You have to feel sorry for the ABC. On the one hand, they obviously want to put to air the best possible Australian comedy. Obviously.
On the other hand, the best possible Australian comedy is heading overseas as quickly as possible because that’s where all the money, opportunities and fame are. Sure, there are still plenty of talented local comedians but who wants to risk putting untested talent to air? For that matter, who wants to risk putting tested talent to air? They might have the wrong ideas about what’s funny.
So you have to feel sorry for the ABC: they need a steady, reliable source of comedy they can largely leave to their own devices – if you work too closely with new talent it might look bad for you when their show tanks – but can deliver time and time again. And also aren’t The Chaser because they seem to have gone off the whole “comedy” thing.
Fortunately for the ABC, they have Jungle (formerly Jungleboys), the advertising production company that’s currently dominating the Australian sitcom scene in a fashion not seen since… well, ever. They first burst on the scene with a variety of low profile shows – Review With Myles Barlow being the stand out, but there was also the Sam Simmons projects Problems and The Urban Monkey – before pulling in steady work with the utterly forgettable The Moodys. Don’t think we forgot The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife-Fighting either: it’s a high mountain to climb to create the worst sketch comedy in Australian television history, but they gave it a darn good try.
(fun fact: reports from the set of Elegant Gentleman claim that the cast were re-writing – or even just writing – the sketches on the day of filming.)
Interestingly, even when Jungle isn’t busy creating primo Australian comedy, core Jungle members Trent O’Donnell (writer / director) and Phil Lloyd (actor / writer) are out there working solo putting their stamp on things. O’Donnell’s directed many of the last decade’s memorable moments, including the first seasons of Laid, Woodley, The Letdown, and even parts of The Chaser’s The Hamster Wheel because we’re all in this comedy business together, right? And Lloyd’s been one of the more noticeable faces in recent Australian comedy, as seen in It’s a Date, Laid, True Story with Hamish & Andy, Woodley, and At Home With Julia.
But it’s been in the last few years that Jungle has really taken off in Australian comedy. No Activity, Here Come the Habibs, Squinters and the upcoming Sando: that’s what, half of all the Australian sitcoms made over the last two years? Which is a kind of market domination we haven’t really seen before: there have been plenty of shows that have grabbed all the attention thanks to their quality, but this is the first time a group has dominated Australian television comedy through sheer quantity.
It’s even more impressive when you consider that they haven’t exactly been producing any real comedy highlights over these last few years. They make the kind of comedy that fills the gaps between the shows you actually want to watch, sitcoms that have people wondering “why can’t we make great sitcoms any more”. They’re not exactly bad shows, but you’d be a bit surprised if anyone told you that No Activity was their favourite sitcom.
Jungle’s success is a big reminder that for a lot of people involved in television production the quality of the end product is not quite as important as reviewers and commentators – like us – would like to think. Put another way, when it comes to getting work, being able to make a half hour program on time and on budget (especially if the budget is tight) is more vital than being able to make a hilarious program. And with the kind of pressure these executives are under, who can blame them for taking the safe route?
Apart from us, obviously.