Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Sex in the City 2: Back From the Grave

Press release time!


Media release: Tuesday April 13, Sydney (AEST)

Production begins in Melbourne in June on season two of the Humdrum Comedy Metro Sexual. 9GO! has the exclusive Australian premiere rights and OUTtv are taking exclusive rights in Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, and non-exclusively in the US, UK, Australia and Republic of Ireland. Both networks continue to play season 1 alongside Crackle in the US.

Metro Sexual is the first Australian sitcom with all LGBTI lead characters. Filmed in mockumentary style, it follows the lives of doctors Stephanie Huddleston (Geraldine Hickey) and Langdon Marsh (Riley Nottingham), who work at Metropolitan Sexual Health. They are joined in the cast by Ryan Shelton, Shabana Azeez, Urvi Majumdar and Rebecca Massey, with more cast soon to be announced.

This season sees the show grow from 10-minute episodes to six x 30 minutes episodes after premiering on 9Go! and OUTtv in 2019 and 2020.

Riley Nottingham who both stars in the show and is a partner in Humdrum Comedy said: “We couldn’t be more thrilled to expand the world of Metro Sexual to a half hour sitcom, and excited to keep working with our partners at Nine and OutTV. During the times we all find ourselves in, we hope Metro Sexual can be an uplifting and heartfelt comedy experience for everyone.”

Geraldine Hickey who plays Dr Steph Huddleston said: “I’m so excited to be back doing Metro Sexual. Last season I learnt how to use a Duckbill Speculum so I can’t wait to see what’s in store for season two.”

Congratulations to all concerned! It’s amazing what being picked up by an overseas streaming service can do for a series 9GO! couldn’t get rid of fast enough*.


*”chances are it won’t be back”? Damn, there goes our membership in the snarky critics branch of the Australian fortune tellers and political pundits association.

Chris Lilley’s Ja’miezing

What is the logical next step for Chris Lilley after a series of race controversies have seen his TV shows pulled by broadcasters and streaming services alike? A podcast staring one of his characters, of course! As The Age describes it…

The audio series [Ja’miezing] re-acquaints audiences with Ja’mie King, the melodramatic private schoolgirl character who first became a household name in Lilley’s 2005 mockumentary We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year.

Ja’mie King, lest we forget, hasn’t been seen or heard from since 2013, when she was the star of Lilley’s mockumentary Ja’mie: Private School Girl, a show which infamously concluded with a scene featuring Ja’mie topless, an effect achieved by superimposing Lilley’s head onto the (partially-blurred) body of a teenage girl.

And given that Lilley’s portrayal of Ja’mie’s teenage sexuality was problematic in 2013, Lilley’s portrayal of Ja’mie as a sex-positive adult will, if anything, be even more problematic post-#MeToo. Certainly, large parts of Ja’imezing (now on Apple Podcasts and YouTube), are a pretty uncomfortable listen if you have any awareness of structural sexism.

Lilley is famous for researching his characters, reportedly spending weeks observing teenagers in high schools and scouring social media and TV archives for inspiration. This led to gushing articles in the media about how realistic his characters are, articles which, with very few exceptions, failed to point out that his work isn’t without its problems…

What Lilley always forgets, perhaps blinded by the media hype which surrounded him, is that he, as a white cis heterosexual man, can’t just play a woman or a person of colour and get away with it, even if he has done some research into the type of person he’s portraying. His performance is always going to look problematic given the history of how the people he’s playing have been treated by the type of person he is.

In Ja’miezing, for example, Ja’mie is extremely frank about her sex life – something lots of women in their 20s are – but we discover that there are nude photos of her on the internet and that she is proud of this. She also talks about “going down on herself” aged 11, about how she sort-of engineered to be naked and using a vibrator in front of her father, and how she gives men hand jobs.

On the one hand, you could argue that Lilley’s created a realistic contemporary female character who has internalised a lot of sexism. On the other hand, Lilley’s created a character that we’re supposed to laugh at for her how she expresses her sexuality. It doesn’t take a feminist to find this problematic coming from a 46-year-old heterosexual cis man.

It’s also difficult to find the character of Ja’mie funny in general. She’s not just entitled, ignorant, attention-seeking and horrible to other people, she’s also seems a bit disturbed, screwed up by an absent father and a drug-addicted mother. Not a whole bunch of laughs, there.

At the end of the first episode of Ja’miezing, Ja’mie asks listeners to send in questions for her to answer as part of an advice segment. It will be interesting to see what results from this, and what the reaction to this show is in general. Being a podcast, it’s unlikely to attract the level of attention Lilley’s TV series have had. And given the recent controversies surrounding Lilley, and the decreased tolerance for everyday sexism from public figures in general, the near-universal praise Lilley has come to expect from the media may not be forthcoming.

Don’t Get All Dramatic

Wakefield is a new ABC series from Jungle Entertainment, the production company responsible for, amongst other things, Squinters, Sando, The Moodys and Here Come the Habibs. It stars, amongst others, Felicity Ward, Sam Simmons and Mandy “I was in two seasons of Squinters” McElhinney. So it’s a comedy? Fuck no.

