Over the years, the various incarnations of the ABC’s new comedy talent initiative Fresh Blood have thrown up some shows of variable quality. But in 2024, things are looking, well, a lot better than we expected. Whether any of the 10 three-part Fresh Blood pilots recently released on YouTube will catch the eyes of the powers that be is yet to be seen, of course. But here’s what we thought of them…
What’s it about?
Vidya Rajan (Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café) plays Ruby Rai, an up-and-coming private investigator trying to find the Monstera Murderer, who steals monsteras from people’s homes and kills them, documenting their crimes on social media. As part of her investigations, Rai interviews an annoying polyamorous trio who are more interested in speaking their truths than helping her solve the crime, appears on a commercial radio show hosted by Gobbo and Chi Chi (a spot-on parody of Kyle and Jackie O), and tracks the Monstera Murderer to a local variety store.
Would we like to see more of it?
Absolutely. Even if the crime is maybe a little dumb, Rai is an engaging and likeable central character, and the show gets plenty of laughs from the idiotic people she has to deal with.
What’s it about?
Comedian Annie Louey (perhaps best known for presenting the ABC’s China Tonight) plays Annie, who works as an assistant for disorganised funeral business proprietor Sal, whilst mourning the death of her father. As in Ruby Rai P.I., Annie finds herself having to interact with various idiotic but funny characters through her work. The mad/racist uncle of a deceased dirt biker and a misogynist tyre repairman obsessed with building his social media following are particular highlights.
Would we like to see more of it?
Again, absolutely. Writers Annie Louey and Joshua Ladgrove have created a solid and funny central premise, and these pilot episodes demonstrate their ability to create recognisable and entertaining characters.
What’s it about?
Day Job is a documentary about the staff at a bowling alley, most of whom are struggling graduates who don’t want to work there. Boss Rico is an annoying bully who thinks he should get a promotion, while the staff are so underpaid that some of them are living at the alley.
Would we like to see more of it?
Not really. This show leans into the documentary style too much, having characters talk over the top of each other to the point of the show being incomprehensible at times. Worse, it sacrifices potential comedy for realism. The end result is some recognisable but not especially funny characters and situations.
What’s it about?
Three young adults of the diaspora, who grew up in Sydney’s western suburbs, move to the inner west and try to make it in art, fashion, and life in general. We see the characters deal with racial profiling, clueless white people, and their traditional older relatives’ expectations.
Would we like to see more of it?
This has potential, although it’s hard to see how the three characters fit together (apart from that they’re non-white and grew up in Western Sydney). While this has overtones of dramedy, there is some funny and pithy commentary on both people from the diaspora and inner-city white people, as well as some joyous moments of triumph, liberation, and celebration throughout.
What’s it about?
In this comedy about juggling traditional parental expectations with your own desires, girls school attendee Urvi (Melbourne comedian Urvi Majumdar) is desperate to date Ryan, the hottest guy at Beaumont Boys.
Would we like to see more of it?
For these pilots, we follow the plot of Urvi trying to get a date with Ryan. In a full series, we’d presumably learn more about Urvi’s parents, sister, school friends, teachers, and the boys from Beaumont. And from the brief glimpse we get of the other characters, there are plenty of opportunities for laughs in this show. The School Principal, who appears all too briefly in one of the episodes, is particularly funny.
What’s it about?
When best friends Norah (played by the show’s writer and creator Wendy Mocke) and Charli (Preppers’ Joseph Althouse) die in a freak accident, they find themselves in Ancestral Headquarters, a blackfellas afterlife, where they’re assigned to help young Black people in crisis. Their first case is Erik, a talented young rugby player about to be signed by the Brisbane Bronchos, who actually wants to be an actor. Can Norah and Charli help Erik get into the school production of Macbeth?
Would we like to see more of it?
Bad Ancestors is a premise with a lot of potential, as there are endless possibilities for the young people Norah and Charli could help in each episode. Although based on this pilot, a full series might lean further towards “feel-good” rather than out-and-out comedy. Having said that, we really enjoyed the parodies of pretentious inner-city white people, from Erik’s audition panel asking him to “channel his ancestors,” to Norah and Charli’s yoga-obsessed white alter egos.
What’s it about?
Katie (Gold Diggers’ Danielle Walker), a journalist based in the city, returns to her rural hometown, Gowa. She spends time with her parents and best friend Renae (Walker’s co-writer Lauren Bonner), and documents what the people of Gowa are going through before it floods due to global warming.
Would we like to see more of it?
In this pilot, you don’t get much sense of the looming catastrophe of the flood, it’s more about your parents being weird and annoying when you spend time with them as an adult. While there are some laughs here, this is not one of the funnier or better shows in this year’s Fresh Blood.
What’s it about?
In this parody of a late-90s/early-00s kids show, host Emma (Emma Holland, as seen on Have You Been Paying Attention?) tries to teach children about art with the help of a talking Renaissance torso, pancake artist Chef Gina and a local postman who fancies her. Whilst similar to Shirty The Slightly Aggressive Bear from The Late Show, this is far more surreal, psychopathic and creepy, particularly when some of Emma’s backstory is revealed.
Would we like to see more of it?
Definitely. This is weird and disturbing but it’s also very funny. And while it seems like the kind of premise that would work better as a series of sketches, the hints that Emma isn’t presenting the show voluntarily and is somehow being manipulated by the show’s producer could make for an interesting plot.
