conway’s show this pretty much remains. Which would be fine if Chen was, like Conway, the kind of everyman comedian who could slot into a straight-ish hosting role. Or, like Shaun Micallef, he had that sort of insane bravado that works as a comedy anchor. But he doesn’t. Not really. Chen’s strongest when he’s strange and nerdy, and he’s kind of trying not to be that here.
Our question here is: why? Did Chen make the decision to play it like this himself, or was it forced upon him? And was it too hard to make changes to the concept to make this truly Chen’s show? Either way, from what we know of Aaron Chen, this doesn’t feel like an Aaron Chen show. What this feels like is a halfway house that doesn’t quite work for anyone.
Not that Chen doesn’t throw himself into it regardless. He starts well, doing some of his stand-up, then he follows this with a new segment called Chen Diagram, which, while not hugely hilarious in this first episode, has the potential to be a funny regular feature. But after that, it’s mostly Chen linking sketches from the “players”, interviewing the show’s guests and dealing with interjections from dodgy agent and businessman Robbie Tarrocash, Penguini the Italian penguin and “Michael Caine” (via telephone). And let’s face it, almost anyone could do this – there’s nothing special about the way Chen does it. And that feels like a missed opportunity.
As for the sketches and interjections, they still have that ramshackle feel you only get in student revues and obscure comedy rooms, where newcomers are trying things out they wrote earlier that day to see if they work, which on TV (albeit ABC2) feels a bit odd. On TV you expect a higher level of polish, and even the potential of the cast – and they have potential – isn’t quite enough to carry some pretty mediocre material.
We really support this show – and anything that makes it onto TV and tries to do something different – but overall isn’t a great program. That and we’re still wondering why it took five months for this to come back when it’s basically the same as John Conway Tonight.