Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Extreme re-working: How The Chaser’s Extreme Vetting went from bad idea to good idea in just four episodes

Remember those suggestions that The Chaser would stay with Triple M after Radio Chaser finished up? Well, if by “Triple M” they meant “Austereo’s new podcasting platform Podcast One”, then yes, The Chaser now have a podcast there called Extreme Vetting.

What’s it about? Well, it takes Peter Dutton’s new super ministry and the general theme of surveillance as its premise, and sees The Chaser subjecting potential subversives to interrogations on behalf of the government. Or, to put it another way, it’s The Chaser interviewing some comedians and other media types with a topical high concept slapped on it for…marketing reasons?

Look, fair enough, “The Chaser interviews some people” isn’t a great sales line in a competitive market, but shouldn’t a high concept add value to a show? And we’re not sure this one does…

Episode 1 sees Charles Firth and Dom Knight interview ex-pat stand-up Sarah Kendall, a good comedian with an interesting background, but the interview’s just awful. Kendall either isn’t aware of the secret agent scenario she’s involved in, or can’t be bothered with it, or can’t think of a way to make her participation in it funny. And neither can Firth and Knight. Not that it stops them.

Every couple of minutes the pair stop the interview so they can leave the room and plan tactics for the next stage, like actual cops or ASIO agents would do…except it’s not funny, it just breaks the flow of what could have been an interesting, amusing conversation.

By Episode 2, with John Safran, Firth and Knight have clearly had a re-think and are dialling back a lot on the whole interrogation thing. They interrupt the interview a few times to do their whispering in the corridor bit, but the show’s mostly an amusing chat with Safran. If you haven’t heard about Safran’s book Depends What You Mean by Extremist or want to hear his contemporary take on his infamous stunts with Shane Warne and Ray Martin, or how he put a fatwa on Rove, then it’s worth a listen.

Rob Sitch is the guest in Episode 3, which again is a good interview in which Sitch has lots of interesting things to say about The Late Show, The D-Generation, The Castle and various other projects he’s worked on, with minimal interruptions from The Chaser. It’s a similar story in Episode 4 with Peter Chudd creator James Colley, and if anything, there’s even less of the interrogation stuff.

So, lesson learnt: if you’re going to take an established format and give it a high concept twist, make it worthwhile or ditch it quickly. And after years of The Chaser running less-than-promising concepts into the ground, who knew they could do that?

Vale Growing Up Gracefully, or It Takes Money to Make Money

Here’s a blast from the past: while watching the final episode of Growing Up Gracefully, the ABC’s latest not-quite-comedy to combine interviews with relationship experts with somewhat pointless sketches demonstrating not very sexy sex stuff, we noticed Marieke Hardy listed in the end credits as script supervisor.

Script supervisor is a job that, as far as we can tell, basically means “make sure the people actually making the show don’t screw it up”, which led to a bit of head scratching at Tumblies HQ. This is Marieke Hardy we’re talking about, right? The creator of the extremely unfunny and somewhat creepy Laid? Making sure a comedy series doesn’t go off the rails? Huh?

At first we figured her qualification for the gig was that she, like Growing Up Gracefully hosts Hannah & Eliza Reilly, comes from an Australian television background: while the Reillys are the daughters of Hey, Dad…! creator Gary Reilly, Hardy’s parents were both television producers with credits including The Sullivans and All The Rivers Run. No doubt they could sit around and talk about all the ways that they clawed their way up the media ladder and through hard work and effort managed to be given their own television shows on national broadcasters by the time they were in their mid-twenties. It’s a hard knock life.

But hang on a second. The Reilly’s have extensive media experience (Hannah was a long-time Chaser contributor and currently hosts a radio show on Triple J, for example): exactly how much supervising would their production need? Would this have been a full-time, hands-on job for Hardy – in which case our eyebrow over hiring her would have remained raised – or could this have been more of a casual, check-collecting affair, in which case her recent resume of co-writing Hoges and appearing somewhere down the credits of series like Packed to the Rafters and Wonderland might have qualified her for the gig?

Based on her recent TV credits, she certainly had time to devote herself fully to Growing Up Gracefully, as her only work this year has been an episode of Seven Types of Ambiguity – though she’s reportedly also on the writing staff for the upcoming third series of Cleverman as well. But it turns out she’s been busy elsewhere these last few years:

Hardy, a television writer, and regular panellist on ABC TV’s The Book Club, has spent much of the past two years working anonymously in “immersive theatre, live art and experiential theatre” at Dark Mofo, Brisbane and Melbourne festivals and the Melbourne and Adelaide fringe festivals. Two years ago she received the $160,000 Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship.

