We’ve just sen the back of season eight of Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, and seriously: is this show ever going to drop off? Australian television isn’t known for giving comedies long runs, but we’ve had almost ninety episodes of Mad as Hell now and the quality shows no signs of fading. How much longer can they keep this up?
Not that it hasn’t gone through some changes over the years – and if you really want to feel old, find some episodes of the previous version Newstopia. That was a great show too, but watching it now it’s just close enough – but different to – Mad as Hell to come off as a bit stilted. Largely that’s because Newstopia was a sketch show with news jokes mixed in: Mad as Hell is a lot looser, faster-paced and more designed to be viewed as an entire 30 minute whole than you’d expect from watching any other segment-focused news comedy currently on air.
(it’s funny to think we were worried at the time about the addition of a live studio audience. Considering the way Micallef’s timing is almost always off when he doesn’t have one, it really lifted the show to a new level)
It’s tempting to say Mad as Hell was ahead of the times there for a while, so let’s just say it: Mad as Hell feels suited to today in a way that it didn’t quite a few years ago. The best things about Mad as Hell – at the moment at least; for all we know when it comes back it could just be The Kraken Sports Report or something (remember when Mad as Hell used to do regular sports jokes? Weird) – usually come from the way it’s a show that keeps coming at you. These days interviews are cut to their bare essentials, Micallef will happily mug to camera to spice up a bit, his rants will run for ten minutes basically uninterrupted (the fake ad breaks are appearing later and later each episode), the meta-comedy has more layers than most multi-story council carparks, and so on. And it’s been like that for a while.
But not so long ago the whole point of news comedy was to come up with discrete bits that could “nail it” and “go viral”. The Weekly was the kind of show that (supposedly) people wanted, with Charlie Pickering taking apart topical issues in a way designed to get the internet firmly onside because they’d already said exactly the same thing. By comparison, Mad as Hell‘s firehose of gags lacked structure (and the obvious scolding of the internet’s chosen bad guys); how could you cut the opening of Mad as Hell into a three minute issue-tackling clip that would be shared worldwide?
You couldn’t. Fortunately, Mad as Hell was funny, and it stayed funny when the “nailed it” fad fizzled out. These days The Weekly is the show out of touch, and it knows it; a tired comedy interview segment with Tom Gleeson wouldn’t be the focus of a large chunk of their recent promotional push if they had anything better to offer. We no longer need comedy shows to tell us the news is hilariously bad; the regular news has that market cornered. We need comedy shows to be funny to distract us from the fact our leaders are both idiotic and venal… and if they can get a few laughs from pointing out those characteristics, so much the better.
So how much longer can this go on? The thing is, Mad as Hell is a show that seems to get funnier as each season goes on – it actually feeds off and responds to the news in a way that creates running gags as well as specific bits, plus the writing team aren’t afraid to amuse themselves to keep things interesting. Occasionally they’ll run a bit into the ground, but it was always funny in the first place. It never feels like it’s running out of steam towards the end of its run… maybe because it saves its most savage swipes at the ABC for the final episode.
In contrast, a lot of satirical shows start out strong each season before fading fast in a way that makes it pretty clear the writers need six months off to come up with a dozen good jokes. Which is fine: we need more good jokes. But we also need people who can write good jokes based on the D-grade material our politicians supply week-to-week. Mad as Hell has them: at the rate it’s going, it’ll breeze past the hundred episode mark and just keep on going.
Which isn’t saying much as Micallef has already said there’ll be a ninth season towards the end of the year. Hurrah!