What’s it about?
The six all-woman and non-binary crew members of a spaceship blame themselves for blowing up a planet they’ve come to explore. But was it them, or something else?
Would we like to see more of it?
Maybe. This is based on an existing podcast series, so there’s already plenty of material to turn this into a full series. Having said that, the pilot TV shows weren’t hugely hilarious in comparison to some of the other shows in this series of Fresh Blood.
What’s it about?
According to Screen Australia’s press release…
Reg, a hot-headed animated First Nations man living in real-world Redfern, gets evicted from his home and goes in search of his place of belonging (which he can’t remember) guided only by the spirit of his late wife Agnes and Wiiny: a little gum-stoned furry flirt who he can’t understand.
Would we like to see more of it?
Yes, but we can’t see any of it, as Kingsland hasn’t turned up on the ABC’s YouTube account yet. According to this Instagram post from co-creator Josh Yasserie, the “live action side” has been filmed, suggesting there are animated elements to this show.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a Fresh Blood pilot has been announced and then hasn’t appeared. Remember 2014’s Pet Quarantine?
This show mocks Australian racism and provides a commentary on the state of Australian attitudes towards ‘other’ cultures. It is a show built on stereotype that doesn’t seek to judge or condone but highlights the hilarity of the different values and desires of cultures from around the world. By creating a microcosm of the Australian multicultural landscape in a Pet Quarantine Station (perhaps the least invasive risk of infection into white Australia) and concentrating on attitudes towards immigrants and ‘new’ Australians onto fluffy, childlike puppets, Pet Quarantine seeks to highlight the nation’s dirty and unspoken sentiment of fear, mistrust and ignorance of all ‘others.’ The creators of Pet Quarantine have their own fan bases. The original Beached Az YouTube video was viewed more than 8 million times and spawned a successful series for the ABC and merchandise. Nick Mattick, who plays the title character Swabby, is part of the comedy duo Smart Casual, who have played at comedy festivals around the country and overseas.
If/when Kingsland (or Pet Quarantine) get a release, we’ll update this post to include a review.
According to TV Tonight, Kingsland “will be available to view on ABC TV and iview soon”.
The thing with good comedy is, it always has a point of view. One or more human beings found something funny and decided to share it with the rest of us. And when you don’t have that, you have The Weekly.
Usually comedy series that lack soul make up for it with money. At one end, you have stand-up. It’s extremely cheap but still entertaining because it’s one person’s unfiltered (well, you know) take on things. At the other, you have expensive but empty sitcoms and marketing-led movies. Jokes are just something they throw in to make it seem like humans were involved in the process.
The Weekly exists outside that spectrum. It’s both cheap and soulless, a show that’s nothing but a host behind a desk and a handful of guests – either ABC employees or touring comedians with something to promote. Yet it still feels like nobody really wants to be there.
This is clearly insane. Australia is full of talented, funny people who would leap at the chance to be on the ABC every week for months at a time. Australia also has well-paying jobs for haircut models who can read an autocue. Neither of these trends results in The Weekly.
And yet, here we are. Watching a show so half-arsed that even when the source of around 20% of its content – contestant intros on Millionaire Hot Seat – was axed, they went “oh well, let’s just put to air the leftovers”. Couldn’t even be bothered coming up with a farewell twist for this long running time-waster.
For years The Weekly staggered around with clearly no idea what it was trying to be. It’s both impressive and depressing that it finally seems to have figure out what it wants to be: shit.
Remember when it featured Kitty Flanagan or Judith Lucy? And Pickering would occasionally front a good-intentioned segment that tried to explain why something was news? Now each episode ends with Pickering ripping off Mick Molloy ripping off John Belushi by doing a bit where he says something is no damn good. Only those guys went over-the-top to get laughs because they were comedians and Pickering just reads lines off an autocue same as every other bit because he’s just a host.
Not that it really matters because what’s going on with the audience anyway? We expect them to laugh at unfunny material because that’s what they signed up for, but this crowd is going nuts over material that isn’t even recognisably comedy. Sure, The Weekly‘s never been a show that sold itself. But trying to drown out the crap material with hootin’ and a hollin’? That doesn’t exactly improve the experience for those watching at home.
Plus in a textbook case of saying the quiet part out loud, each week The Weekly features a sketch where some elder statesman of Australian television (Barry Cassidy, Margaret Pomeranz) passes hilarious thumbs-down judgement on a program (even if it’s The Weekly itself) aimed at young people. Hey kids, never forget who’s really running things on your ABC.
The history of Australian comedy is littered with satirical programs that were just awful, garbage programs. But while some of them were possibly worse than The Weekly, none of those trainwrecks lasted ten seasons with no end in sight. What the fuck is wrong with the ABC that this turd wasn’t flushed years ago?
If there’s one big problem with the current wave of dramedies – and there’s dozens of problems, but let’s continue – it’s that they’ve replaced comedy’s jokes and drama’s drama with… nothing. Dramadies are just aimless, drawn out dramas with a mildly amusing premise. They’re half an hour of limp dialogue and static staging that builds up to a punchline that’s almost always “you just wasted your time”.
Funding bodies love them because they tick various boxes audiences don’t care about, which is why they almost always start with a big funding body logo. Creators love them because they’re easy; they’re meant to have low dramatic stakes and “naturalistic” dialogue that’s unfunny and forgettable. There’s almost nothing you can do to make the format work. Or at least, that’s what we thought until we saw Triple Oh!