It’s fair to say we were, um, somewhat surprised to read that Hardy was given a $160,000 grant, considering her creativity was fairly well plumbed over two series of Laid and it’s not like anyone was clamouring for more after that wrapped up. There’s also the small matter of her being gainfully employed as a television writer, a job that last time we checked paid more than the fuck-all most artists in the country are trying to live off. Oh, and she’s a television panellist: since when do those guys get “creative fellowships”?

But then we remembered this post we wrote a few years back detailing the numerous grants she’d been given over a number of years for various film and television projects that never materialised and in at least one case seemed certain never to materialise even before the money was handed over.

So why are government funding bodies throwing good money after bad?

At a guess, it’s because Hardy knows how to fill out the right forms and – thanks to her previous two shots at the big time – she technically qualifies as the kind of experienced television producer they want to encourage. As people who have seen pretty much all of her television output to date, may we respectfully suggest they reconsider.

(if you follow that link, you’ll see we were left wondering if Film Victoria would cough up more development cash for Hardy for the fifth straight year in a row. Turns out they did – $10,000 for something called Family Man which, like the previous three years’ projects, never materialised)

Hey, let’s go check out the requirements for the Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship, shall we?

The Sidney Myer Creative Fellowships provide grants to individual artists, arts managers, and thought leaders in the humanities.

The two criteria used to select Fellows are: outstanding talent and exceptional courage. Specifically, this talent and courage relates to the professional practice of the Fellows and not to cases of personal hardship.

“Outstanding talent”. That’s maybe not the two words we’d direct towards the creator of Laid. But they did stress that these criteria have nothing to do with “personal hardship”, which are also not two words we’d direct towards the creator of Laid.

Let’s continue:

The Fellowships are intended for artists in their ‘early mid-career’ – to be eligible, nominees must be in the first seven to fifteen years of their creative practice. They are also intended for artists who will primarily be resident in Australia for the two years of their Fellowship.

Hardy was awarded this grant in 2015 at the age of 39. It’s fairly safe to say by any objective standard her “creative practice” (that is, the creative endeavor in which she’s best known for and most successful at) is television writing* – her one book, a collection of personal essays notable largely for her getting the co-subjects of said essays to write afterwords praising her, was published in 2011, with a follow-up novel never appearing.

As a television writer, her first credit as a “series writer” was for Short Cuts in 2002. Though her first television writing credit was for Thunderstone in 1998 and she wrote for a range of series in 2001, so while she made it under the 15-year wire she was definitely cutting it pretty fine.

That’s only if you ignore the whole “early mid-career” thing, of course – having two seasons of your own sitcom is pretty much as good as it gets for a television writer in Australia, and by any reasonable standard Hardy’s television “creative practice” in 2015 was well and truly past any kind of “early mid-career”.

But of course, she wasn’t given this cash for her television writing: she got it because she’s Marieke Hardy, television panellist, newspaper columnist, radio host, event organiser, former topless blogger and high profile public figure-

working anonymously

-at various festivals.

(not Meredith music festival, obviously)

Anyway, while exactly how the money was spent remains a mystery – it seems the details of her festival work from the above article actually comes from a 2015 article announcing her win:

She couldn’t detail exactly how she would use the two-year fellowship, but said: “I want to be able to keep collaborating and keep working in new mediums.”

It does seem somewhat fortunate timing that just as the two year grant ran out she scored a gig as the new co-head of the Melbourne Writers Festival. All we really need to say about that is that the article praising her “strong literary lineage” that we quoted above is written by her co-panellist on The Book Show, who also happens to be The Age‘s books editor. It’s not what you know it’s who you know – unless what you know is how to fill out a grant form.

We could go on – “Working without my name attached has been the most beautiful thing I’ve done.” says a person who clearly craves anonymity – but let’s (finally) cut to the chase: unlike other areas of the Australian arts, comedy is an area where success is (somewhat) measured in laughter, not rampant self-promotion and empty hype. People’s careers tend to take them where their particular skills are best suited. And if there’s a second series of Growing Up Gracefully, they probably won’t need a script supervisor.



*it’s most definitely not her online writing.







The one where we finally get around to reviewing Lost in Pronunciation

It’s unfortunate that iView comedy Lost in Pronunciation came along at roughly the same time as Ronny Chieng International Student. Both are autobiographical sitcoms centring on immigrant stand-ups trying to comprehend Australian life and culture but one is better than the other. And it’s not this one.

