Sometimes a show succeeds despite itself. While Agony Uncles may have positioned itself as a source for all that hard-hitting relationship advice men have secretly been crying out for, our straw poll of people who’ve actually watched the thing boiled down to two separate results: every man we spoke to thought it was a crap show populated by smug and smarmy wankers humblebragging about their sexual conquests – and so they watched as little of it as possible – while the two women we found who’d watched it thought it was hilarious because (and they both used the exact same word) the guys on it were “dickheads”.
It’s always tricky to try and guess the intent of the people behind a creative endeavour, especially one that proved to be as muddled and unfocused (in intent if not format) as Agony Uncles. So let’s just say, judging by the serious fashion in which every single man on the show imparted his just-down-from-the-mountain “advice” about women and relationships (even when they were telling a funny story, this was a show that took its’ funny stories seriously), it’s possible to conclude that this “they’re all dickheads” result was not the one Adam Zwar and company intended.
Still, you take your laughs where you can get them and even a stopped clock is right twice a day if you’re too lazy to just chuck the damn thing out. Yes, the show’s many flaws were obvious right out the gate: where Agony Uncles‘ obvious inspiration Grumpy Old Men featured, well, grumpy old men griping about the state of the world today – a world that, in a lot of ways, they are no longer an active part of, thus disarming their criticisms and making them easy to enjoy as moaning from no longer powerful-figures – this featured men in the prime of their lives talking earnestly about something central to their emotional well-being. Even if they’d been hilariously witty (and they weren’t) or shockingly insightful (and they weren’t), they wouldn’t have been very funny. Unless, it seems, you just thought they were dickheads.
So what was the point of all this, apart from getting host /creator Zwar a paycheck? Apart from being a sop to a pissweak version of “celebrity culture”, what is meant to be interesting about having attractive, financially well-off, socially successful men talk about relationships? These aren’t guys who are getting it wrong, they aren’t getting it amazingly right either (then this’d be a show about how to pick up chicks) and they certainly aren’t particularly self-aware; for example, while no doubt they had preferences when it comes to women none of that mattered (or at least, they weren’t really mentioned) because when it comes to picking a mate “it’s ladies choice”.
Really? No-one connected that with the also expressed “it’s not a good sign when a woman approaches you” view to conclude that ladies are only allowed to choose from the men offered to them? Presumably that insight into the raw prawn women get partner-wise was being held over for the upcoming Agony Aunts (about which more later).
These weren’t men so famous that anyone wants to know what they think just for the sake of it and they weren’t so sharp or funny that their insights into anything had merit on their own. Agony Uncles was television-length rather than actual television, the kind of thing that simply exists without purpose or value.
Agony Aunts, on the other hand – and yes, thanks to a buddy with a time machine we’ve seen the first episode – is slightly different. For one thing, it features Denise Scott and Judith Lucy, who’ve been tackling this sort of area in their stand-up for a few decades now. They know what they’re talking about and they’re funny with it: big tick there. Wendy Harmer is also present, which is kind of the same thing only not as funny. The cast as a whole seem slightly more aware, which lifts the material as a whole a little.
Don’t worry though, Zwar somehow manages to come off as even more creepy with his “tell me how to LOVVVVE!” voice-over here, especially as he actually has his wife in front of the camera this time. And of course, just like the previous version this features plenty of cliches getting a dust-off. Men are hunters? Women like their men to be financially successful? Stop the press, I want to throw it at someone. Basically, whenever Sarah Wilson comes on just wack yourself in the face with a Sunday tabloid.
[actually, one of the big problems with this series is that it's just not shocking and offensive enough. Anyone who's ever spoken to anyone else about sex and relationships knows that people have insanely horrid and disgusting preferences when it comes to getting a root, and yet all this series serves up is bland "stay away from crazy women" and "men with cash are more attractive" pap. Where are the hilarious yet creepy fetishes? Where are the shocking yet arousing tales of asked-for abuse? These people don't seem to have actual relationships; they barely even have bunkmates.]
The real question of course is, why are we getting twelve weeks of this stuff? There’s barely enough insight from the men & women combined to fill a half hour special. Let’s say it again: they’re not famous enough to be interesting in their own right. They’re not experts in this area – no more than anyone else – so what they have to say isn’t informative enough to be useful. They take it too seriously to be funny – a few of the female comedians excepted and even then not always – but the show is too flippant to make their comments hang together as anything remotely serious. Even “tepid” is too strong a word to describe this crap.