Now available at SBS On Demand, Triple Oh! is the story of two paramedics – Tayls (Brooke Satchwell) and Cate (Tahlee Fereday) – who attend various somewhat amusing emergencies. The twist is, Tayls has a policy of having sex every time a patient dies. And as someone just died before the start of episode one, newbie Cate is torn. Should she overthink things, or just enjoy the afterglow?
Why it works is simple: each episode (there are five) is around 7-8 minutes long. Someone has a medical problem, our leads banter is interrupted when they get the call out, they turn up and sort things out. The story moves forward a notch, we’re done.
There’s nothing here that’s all that much better than your typical dramedy. The medical problems are more wacky than drama (two of the five are sex related; one is a time-waster that leaves the paramedics trapped in an elevator; one involves too-tight jeans). The banter is good but not exactly memorable. The on-going plot is a will-they won’t-they deal complicated briefly by some unexpected social media fame and Tayls’ seen-it-all cynicism.
But by stripping everything down to the bare essentials, it loses all the bloat that makes most dramedies unwatchable. Turns out that whole “brevity is the soul of wit” thing goes double when you’re dealing with a guy with a broomhandle up his arse.
Sure, even without 18 minutes of blather every episode, this isn’t some rapid-fire joke machine. If you want that, there’s a few candidates in the current First Blood schedule worth checking out. Triple Oh! just has some nice performances, some nicely shot scenes, and a bunch of throwaway comedy ideas.
And it’s around 50 minutes all up. Which turns out to be exactly as long as it needs to be.
Welcome to the Australian Tumbleweeds Awards, in which we honour the best and worst of Australian comedy in 2023.
Last year wasn’t the worst year in Australian television comedy, but that wasn’t for lack of trying. Actually, maybe it was: 2023 felt like the year when Australian comedy just gave up. Forget coming up with anything fresh or surprising, let alone new. If you like comedy and you were born this century, good news! The joke is, there is no good news.
Sure, on a series-by-series level the year ticked along in a manner that, from a distance to a disinterested viewer or ABC executive, may have suggested a sustainable industry. Aunty Donna finally got a show on the ABC (it was later cancelled); Working Dog continued to provide the goods with Have You Been Paying Attention? and The Cheap Seats (then they brought back Thank God You’re Here). We didn’t get any Hey Hey It’s Saturday specials. Chris Lilley didn’t make a comeback.
But you can’t keep an industry running just by keeping Daryl Somers out, and otherwise all we got in 2023 was more of the same. More The Weekly, more Wil Anderson, more Chaser faces turning up a decade after we thought we’d said goodbye. What little new comedy there was felt like a contractual obligation, a series of half-baked ideas and half-hearted dramedies that bubbled up from the bowels of various funding bodies with no clear audience in mind. So hey, slap a big COMEDY label on them and just don’t mention the ratings after the first week.
Comedy can’t go on like this. When the big news for 2024 is that Shaun Micallef is coming back to the ABC – and yes, we’re as excited as anyone else, but we’re making a point here – things are looking just a touch grim. Micallef left the ABC in 2022 saying he hoped his departure would free up resources for new comedic talent; when management finished laughing, they axed everything that featured anyone new and offered him his old job back.
Comedy used to be for the young; out in the real world, it still is. But on our screens, you’re expected to wait decades to get anything more than a guest appearance on a panel show that might as well have been made in 1996. The people who made The Late Show in 1993 are now making pretty much every Australian comedy show on commercial television in 2023; it’s not that we don’t appreciate their hard work, but you’d think someone else might have stuck their head up in the last 30 years.
So even if individual shows didn’t suck (don’t worry, most of them did), the Australian comedy scene – at least as far as television is concerned because shit, movies are in a whole ‘nother category that is so much more depressing to contemplate – just keeps on getting increasingly stuffed. When was the last time anyone new came along to stir up some real interest in local comedy? What was the last sitcom that attracted attention beyond the kind of people who are reading this?
Comedy is meant to be the most popular of popular art forms, something that cuts through barriers of race and class to unite us all in the singularly human experience of enjoying something funny. Young, old, rich, poor, red-faced racist crank or unicycle-riding inner-city greenie, who amongst us doesn’t like to laugh?
Well, if we had to guess, the people behind a lot of the following.
Arriving at least 10 years too late to ride the “everything’s funnier if you turn it into a musical” wave, Australian Epic arrived late and turned everything into a musical anyway. With the exception of the final episode on Tampa, which was a long-overdue howl of rage at 30+ years of Australian government policy on refugees, the rest of the series was, at best, a pointless waste of everyone’s time. But with jazz hands.
Every decade or so, one of the commercial networks sees the gaping comedy hole in their schedules and green lights a prank show. Remember that one with Rebel Wilson? We barely do too! In The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical) Jokers, the four members of the team take turns to both set up and be the primary victims of the pranks. It’s all about challenging each other and making each other laugh, but don’t worry, they’re all great mates really! As a psychological study of how straight white guys form relationships with each other, it’s possibly quite interesting. For anyone watching who was hoping to be entertained, it was mainly weird and uncomfortable.