Lost in Pronunciation starts with stand-up comedian Ivan Aristeguieta, fresh off the plane from Venezuela, wandering into an Adelaide coffee shop and chancing upon housemates Scott and Tia, who confuse him their Australian idioms (i.e. “Bob’s your Uncle!”). Eventually getting away from these baffling foreigners, Ivan arrives at the house of a friend who’s offered to put him up…except his friend’s already put up every South American in South Australia and there’s no room for Ivan, so it’s back to the coffee shop he goes, where Scott and Tia take pity on him and offer him their sofa.

And give or take a few attempts by Ivan to move out of Scott and Tia’s place, that’s the series: a newly-arrived South American is indoctrinated into Australian ways by a vegan guy and a bogan chick. Cue the culture clash hilarity.

Compared to Ronny Chieng: International Student the humour in Lost in Pronunciation is more of the slapstick/over-the-top comedy variety, which is sometimes but not always funny. An episode about how some magpies swoop out of gum trees and attack people becomes a bizarre farce where everyone in the neighbourhood has to carry large sticks and wear ice cream tubs on their heads whenever they go outside. Look, we get what they were trying to do here – and Australia is full of fauna that can be fairly lethal – but this was just too over-the-top to work. Although we did laugh a lot when the trio packed for a weekend camping trip and Ivan spent ages preparing delicious South American campfire food while Tia just filled her ute with nothing but slabs of West End Draught. Because that is a thing that happens here. Sometimes, we are Aussies are that stupid (and thirsty).

More successful are the cutaways to Ivan’s stand-up act, where Seinfeld-like, he does his observational material about his adopted country. Problem is, when the show switches back to the sitcom, a lot of the material is based on exaggerated stereotypes and easy gags. But if you’re the one person who still laughs at how vegans never shut up about being vegan, or at how vegans are so weak from the lack of protein that they can’t move, you’ll love this.

You Made A Show About A Piss-Stained Mattress

There’s a certain school of thought that says reality is the highest form of art. The closer your novel or drama or whatever gets to reality, the better it is. Everything about The Other Guy suggests creator / star Matt Okine and his team wanted to make a show that first and foremost felt real. And they’ve succeeded: everything about this series feels like an incident or character plucked from real life. Because no-one would be stupid enough to make this shit up.

First things first: The Other Guy isn’t funny. It’s not really even trying to be funny. Trying to be funny involves more than just thinking up a situation that could conceivably be funny and then just writing it down and moving on. To wit: the first episode is largely about a piss-stained mattress. The mattress contributes nothing to the story, aside from Okine’s character AJ constantly saying to everyone “I didn’t piss on it”, which –

– oh yeah, this is the level we’re operating on here: AJ spends the entire episode denying that it’s his piss soaking into the mattress until the very last scene of the episode, where he finally admits that yeah, it was him. He admits this to his ex (Valene Kane), who he dumped because she cheated on him. They still have a connection, see? She’s the only one he can tell the truth to, right? About his drunken piss antics. Awww.

But here’s what matters: nothing funny happens with the piss mattress. They don’t trick a germaphobe into sleeping on it, they don’t have to get it outside because it’s stinking up the place but it’s too big to remove, they don’t really do anything with it. The entire first episode revolves around a pissy mattress that’s just there until they throw it out.

Anyone who would like to suggest the mattress is a metaphor for this show, feel free.

What The Other Guy really is, is a pissweak – ohohoho – lightweight romantic drama. Ignore anyone silly enough to compare it to either Atlanta or Master of None: Atlanta was a funny yet deeply thoughtful look at a part of American culture rarely examined on television, while this is about 20-something cool dudes wandering around Sydney saying stuff like “why did I sleep with my dealer?”. Master of None was a look at romance from a guy willing to mix things up to get at emotional truths: this features a one night stand that ends awkwardly because neither partner will admit they pissed the bed.

In fact, the only thing this has to do with those US series is that their success opened the door for an Australian knock-off. Hey, local critics: if you’re comparing an Australian comedy series to an American one simply because the local version also features a comedian of colour, maybe you’re being just a little bit more racist than you think.

Still, like every serious Australian drama, it’s well shot in a “no cheap laughs here” fashion. Okine himself – and just him, no-one else – has an easy charm that makes him – just him, no-one else – a moderately engaging lead you can’t help but wish was in a show where he was doing dumb stuff with funny mates. But instead his best mate is Stevie (Harriet Dyer), who as written is so astoundingly unfunny it’s like she traveled here from an anti-matter universe where the highest form of comedy is dragging fingernails down a blackboard.

