Australian television comedy ended 2018 the same way it began: with Charlie Pickering prattling on like a private school debating student putting in the bare minimum effort because daddy’s money is all he really needs to win an argument. If you wanted to sum up the ABC’s year in comedy, the moment where Pickering ended The Yearly by throwing to another show that was also hosted by Charlie Pickering was as good a way as any. Can’t wait for him to host the New Year’s Eve programming again! Hopefully this year he’ll tell us to kill paramedics.
How did we get to a place where Charlie Pickering – a man whose claim to comedy fame is that he used to laugh a lot at Shaun Micallef, which narrows down his competition to roughly one third of the country – is the ABC’s biggest comedy star? It’s not like he’s actually funny or anything; c’mon, we may be haters from the old school, but even Pickering’s biggest fans admit that his strengths on television don’t lie in the area of actually making people laugh. He’s a newsreader, only without the charm: The Weekly would easily be a whole lot funnier if they got a traditional, formal, trained newsreader to sell the writer’s shitty gags. We hear Lee Lin Chin’s looking for work.
If you don’t believe us about Pickering’s flaws – and why should you; we’re haters, remember? – then The Yearly did a surprisingly solid job of pointing out both his weaknesses and the lengths to which his show goes to disguise them. Take Kitty Flanagan, whose appearances on the show were always a comedy highlight, and who once again went all out; it was also her final appearance on the show. No replacement has been announced.
Briggs, the other funny cast member and a man who was featured in the opening credits of The Weekly all year as a regular despite only appearing a handful of times, had a pre-recorded segment where he interacted with no-one: if he doesn’t return next year, will anyone even notice?
And yet, while the funny cast members of The Weekly are sidelined, Tom Gleeson – the only man who comes across as less charming and likable on-camera than Pickering – keeps on keeping on, confirming on-air he’d be back next year. Of course he will: he’s a valuable number two, as his entire act revolves around being a jerk. Whatever you think of said act, it definitely makes Pickering look good by comparison.
Or at least, it does when Gleeson’s the only other person on the show, which was often the case during The Weekly 2018. But The Yearly featured a surprisingly large run of comedy special guest stars and… shit, it barely took 30 seconds for Rove to reveal himself as both funnier and more charming than his former Project protege. And this is Rove! A man most people see as a firmly average and largely forgettable television presence! If they’d given Dave Hughes more than ten seconds air time they’d have had to cancel the whole show in shame.
Putting literally anyone actually remotely funny on screen in proximity to Pickering makes it abundantly clear that whatever Pickering’s strengths may be when it comes to keeping him constantly on air at the ABC, they don’t involve charm, humour, or ease in front of the camera. Yet in a year when Tom Ballard had his tonight show axed and The Checkout was also shown the door, Pickering was given a whole new show in the shape of Tomorrow Tonight to play with. Shakespeare said it best: the fuck?
And that show was somehow even worse than The Weekly, an insipid panel show based around discussing terrifying scenarios ripped from a seven year old magazine found in a doctor’s waiting room like “what if sugar, but bad” and “what is the deal with other countries”. The ABC’s desperate need to create “personalities” rather than decent programs seems to have reached a nadir here, as they try again and again to make Pickering seem like an interesting and talented television host by inserting him into programs somehow even more boring than he is. Thank God they axed the test pattern.
As a slightly smarmy upper class white man who is also slightly outraged for no good reason considering his position and status, Charlie Pickering’s comedy persona is perhaps the least funny comedy act it’s possible to image in 2018. He’s not even that good at it: while it’s impossible to image anyone replacing Shaun Micallef as host of Mad as Hell, any mildly competent sports reporter could do Pickering’s job at least as well.
And by “mildly competent sports reporter” we mean Peter Helliar. It’s just that bad.