Speaking of straight white men, and weird and uncomfortable, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering continued to do what it does best in 2023: inexplicably stay on air. Relying heavily on guest-authored segments to be watchable, the rest of the show consisted of middle-of-the-road summaries of recent-ish current affairs stories and wacky clips packages about… things? We honestly forget. And while being unmemorable (not to mention unprovocative, unincisive, dumbed-down and way too safe) presumably prevented it from being a target for the anti-ABC culture war mob, you’d be hard-pressed to make a case that The Weekly… is doing its job. Satire should be funny and challenging. The government should be quacking in its boots. Instead, here’s a softball interview with the Prime Minister. Followed by more wacky clips or something.
The Weekly‘s ongoing sketch where Margaret Pomeranz reviews things Margaret Pomeranz wouldn’t normally review is one of the freshest ideas of 2004.
Weirdly, over nine series searching for a formula and a removable supporting cast, The Weekly has slowly morphed through slightly different versions of the same bad show, like Captain Charlie helming his own Ship of Theseus of shit.
The Weekly is proof that you cannot fire anyone from the public service for rank incompetence.
A strong cast, good costumes, the type of setting few Australian sitcoms have explored before…that’s all we can come up with that’s positive to say about Gold Diggers. The principal problem of this eight-episode series (eight episodes!) was that the script felt like a first draft, with the concept half-baked and the opportunities for jokes barely explored. Still, it featured some women in the 1850s speaking in contemporary social media talk and being all feminist and shit. LOLZ!
Chris Lilley may have been “cancelled” by TV but in podcast land, he can do whatever he likes. And whatever he likes is this rambling, barely entertaining and certainly not funny continued exploration of Ja’mie, his over-privileged ex-private schoolgirl character. Now in her early 20’s, Ja’mie is a wannabe influencer and fashion designer living in L.A., trying to make it. In the hands of a better comedian, there would be plenty to be said about her and her world. In the hands of Chris Lilley, you will unsubscribe in frustration at how infrequently he has anything funny or interesting to say at all.
The original Mother and Son may have got uncomfortable laughs out of… dementia? Alzheimers? memory loss? …it was never quite clear, but at least it got laughs. This reimagining fell into the same traps that most contemporary sitcoms fall into: it focused on drama and realism and forgot to include jokes. It was only when Jean Kittson turned up as Maggie’s friend Heather that the show got genuinely funny. Turns out a bit of chemistry between the performers and some actual comic situations are quite entertaining. Who knew?
The reboot of Mother and Son is essentially a contemporary version with no humour, no laughs, no joy, no touch of finesse and no chemistry between the main actors, in yet another feeble attempt to stroke Matt Okine’s already inflated ego.
Was very sceptical of Mother and Son when it was announced then softened over time until I saw it. Denise Scott is easily the best thing about it but damn is it a slog.
Mother and Son frustratingly hinted at what it could have been, when it wasn’t busy being season 2.5 of The Other Guy. Okine isn’t a strong enough performer to hold up his half of the premise.
Can you imagine actually telling anyone you still watched Gruen? It’d be like getting excited about the new Rolling Stones album or something. There’s a point where being a long-running success starts to say something unpleasant about both your audience and your inability to challenge them in any way – but we’re talking about a show where one of the regulars is also a Qantas board member, so it’s not like being embarrassed about being a toxic blight on society is ever going to happen here.
Pranks! They don’t always suck, but after what feels like a few thousand years worth of television programs based entirely around treating innocent people like easily duped chumps, you really need to do better than this. At least a lot of the time the joke was on the other members of the team, which made the whole exercise watchable in a “guess that’s yet another half hour of the only life I’m ever going to have that’s gone forever” sense.
One of the many, many frustrating things about the ABC is that while plenty of perfectly decent programs get the axe for the slightest of reasons, a handful of turds just keep on coming back despite generating no interest or excitement whatsoever. Good luck trying to figure out why these particular duds are the chosen ones of management; while audiences ignore them at best and openly loathe them at worst, they keep on returning time and time again, providing nothing of value while chiselling further away at the idea that the ABC has even the slightest interest in what the viewers at home would like to watch. Bizarrely, this was never one of the questions raised on Question Everything, which was back in 2023 for a third season.
The question they clearly didn’t ask is “How do we make a funny panel show?”
How many more shows involving questions can the ABC make??
It’s weird that Wil Anderson is still constantly working, but has never felt less relevent.
Hey, here’s a question: is advertising the same as it was a decade ago? To quote the theme song, “nah nah nah nah nah nah nah”. So why is Gruen still the same old same old? Prime time viewing on the commercial networks is basically just hours of advertising disguised as programming: even Have You Been Paying Attention? has live reads as part of the show, while the only way most people see commercials these days is by actively seeking them out on YouTube because they heard Russell Coight was back flogging cars. But to talk in any serious way about the modern world would be a): alienating for the oldies who still watch this advertisement for advertising and b): a terrifying window into a bleak hellscape where everything you do is constantly being auctioned off to remorseless inhuman entities created solely to exploit and commercialise your innermost thoughts and feelings. But hey, just so long as Wil Anderson makes a snarky quip about how AI-generated advertising will soon make every aspect of human creativity completely unwatchable, it’s all good.
Remember when Wil Anderson said the solution to the lack of fresh talent on the ABC was to give him another show? Okay, maybe he wouldn’t host it, but… then what would be the point of having him around? So yeah, let’s get him to host it. And if you’ve got Anderson hosting you’d better give him something to do – he can’t just introduce the new talent, that’s not fair to the audience who’ve tuned in to see him. But having a middle-aged white guy hosting yet another ABC show is a bit of a bad look, so better get in a younger woman to co-host, and she’s got to have stuff to do too because otherwise it’ll look a bit obvious that she’s just there for “balance” and… hey, where’d the new talent go?