Considering how ham-fisted the writing is in general – oh look, a scene with AJ’s dad, why do these shit dramadies always bring the parents in like anyone under the age of thirty wants to hang out with the olds fuck you Please Like Me – it’s almost a good sign that they never figured out how to fit in the obligatory “aww, she really cares” moment with Stevie, who spends the entire first episode taking drugs, slipping drugs to AJ, complaining about how it was a bad idea to sleep with her dealer, laughing at her dealer’s range of “slampieces”, inviting herself to move in with AJ, and so on and on and on.

It seems slightly possible that the comedic idea behind having her be astoundingly unpleasant in a completely unfunny way is to occasionally have her taken down a peg (her dealer gets to point out that sleeping with him doesn’t mean she gets free drugs), but it’s hard to tell for sure. Really, really hard to tell.

That’s where this whole “dramedy” approach totally falls down if you want to make a comedy: if you think being realistic is your main goal in a show like this, then you have to undersell things (well, you don’t really – reality is full of crazy shit. But if you want your television show to be seen as “realistic” then you have to downplay things), and that means you can’t do a big abrasive character who gets their comedy comeuppance each episode. It’s too broad.

Trouble is, this also wants to be a comedy, because Matt Okine doing a serious drama based on his own breakup would just be sad and creepy. He’s mining his life for laughs, people! And obviously that whole scene where the off-putting mattress salesman told a pair of complete strangers he was totally up for an orgy is something that happens every day. But to be fair, on a better show that would have worked as a moment of random creepiness against a realistic backdrop. Here it comes in a scene where AJ and Stevie are rolling around on mattresses being annoying pricks as per usual.

The tone is all over the place: if you want laughs from them being jerks in a mattress store, then go for that. Don’t then suddenly have the physically unappealing salesman reveal that sex with multiple partners is on his menu (AWKWARD) because quite frankly even if he is average-looking why would he want to fuck a couple of drunk jerks who’ve just been lying on his mattresses with their shoes on?

Just to return to Stevie for a moment, there’s a lot of comedy around at the moment based on women behaving badly. Almost all of it works because the people behind it understand that on some level the joke has to be on someone – either the person who’s behaving badly, or the stuffy types around her that she shakes up.

Here though, Stevie is annoyingly self-centered without the show giving any context for her behaviour to be out of place – the joke isn’t that she’s inappropriate, or that she’s oblivious to what’s around her, or that she’s messing up AJ’s life, or anything like that. The joke is that “wow, she’s really full on and crazy, right guys?” In real life this kind of character is the kind of character people say should be in a comedy show. But this isn’t real life.

Dramedies are almost always awful because they want all of the results without putting in any of the hard work. They want to be seen to be telling it like it is in such a way that nothing needs to make sense in a dramatic way because real life doesn’t make sense, and they want you to laugh without writing jokes because real life doesn’t have jokes. Having AJ argue with his barmaid-slash-one night stand over who pissed the bed then cut to them back in his bedroom about to have sex again only works with the audience doing all the hard work of rationalising the characters’ insane behaviour in their heads: we’ve all known people who’ve done crazy stuff like that in real life, so why not cut these fictional television characters the same slack?

Here’s why not: they’re not real. This is a fictional narrative. As such, we’re entitled to expect the writers to shape their material to create certain effects. If they want to get laughs, have the characters say and do funny things. If they want to be realistic, have the characters behave in a realistic fashion. But this garbage? Where the characters just do whatever at random because supposedly a total lack of logic or motivation feels real and where the comedy is meant to come from us thinking “yeah, that’s funny” rather than actually having anything funny happen?

It’s as weak as piss.


Biting the Hand that Feeds

One of the things Australian sketch comedy used to be known for is taking a swipe at other television shows. Whether it was Fast Forward mocking Derryn Hinch or however many times Paul McCarthy wasted our time with his sub-par Kochie impression, mocking other shows was part and parcel of the sketch comedy scene here. Until it wasn’t.

Mostly that’s due to the traditional sketch comedy scene dying a slow, painful death. Nobody in 2017 wants to be following in the footsteps of Wednesday Night Live and Totally Full Frontal. But there’s an element of throwing the baby out with the bathwater here too – after all, for close to two decades one of the main reasons people tuned into sketch comedy here was to see people rip the shit out of television. And thankfully, Mad as Hell is back on the job.

This isn’t exactly new ground for the series, of course. In previous years Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was always good for a laugh or two, and that’s just off the top of our head. But – and we’re going out on a limb here, so feel free to correct us in the comments – usually the sharpest send-ups were reserved for the final episode of the year. Or at least, we seemed to think so back in season four:

Surprisingly – or not, depending on how closely you’ve been paying attention – for a news satire the final episode of Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell contained a lot of swipes at other comedy shows. And well deserved swipes at that, whether the targets were lazy ABC “comedy” panel shows (the ‘Blather’ sketch even contained a reference to the number of episodes pre-recorded by our old nemesis, Randling), the random chatty nature of shows like Media Circus, or Dave Hughes – though the impersonation there was more affectionate than the rest.

But this year it feels like the satire is both a little bit sharper and a little closer to the core of the show. The Cleverman parody has turned up twice now (presumably because they filmed a bunch of it at once), and for a series that’s supposedly world-class television (which generally makes it critic-proof in Australia) it’s a delight to see someone pointing out that Cleverman just might not be the most amazing program ever made.

There’s also been a pretty decent kicking given to Anh Do’s Painting Party or whatever that show was called, and – perhaps more interestingly – there was the segment where Micallef explained that the interviews on The Weekly are time-fillers they get on for free because it’s basically a promotional opportunity. Which we all kind of knew, but it was still surprising to hear it said on national television – much like it was those times a few years back when Mad as Hell pointed out that Chris Lilley wasn’t perhaps quite as amazing as we’d been led to believe.

Admittedly these are all fairly soft targets and mocking television programs isn’t exactly ground-breaking. What makes this stuff work as comedy in 2017 is that after close to a decade where Australian comedy has had nothing to say on the subject of television – let alone television that’s airing on the same network (our fondness for Have You Been Paying Attention is well known, but if they were ever to really let rip on some of Ten’s dodgier offerings it’d be a very funny night indeed) – having Micallef say that other ABC programs just might be a bit crap seems a bit edgier than it might have been back in 1997.

Plus he has a point: much as we love and support the ABC, they do have a habit of coming up with shows more miss than hit. Cleverman really does think it’s cleverer than it is, Anh Do’s Brush with Fame is a bizarre idea for a chat show (unless you remember the UK painting-related chat show Rolf Harris hosted which, ew?), and the middle third of each episode of The Weekly really is just a thinly disguised advertisement for whatever the guest is flogging on the interview circuit. If our TV critics* aren’t willing to point that out, looks like it’s up to the comedians to do their job for them.


*we have TV critics?



The Chaser and a network of fake news

Here’s something interesting we saw the other day:

The Chaser working to launch Fake News Network

August 8, 2017

DeciderTV has learned that the team behind The Chaser are currently shopping around a TV project to Australian broadcasters with the working title “Fake News Network”.

Fresh off the back of delivering Radio Chaser on Triple M Sydney, featuring both Chaser and non-Chaser talent, it is understood Charles Firth is the driving force behind this project. Radio Chaser featured Firth, Dom Knight, Chris Taylor & Andrew Hansen, with frequent inclusions Rhys Muldoon and The Feed’s Mark Humphries.

It is unclear if any of the team involved in Radio Chaser will be involved in the new project, though given the available pool they draw from it’s highly likely. Other Chaser members Craig Reucassel & Julian Morrow have just wrapped another season of The Checkout for the ABC, & Chas Licciardello continues to deliver weekly episodes of Planet America with John Barron for ABC News.

DeciderTV understands there has been some interest from a couple of networks. Those that have seen the pitch episode report it’s “Not just about news satire”, and say it’s “Much broader than they were expecting from The Chaser”.

The Chaser have been responsible for a number of satirical shows featured on ABC television, including CNNNN and The Chaser’s War on Everything. Firth also was executive producer on ABC2’s The Roast, where he formed the connection with writer/performer Humphries.

Firth was also reportedly working on an untitled project with Channel Ten earlier this year before the network went into receivership.

When approached for comment Firth declined, noting “It sounds like Fake News”.

Of course, what with all this fake news about it’s often worth waiting to see if any other websites pick up a story before you know it’s the real deal…

Fake News Network: The Chaser pitching new TV project after hit radio show

August 10, 2017

The team behind The Chaser are currently shopping around a TV project to Australian broadcasters with the working title “Fake News Network”.