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that you can draw a direct line from the current controversy over the ABC dumping a freelance journalist for (checks notes) having an opinion some powerful people didn’t like, to the ABC’s seemingly endless support for Charlie Pickering. Let’s explain: technically The Weekly is a satirical news program, but it’s really just the latest series to fill a slot the ABC sees as essential but nobody wants to watch – Let’s Make The News Cool. The News is what the ABC (believes it) does best: while they have bugger all interest in getting the youth interested in just about everything else (so music shows, no arts coverage, no dramas not aimed at 60-year-olds, and so on), it’s seen as essential to air news programs that appeal to the next generation of 7.30 viewers. But after decades of conservative white-anting, much of ABC News is pretty much just mindlessly parroting talking points lifted from the nation’s most rabidly right-wing press while struggling to articulate any viewpoint that isn’t earning $200K a year. And you can’t get comedy from a view of the world that sides with the top end of town, that reflexively agrees with power, that only says “We’re just having a laugh” about things that benefit the poor and downtrodden. All you get is The Weekly. And it’s shit.
How is this still on?
I don’t know anyone who actually watches these programs. Like, not even on in the background of a dementia ward.
Can’t beat The Weekly (enough).
Is financial domination a real thing? Okay, yes, it probably is because every single sexual fetish you can think of is a real thing somewhere out there. But if you want to give loads of cash to someone sexy so they can treat you like crap, why not just pay them to treat you like crap in a way that involves something a little closer to actual sex? Anyway, this movie is supposedly about that fetish, but it wasn’t showing at any cinemas near us so we never got to see it. Do they still release Australian movies on DVD?
It’s a film about an alcoholic actor who’s now sober but with his glory days behind him who tries to reconnect with his family over Christmas. Nice job getting this out before the movie based on that Paul Kelly “How to Make Gravy” song hits cinemas with a damp thud later this year, but otherwise it’s yet another well-made Australian movie about a pretty depressing situation that we’re told is a comedy because otherwise nobody in their right mind would see it at any time of the year. You know what a comedy movie is? A movie where the cast of a sitcom goes on a vacation to a trashy yet slightly exotic location and oh right, we don’t make sitcoms now either.
Look, it was on a streaming service you’d already paid for anyway, what more do you want?
I had to Google what these movies were because I’ve never heard of them. This has happened for the past five or so years now! Which is a great indicator of how bad and how truly awful the Australian cinema industry is.
Jones Family Christmas is the real big dog.
This inter-generational dialogue between Pete Smith, Tony Martin and Djovan Caro hit the mark early and after just seven episodes it’s set to continue in the same vein. Sometimes it’s a pop culture nerd out, other times it’s an opportunity for celebrity anecdotes, or to give ventriloquism a go. Either way, we’ve liked and subscribed.
In a world where most broadcasters and streamers will only consider making a comedy if it’s a dramedy, there are surprisingly few examples of good dramedies. This is one of them. Deadloch was both a well-scripted, intriguing murder mystery, and funny. It also had more to say about misogyny, class, sexuality and white/indigenous relations than The Weekly… has managed in nine years. A new series of the show, or some kind of spin-off, seems assured.
Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe was one of the best new sitcoms from the ABC for ages, so naturally, they axed it. The Aunty Donna guys will be back with something new and brilliant, of course, but the ABC’s failure to recognise and reward the inventiveness, originally and sheer hilarity of this series says all we need to know about the ABC in the 2020s.
Aunty Donna are consistently sensational.
Trust Aunty Donna and The Two Kate’s to bring the comedy thunder this year. Both very different, but equally brilliant. Endlessly rewatchable; just more of both please.
Aunty Donna. World class.
77 episodes in and Tony Martin’s Sizzletown is as fresh and funny as it was when it started six or so years ago. How can it still get big laughs from the same set of characters month after month? Combine Tony Martin’s well-honed ability to take the piss out of traditional media, everyday idiots and old films and TV, with Matt Dower’s top-notch editing skills, and you have a show which will probably never get tired.
It might be difficult to believe if you’ve been watching a certain kind of Australian comedy, but being funny doesn’t have to mean being stupid. One of the many, many joys of watching the work of Mitch McTaggart is that the man clearly knows exactly what he’s talking about. Sharp, insightful, balanced – when he starts throwing insults they’re both well-judged and well-deserved – and above all funny, at times it feels like McTaggart comes from a parallel world where television doesn’t automatically mean garbage. Or maybe he’s just really good at his job.
It pretty much sums up the current state of comedy that the winner of this award for 2023 was axed after one season due to a management change at the ABC. Seems the new guy decided that Aunty Donna wasn’t a good fit for his vision of ABC comedy – a vision which we can only assume consists of the words “be less funny”. Traditionally the winner of this award is some long-running classic of Australian comedy held aloft by all and sundry as the kind of top-notch work that will run and run until those responsible retire or die – you know, efforts like Clarke & Dawe or Mad as Hell. Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe was the equal of those shows; it seems that in 2023 being the best comedy of the year isn’t good enough for ABC management.
The Aunty Donna show had so many jokes. Great to see an actual comedy, not a ‘dramady’.