News of the new TV project comes after the successful Radio Chaser on Southern Cross Austereo’s Triple M Sydney, a show that featured both Chaser and non-Chaser talent.

Radio Chaser featured Charles Firth, Dom Knight, Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen, with guests Rhys Muldoon and The Feed’s Mark Humphries.

Other Chaser members Craig Reucassel and Julian Morrow have just wrapped another season of The Checkout for the ABC, while Chas Licciardello continues to deliver weekly episodes of Planet America with John Barron for ABC News.

Reucassel also hosted one of ABC TV’s biggest hits of the year so far – War On Waste.

Firth also was executive producer on ABC2’s The Roast, where he formed the connection with writer/performer Humphries.

There is believed to have been interest from a couple of networks. Those that have seen the pitch episode have commented it’s not just about news satire and is much broader than they were expecting from The Chaser.

With their previous TV shows attracting more than a million viewers in TV’s glory days, an episode of The Chaser could be attractive to any TV Network.

Firth was also reportedly working on an untitled project with Channel Ten earlier this year before the network went into receivership.

When approached for comment Firth declined, telling Mediaweek: “It sounds like fake news.”

So maybe this is real news. Oh, wait, the original link to the second story doesn’t work anymore and if you want to see it you have to look at the cached version. What the hell is going on here? And why haven’t any other sites picked this up? Normally a story about a new Chaser project would appear on sites like TV Tonight and Mumbrella too.

Sounds to us like if it is real – and it does sound like the kind of show The Chaser would be pitching in August 2017 – someone doesn’t want us to know about it quite yet.

More worryingly, it also sounds like a re-hash of The Roast (the largely awful news satire show from 2012-2014 that we slagged off endlessly because it really was a massive pile of crap) re-tooled for the Trump era. Joy.

Spin Me Right Round Baby

Press release time!

Gruen returns for 2017 with its 99th episode

Friday, August 11, 2017 — THIS IS A PRESS RELEASE TO SELL GRUEN…

There will be grandiose language, hastily gathered quotes and just enough information to sound enticing without actually giving anything away.

Yes, the show that unpicks the dark arts of advertising, branding and spin is back for its 9th season and 99th episode.

We are drowning in more marketing than ever. People are now brands, while brands pretend to be people, emailing you on your birthday and trying to seduce you to ‘join the conversation’. We’re living in a world where the US President is the biggest brand of all, celebrities are “influencers”, influencers are celebrities and words like “influencer” have lost all meaning.

Whether you’re spooling through Gumtree for a second-hand fridge, skipping through a podcast selling you a mattress, or checking the weather on the BOM website – you can’t avoid advertising. It’s as ageless as the airbrushed actor spruiking expensive face gunk. The only anti-venom is understanding how it all works.

Enter host Wil Anderson, Russel Howcroft, Todd Sampson and a trusty team of advertising experts, including veteran panellist Dee Madigan and some brand-new faces. The weekly topical series will drive through new marketing terrain – Amazon in Australia, the NBN and any PR disasters unlucky enough to erupt during the course of the season. Gruen will celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly. Plus, The Pitch returns with a whole new slate of impossible briefs and top agencies to battle it out in the Gruen ring.

Join us as we sneak ads onto the ABC and call bullshit on brands pretending they’re just like us.

Wednesday 13 September, 8.30pm.

Here’s an idea: how about a show that calls bullshit on millionaire ad executives pretending they’re just like us? Because that’s pretty much the only thing that comes to mind every time this disgustingly blatant advertisement for the advertising industry rolls around.

We’re kinda used to press releases being a bullshit ramshackle house of lies, but this kind of crap shack takes things to a whole new level (a second story, if you will). Okay, so how is watching a show that’s nothing more than a squad of millionaires sitting around a table watching commercials and going “mmm, good job” in any way an “anti-venom” for advertising? Does anyone living today believe Gruen explains how advertising works at a level beyond “damn, we’re good”? This is a show that puts on air advertising executives – not people outside the industry who just might have a opinion on advertising that isn’t “fuck we’re great” – and gets them to comment on each others work. What the fuck?

Movie reviews aren’t written by other film-makers. TV critics are, generally speaking, not people who make a living from making television. Football commentators and columnists may have played the game once but they’re usually not current players. So what makes advertising so special that only people currently making millions out of working in advertising get to go on Gruen to talk about how great they are oh wait we just answered our own question and that answer is “fuck off Gruen“.

The real question about who Gruen is made for and why is answered by asking: why isn’t the solution to a problem on this show ever simply “less advertising”?


The one where we finally get around to reviewing Almost Midnight

Released on iView at the same time as Goober was romcom Almost Midnight, a six-part series about Dave, a shy entomology student looking to kiss a girl before the end of the year. Described on IMDb as a “black comedy”, it wasn’t really either, which was sort of a relief.

When we meet Dave (Stephen Banham) in episode one, he’s at a friend’s New Years Eve party and it’s heading for the 12.00am – can he find a girl to kiss? Then Jen (Lucy Lehman) walks in, a good-looking confident woman who seems totally perfect for him – she even likes insects – but wait, after an embarrassing moment which has the rest of the guests laughing at Dave’s stupidity, Dave goes off to the bathroom and walks in on Sarah (Danielle Catanzariti), an annoying loud-mouth who’s vomiting in the toilet. Gallantly, Dave holds back her hair, and when the clock strikes midnight Sarah thanks him with a sicky kiss…at which point Jen walks in. D’oh!

In episode two, it’s News Years Eve one year later and Dave and Sarah are together, but only just. Spoilers: let’s just say he doesn’t get to kiss her again. And on it goes, one New Years Eve per episode, where Dave and Sarah inch a little bit closer or a little bit further away from getting together.

It’s fair to say that once the first couple of episodes are out of the way, the romance very much takes over from the comedy as Dave and Sarah look like they’re maybe making some progress towards getting together. Although Dave’s mate Acka (Aaron John Casey), your stock standard dreadlocked, pizza-guzzling, hard-drinking loser, provides a few laughs. And episode four, where Dave decides he’s had enough of New Years Eve parties and spends the night at home with some goon, doesn’t exactly go to plan, which provides us with some pretty well done visual comedy.

Overall, though, Almost Midnight is kind of depressing, as sad-faced Dave mopes his way through various parties in the hope of getting with his dream girl. Is that the element of the show that IMDb thinks is dark? God knows…

A Hard Earned Thirst Needs A Big Cold Beer

Despite our amazingly persistent reputation for “shitting on” just about everything, we’re not intentionally cruel people at Tumbleweeds HQ (also: we are people, plural – there really is more than one person writing this stuff, honest). When a show comes along like Hard Quiz, we know why the ABC has made it and we sympathise with their motives. Yes, the result is garbage and yes, this result could have easily been avoided. But at least they tried to make a good show, at least they-

Oh wait, they gave Tom Gleeson a quiz show. What the fuck?

The ABC is, as we all know, amazingly strapped for cash. They’re also the people who let Spicks & Specks die and replaced it with Randling. So while we understand their need for cheap programming that can run forever, their track record when it comes to creating and maintaining such shows is, we say again, garbage. Anyone remember How Not to Behave? And now we have Hard Quiz, a show even more misbegotten only it’s a quiz so hey, it’s back for a second season. Frankly, we’d prefer Randling.

(fun fact: we find even first rate quiz shows pretty boring. So 1): we’re going to focus here on the host-contestant interaction side of things and 2): quiz show fans should totally ignore every word we say)

We know absolutely nothing about what it’s like to work at the ABC – ok, that’s not strictly true: we know nothing remotely publishable about what it’s like to work at the ABC. But it seems safe to say that management there will often play favourites, and it also seems likely that some comedians would rather not deal with the ABC if they could help it. So there’s almost certainly a very limited pool of people who can get to host a show at the ABC. And in that pool, Tom Gleeson should be roughly seven kilometers away giving a talk to a room full of bored generic middle management types.

Pretty much anything we say these days is going to be read as hating on our subject so it’s really, really tempting to steer into the curve and just let fly. But that wouldn’t be fair: Tom Gleeson has had a solid twenty year career in comedy with regular television appearances on pretty much every network so he must be doing something right. Maybe we should ask Charlie Pickering, he seems to have a pretty good idea what it is.

Let’s just say that if we were looking for a someone to host a quiz show where pretty much the only thing going on that might possibly appeal to people not in love with fucking quiz shows is the host’s banter with the contestants, he would not be on the list. Or near the list. Or allowed to be spoken of by anyone within earshot of the list. In fact, Tom Gleisner wouldn’t be allowed on the list in case someone mis-read it, and Tom Gleinser is an actual good host.