True Australian comedy.
They are very funny.
There was some great stuff, though more comedies should aim to be as funny as NCIS Sydney accidentally is.
We’ve left sketch comedy behind and evolved into something more… not sure what it is, but it’s something.
On one hand, we’re all sick of seeing the same people fronting or guest starring in every show, but when they get newer performers in (as is the remit for Question Everything), they just aren’t very good. So I think 2023 has been another year of the Catch-22 of comedy that has existed for a few years. Also, is there any work for actors or journalists anymore, or is it just comedians stepping into every role in every show/ film/ advertisement? Why would one go to drama school or train in journalism when your best bet for any media work is to go to Gaulier or do the stand-up circuit?
Needs more help from government and more opportunity.
A few drops of positives amongst an ocean of negatives.
I could do with fewer panel/topical shows. At the very least, the formats could stand to be more adventurous.
You know things are bad when Paul Fenech is the standard bearer of comedy. He is the only one that has successfully cultivated an audience and knows what they want and sees themselves (sometimes literally) in his work. He is the only one that will keep working 10 years from now while others have faded into obscurity or are doing a show filled with member berries trying to recapture former glories that didn’t really exist in the first place. This isn’t necessarily praise, more just an observation of how truly dreadful Australian comedy has been for the past decade. This needs to be fixed urgently.
Horrible state of comedy on TV is reflected by the AACTA awards. Best shows were Aunty Donna and Mitch McTaggart. Neither nominated. But Gold Diggers is!
Commercial television is dead. It’s a shame, but it’s true. While it’s great to have a few reliable staples (Have You Been Paying Attention, Thank God You’re Here), mixed with some truly brilliant fresh blood (Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe, Deadloch), the majority of offerings have been nothing but dreck.
In 2023, I listened to more podcasts then any other medium combined. The comedic shift is here, bebe.
Summed up with the statement that I will never, as long as I live, understand the mania for Colin from Accounts.
Again it’s the ABC and some streaming services that bring us the gold. 7 took a shot at it with We Interrupt This Broadcast which did have some great sketches in there. Shame it’s been removed from their streaming service. Then they gave Fenech another show. Am I alone in thinking sketch comedy should be far bigger at the moment given increasingly short attention spans?
The funniest Australian comedy moment of the year was Sam Campbell brute-forcing discussion of Plucka Duck into Taskmaster, and Julian Clary saying being on Hey Hey it’s Saturday was “not a career highlight”.
All round another disappointing year for Australian TV comedy (the same could be said for the past 10 to 15+ years). Almost the only things worth watching were the same popular shows of the past few years. Fortunately we had a few decent efforts from Aussies on YouTube (Damian Powers’ Expanded Minds Only and a short or two from Hot Dad productions come to mind) and I can’t help but think next year will be an identical case. I hope I’m wrong. What a shame when there are so many Australian comedians and comedy writers doing great things overseas right now. Whilst I don’t think “defunding the ABC” is the answer replacing most of their dinosaur conservative staff and eliminating bonuses and promotions for those that play it safe could go a long way towards promoting fresh comedy talent.
Vale Cal Wilson, kind, generous, funny and gone too soon. Perhaps someone can reboot Sleuth 101 in her honour.
Quantity begets quality, at least in part. 2023 on TV had something at least half decent for everyone. Betoota and Australian Epic for the edutainment crowd, Thank God You’re Here for people who haven’t watched TV since it was on telly last time. Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe was too scrambled for my personal taste, but I’d take it over season 10 (!) of The Weekly any day. Deadloch likewise was very popular with people who I know don’t otherwise engage with Australian TV. Of course real stinkers like The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical) Jokers kept local TV humble, and the misguided Gold Diggers wasted a strong cast on terrible material. We Interrupt This Broadcast a patchy but enjoyable show of mostly new-to-TV talent; in some ways the most exciting thing of all… and of course we can’t be having any more of that.
In podcasts, From The Hideout might have great talent but it’s still three blokes sitting around gasbagging. Starship Q Star (technically a December 2022 debut, sorry) showed what can be achieved with strong sitcom writing and talented comedy performers. The Sizzletown train shows no sign of slowing down, having become one of the most dependable regular releases in the country. Not wholly a comedy due to its episodic nature, but I also enjoyed Simon Hall’s Minuscule Musical.
The above is a selection of the many comments we received. Thank you for voting and commenting, now comes 2024…
We’ll announce the “winners” on or about Australia Day.
So after a few false starts, Question Everything finally figured out what kind of show it wanted to be. No, not a shit show. In fact, it’s even possible to see why those involved might have thought they were making something decent. They weren’t, of course, but it’s been a long year, we’re getting tired, and sometimes you have to play devil’s advocate to get over the line.
The original idea behind Question Everything seems to have been some kind of Gruen spin-off. Only it would look behind the scenes at news instead of advertising, and feature the usual comedy suspects instead of people who knew anything at all about news.
The only thing interesting about this first version was that, due to covid lockdowns, they had to get in fresh faces instead of the usual chumps. Host Wil Anderson wasn’t a fan, so the next series ditched the idea of fresh faces in favour of… Paul McDermott and Wendy Harmer? Okay.
The greatest hits idea also didn’t really work, and meanwhile Jan Fran was stuck with pointless segments trying to raise the audience’s media literacy. So in this series they… just did more of the same, only with slightly fresher guests. Problem solved!
Time to play Devil’s Advocate:
Okay, so this year, Question Everything sometimes felt like a television show and not just a collection of random bits held together by a timeslot. Wil Anderson is a competent host. Jan Fran is also competent at what she does. Nath Valvo is always good value. And… yeah, we’re done. Can we play Hungry Hungry Hippos instead?
Some shows elevate their guests. The Cheap Seats is funnier than it should be. Question Everything is the opposite, a creation that’s less amusing than its individual parts. It’s a frustrating watch, because there are good people and skilled professionals up there working hard to make a show that’s firmly below average week in week out. Why?
To get the obvious points out of the way, this show doesn’t need two hosts. It barely needs one. Why does Wil Anderson do a bunch of gags on each topic when the point is to get the guests to do a bunch of gags on each topic? Also: his gags are pretty shit. Yelling because you’re pretending not to understand something stopped being funny when Dave Hughes stopped being funny. So around 2005?
At the moment, Australian panel shows are dominated by two cartels. Working Dog over on Ten is one: the ABC is the other. Whatever their flaws, Working Dog are trying to make comedy shows that work as comedy shows. If they don’t work, people won’t watch them, they’ll be axed, game over.
For example, compare the way the panelists on HYBPA? interact with the way guests do on Question Everything. HYBPA? largely falls under the heading of “pissfarting around”. They make fun of each other, they build on each others jokes, they’re generally having a good time unless Ed Kavalee’s being weird.
Question Everything is just a collection of bits from strangers who are working alongside each other rather than working together. When someone takes up some else’s joke, it’s to say “I can do it better”*. The vibe is forced and slightly awkward in the way of pretty much all ABC panel shows**. The whole thing feels like a talent showcase rather than a cohesive show. And why?
Working Dog create shows: the ABC uses shows like Question Everything to create personalities. The point of Question Everything isn’t to amuse or entertain you. It’s to keep Wil Anderson in front of audiences in the hope that you’ll tune into the next show or event he hosts.
At this, the show is a dismal failure. Anderson isn’t even necessary; at least Jan Fran has her own (pointless) segments. Anderson is just doing his Gruen act yet again, only it doesn’t work when he’s surrounded by comedians. On Gruen he’s a point of difference, the wisecracking funny guy who deflates the experts. Here, he just laughs at other people’s jokes… but not so much that you ever get the impression he actually thinks they’re funny.
That leaves everyone else fighting for last place. The guests are more interested in one-upping each other than entertaining the home audience***, because in a talent showcase there actually are winners and losers. Again, that’s because the ABC is a network that creates personalities, not decent television. This series they’ve decided we can’t get enough of Mel Buttle; next series, who knows?
To make a news clip show work, you need a bit of energy. The show needs pace; you’re rarely going to come up with great jokes when you’re dealing with clips about misbehaving animals and bungling politicans, so quantity is the goal. Unless you’re Question Everything.
This is a clip show that presents audiences with a clip that hopefully they haven’t seen already. Then we get a couple of clunky Anderson gags. Then he bluntly throws to a guest to do some material they prepared earlier. Sometimes Jan Fran explains what we just saw in case we’ve never encountered the concept of “the news”. The whole thing is flatter than hammered shit, to coin a phrase.
At one stage Fran said “I feel like this is the last episode that will ever air, right?”. It’s a question we can only hope is answered in the affirmative.
**a notable exception being Gruen, which might explain why it’s popular
***when the final episode of the year opens with a segment on the word of the year (hilarious) where one person just screams, another does two minutes on “fundle”, and Tom Ballard lumps Optus in with Hamas, get fucked.
At the heart of Australian Epic is an assumption that you will find the concept of the series funny. Musical theatre-style songs about half-remembered events from Australia’s recent past? How hilarious! The problem is, after several decades of ironic musicals (Keating!, Shane Warne: The Musical) the idea of presenting a musical about something seemingly a bit ridiculous to write a musical about doesn’t seem quite so funny anymore.
This means that Australian Epic lives or dies as a comedy based on whether the songs in each episode are funny or not. And in most cases, they aren’t funny songs in and of themselves.
So, with no funny songs to speak of, and its over-arching concept a joke that’s had better days, what is the point of Australian Epic? This is something we were wondering until we watched the final episode of the show (airing next week but currently on iView) on the Tampa crisis.
The Tampa crisis was a moment which divided the nation. For those who were on the side of letting the Tampa refugees into Australia, it was also a time when the true colours of many ordinary Australians were laid, bleakly and shockingly, bare. Was this really what people thought about refugees? Yes, it really was.
The Tampa episode of Australian Epic is intercut with footage of John Howard electioneering on the issue, and a contemporary interview with then Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, showing how cynically the then government dealt with the issue. Ruddock, asked what he thinks now about the decisions the Howard government made, says, with a coldness that will chill your bones, that he sleeps very well at night, thanks very much. Meanwhile, Abbas Nazari, one of the Tampa refugees and a child at the time of the crisis, who was later accepted as a refugee by New Zealand, turns out to have become a Fullbright Scholar, reminding us that we not only missed an opportunity to change people’s lives for the better but that we missed out on their potential. Shame on us.