While this just seems like more pointless bile from us, the important word here is “contestants”. If it was a HYBPA? style show with comedians answering questions, then sure, put him out front. In fact, that’s something we’d really, really like to see: Gleeson trying his smarty-pants act in a scenario where professional comedians can fight back hard. It’ll never happen, of course: on his Hard Chat segment things were designed so that he had the upper hand even when he was being insulted – having them bite back eventually became the whole point. Still, we can dream. And Gleeson can do smarm.

But with regular folk Gleeson can’t really do his usual act – at least, not at a level that generates actual humour. He can make a few cracks here and there, but after you’ve seen maybe half of one episode even that loses its edge. Oh no, he was mean about regional New South Wales! He pulled a face during an embarrassing anecdote! Hey, isn’t Tony Barber still looking for work?

Much as they can take a joke and Gleeson is good with a quip, the contestants are still regular folk who can’t compare snark-wise with a seasoned professional: while it’s “all in good fun”, anything remotely mean is going to feel really unpleasant. As we said before, Gleeson has been on television for close to twenty years, so he knows the score: the Gleeson on Hard Quiz is a much cuddlier, friendlier version of the snarky jerk he usually plays, and that’s totally the right move for this show.

Unfortunately, that means there’s absolutely no reason why he’s hosting this show. Whatever success Gleeson has today comes from his work on The Weekly, and all he does on The Weekly is act like a jerk. The unique selling point of Hard Quiz is that it’s a generic low-stakes nerdy quiz show hosted by a guy who’s going to be a jerk to the contestants, only he can’t really be a jerk to the contestants because the contestants aren’t arrogant smart-arse know-it-alls looking to be taken down a peg but regular folks who think they know a lot about a mildly obscure topic. This week one of them was an expert on Friends, for God’s sake.

So why is he hosting this show when the format doesn’t let him do the one thing he’s good at doing? Why isn’t the ABC worried that mis-casting him as a cuddly game show host is going to, as they say, “damage the brand” that he’s worked so hard on with The Weekly? Because no-one aside from us gives a shit: it’s a quiz show on the ABC.

It’s going to rate moderately well because ABC viewers love quiz shows, and while it’s not going to do better than that because it’s hosted by Tom Gleeson and not Wil Anderson or Adam Hills, no-one cares because everything else the ABC has tried has been a horrible disaster (see every other show mentioned here). It’s a show you put to air when you’ve given up and Gleeson is the host you hire because he’s already hanging around the office.


The one where we finally get around to reviewing Goober

If like us, you were too busy last Christmas/New Year to watch TV, you might have forgotten about the three series of comedy shorts launched on iView at the end of December. Goober, Almost Midnight and Lost in Pronunciation are all 6 x 5-minute narrative comedies funded by the ABC and the South Australian Film Corporation, and…we really ought to have reviewed them by now.

Goober is the story of Harry (Brendan Williams), an over-friendly Uber driver on the autism spectrum who’s trying to work out how to ask out Wendy (Ashton Malcolm), who works at his favourite ice cream shop. Every episode starts with Harry on the phone to his Dad (Shane Jacobson), asking for advice, before picking up some customers. Harry, acutely aware that friendliness is one of the things they will rate him on, tries to strike up a conversation with his passengers, except it often goes a bit wrong, and the reviews aren’t always complimentary. Cue Harry at the ice cream shop, trying to chat up Wendy and consoling himself with a strawberry sundae.

But the sentimental scenes involving Wendy and Harry’s Dad aside, Goober relies on the comedy of awkwardness and anxiety. A bit like The Office, except laughing at the awful things that came out of David Brent’s mouth worked because he was a dickhead who could presumably change his ways if he tried. In Goober, Harry has autism and that’s just how he is. Also, he is trying.

Either way, it’s hard to laugh at someone with a disability when all the gags are about them doing things because of their disability. Anyone of a certain age may remember feeling similar when watching Mother & Son, where the main character had dementia and most of the laughs were about her forgetting things. Or, to quote a friend of this blog on whether Fawlty Towers is funny: “I can’t laugh at it because Basil’s clearly mentally ill.”

Perhaps this is where Goober‘s sentimental scenes come in, to deflect from that fact that 90% of the attempts at humour are “Autistic guy says something awful”. The other 10% of the gags are the reviews Harry gets from his customers – which are pretty funny – although not funny enough to make this a hilarious show.

If you don’t mind a bit of sentiment in your comedy, check out episode 5, About A Boy, where Harry has to drive a shy child to a birthday party. It’s very sweet. But if you find it hard to enjoy a comedy that tries to get laughs by punching down – and as sweet as this show can be, it is punching down – then Goober isn’t for you.