But it’s the final song in the Tampa episode of Australian Epic that really hammers this point home. Entitled “Thank God That’s All The Past”, it’s the rundown of the legacy of Tampa, in which over the past 20+ years, right up until today, Australia has locked up, mistreated, abused, and killed refugees, irrespective of who they are, or which political party’s been in charge. It’s not exactly hilarious, but it’s probably the pithiest piece of satire on Australian TV since John Clarke’s untimely death in 2017. So, on that basis, Australian Epic did have a point. And a very good one at that.
It has not been a good year for Australian comedy films. Then again, there have actually been a few Australian comedy films, so it could have been worse. Streaming service Stan has come up with yet another Christmas comedy in Jones Family Christmas; The Big Dog, a presumably comedic tale of a chump whose love of financial domination messes up his life, scored a limited cinema run. And then there’s Time Addicts*.
The story of a pair of fairly abrasive bickering junkies who stumble upon a drug that can send you through time, it feels like the answer to a film school challenge: “write a feature length script with the smallest possible cast and lowest number of locations”. Once they discover the drug, they never leave the house – but they do spend a fair bit of time criss-crossing the time stream inside its four walls.
So it’s an Australian film about junkies; we’re laughing already. Unfortunately, we’re not really meant to. It doesn’t take long to figure out this is one of those “comedies” where the comedy is entirely in the premise. It’s a movie about time traveling junkies, so obviously the whole thing is hilarious, right? Uh, no.
Depending on your tolerance for junkies, there’s some wry humour early on as Denise (Freya Tingley) – she’s the angry one – and Johnny (Charles Grounds) – he’s the one who won’t shut up – argue and try to score from Kane (Joshua Morton). He’s scary, they owe him, he offers them a choice: take a job or he’ll take their thumbs. All they have to do is break into this run-down suburban house, steal a dufflebag from someone inside, and bring it to him. We already mentioned they never leave the house?
There’s plenty of stand-offs, shouting, blood, extremely tense sneaking around, and shock twists that follow. Laughs? Yeah, nah. Sure, if we were to get into spoilers there are the kind of plot twists that sound funny, but rest assured: as they play out nobody’s laughing. None of which – to make this very clear – makes this a bad film. Just not a good comedy.
The script is well put together, the visuals are well shot (especially considering the limits of the location), and the performances turn out to be well judged. The junkies are annoying (as junkies are) until they’re not, thanks to a combination of personal growth and extreme danger.
The recursive plot – you know, we see a scene from one point of view then as the story progresses and people move around in time, we see it from another – always adds something interesting. The story overall remains engaging, with themes that are explored in a manner that’s thoughtful through to the end. If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, it’s worth a look.
But again, it’s not a comedy. If only the funding bodies had given us the cash to make our version, where the junkies go directly back to 2002 and spend the rest of the movie in a cinema watching Crackerjack.
*in cinemas now!
You can get away with a lot when you’re funny. The Cheap Seats is the kind of show that Australian television loves to throw together, throw at a screen, then throw in the bin when nobody tunes in. And yet it’s one of the big successes (the only success?) of recent years, a sure-fire winner week in week out. So what’s the secret?
Chemistry. It’s the chemistry.
Whether they’re making fun of each other or being concerned when a joke may have worked a little too well, the connection between hosts Mel and Tim makes The Cheap Seats work. Turns out, when you build a show around funny people who work well together, you get good comedy. Who knew?
So it was a pretty big speed bump when Titus O’Reily pulled the pin early in the year. He wasn’t a seamless fit, but neither is sport in general for a show built on regional news gaffs and crap reality TV. An expert who’s also funny and also doesn’t take it too seriously is hard to find on any topic. When it comes to sport, presumably The Front Bar has them all under lock and key.
Once Titus was gone, the show struggled throughout the year to replace him. Sporty types weren’t funny enough; comedians were just taking the piss. Isn’t Australia full of dickheads who love sport and think they’re funny? Hopefully one of them steps up in 2024.
That said, losing one of their lynchpin regulars didn’t really slow things down. Clearly it doesn’t hurt to have a big behind-the-scenes team scouring the world of television for clips. Across a full hour it rarely feels like they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, and when they do serve up a dud the hosts are almost always able to salvage it with some banter.
Even the interviews, which honestly are often the weakest part of the show, are still pretty good. They’re loose and freewheeling; getting laughs and being entertaining is always the top priority. Not everyone clicks with the tone of the show, but even the bad interviews rarely go off the rails (unless it’s Costa laughing so hard he’s literally unable to speak).
So if it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? After years of being (rightly) scared off news clip comedy after a string of massive flops, the ABC has started dipping their toe back into the water with Question Everything. As an ongoing example of how to make this kind of thing work, The Cheap Seats is right there. With that as a guide, you’d think the ABC would be able to punch out a decent take on the concept, right? Right?
Again, it all boils down to chemistry. For whatever reason, the ABC seems to only have a limited roster of hosts and guests, almost none of whom seem to have much on-screen charm or warmth. If you want to do a show where stand-ups come on to do short bits of scripted material, then focus on that. If you want to make a show making fun of news clips, you know what to do.
Mel and Tim aren’t television personalities the way Wil Anderson is, but they’re a lot funnier and more likable on The Cheap Seats than he is on Question Everything. Their show is one that invites the audience in to share the joke; his is one where the guests forget the audience in favour of trying to one-up each other. Which would be fine if the end result was funny, and not just slightly awkward.
The Cheap Seats: looks easy, turns out it isn’t. We’ll be counting the days until it returns.