Comedy in this country faces a lot of problems. One of the big ones is that nobody actually wants to make it. Time and again we’re served shows that look like comedies – or worse, are promoted as comedies – only to turn out to be lightweight dramas with a few jokes mixed in. The drama undercuts the comedy, the comedy isn’t funny enough to make up for the lack of drama: can’t wait for season two of Aftertaste.

Wakefield proves that this is a problem that cuts both ways. A series about a bunch of people – staff and patients – at a mental home, it’s basically an anthology series with a lead (you know, the guy in all the advertising) who’s in it slightly less than you might think.

It’s also a drama: the mental patients are all treated as real characters rather than comedy relief, and the issues faced by the staff (the comedy performers are all playing members of staff, like they were in a sitcom that’s been absorbed by a bigger drama) are taken just as seriously. Nobody’s laughing at anyone, which raises the question: what’s Sam Simmons doing here?

Simmons is often entertaining to watch but he’s pretty much a one note performer. While there can be variations in that one note he’s not getting much chance to display them here. Ward is also working according to type (though she gets more to do as the series goes on), and while McElhinney has a bigger role, it’s also a broader one at times. While this obviously isn’t a comedy, by the current standards of “comedy” any or all of their characters would work just fine as written if they were in a comedy.

Over the last decade or so there’s been a lot of pressure on scripted television in Australia to be all things to everybody. With audiences shrinking, producers can’t afford to alienate anyone. Now they’re trying to tick as many boxes as they can, even if the show would be a lot better if it focused on one or two things and did them well. And all the cool kids here loved US shows that mixed drama and comedy like, say, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or (trigger warning) Louie. The fact they were extremely niche and rated poorly seems to have slipped their notice.

Wakefield isn’t a great drama. Often it’s barely dramatic at all, though it does pick up as it goes along. The perfectly reasonable choice to treat every character with respect (no cheap shots at the mentally ill here) seems to have left the writers struggling to figure out where the conflict is going to come from.

More importantly as far as we’re concerned, having all the medical crew played by comedy performers sets a weird tone that the series doesn’t do much of anything with. They’re the wacky backdrop to the real medical staff, only there’s no real reason for them to be particularly wacky beyond “we’ve got to make this show entertaining somehow”. These are funny performers: why aren’t they doing what they do best? Oh right, because going full comedy would undercut the drama.

Many of the great television dramas have been extremely funny at times. But they usually got laughs because the characters were so well crafted they could – like actual real people – be both funny and serious depending on the situation.

It’s easy to make a comedy character seem deep by giving them a dramatic scene; the real challenge is giving a serious character a funny scene that’s actually funny.

Fisk – Half-time report

The best sitcoms have layers, more than one thing going on at any one time. They don’t just contain some characters saying funny things. There’s also something happening in the background, or there’s a quick shot of a funny prop, or – and this is really hard to articulate, so bear with us – the director’s created the perfect atmosphere for laughs.

What makes a high-quality sitcom is a lot of things done by a lot of people, mainly the writers who came up with the concept in the first place, and whose job it should be to make you laugh often.

So, in Australian sitcom, where it’s sometimes rare that there’s even one thing funny thing happening at one time, Fisk is a show worth celebrating. The first episode was high-quality and full of laughs, so was the second, and so was the third. Usually in Australian sitcom, by the time you get to mid-way through a series, there’s been a dud episode, where the writers have sort of run out of puff before they gear up for whatever the series finale is. Not with Fisk. Unless the dud episode’s coming in episode four. But we doubt it.

The cast of Fisk

Fisk is a show which builds on what’s happened before, which means that Roz (Julia Zemiro) going around obsessively labelling and signposting everything in the office in episode two, results in small but hilarious sight gags in episode three, like the sign about covering food before it gets heated up in the microwave, which Helen (Kitty Flanagan) pointedly ignores. Then there’s the Ikea desk bought for Helen, which George (Aaron Chen) “hacked”. A cheap desk with its legs on wrong shouldn’t be as funny as it is, but it is in Fisk. Must be that atmosphere we were trying to describe earlier.

Then there’s the character comedy. Helen’s uptight, no-nonsense personality is the perfect foil for all manner of bizarre clients, idiot colleagues, odd family members and tedious ex-husbands, but there’s something quite special about Fisk’s part-parody, part-dissection of office culture. Take the series of vignettes on chit-chat in episode three. Maybe it’s the mere fact that someone’s (finally!) pointing out how stupid it is, the Emporer’s New Clothes finally being revealed for what they really are? Maybe it’s Kitty Flanagan’s “I don’t get this nonsense” gestures versus Julia Zemiro’s exasperated “how can I connect with this woman so I can manage her” expression? Whatever it is, it’s brilliantly played and brilliantly funny.

And there’s more of this to come. How do we know that? We don’t, we haven’t seen the rest of the series, but there’s something about what we’ve seen so far that tells us that this isn’t a show which runs out of good ideas by episode two (Why Are You Like This) or is only really interested in getting us to a dramatic finale in episode six (Aftertaste).

Fisk feels like a show which is in it for the long-haul, which wants to make us laugh for six episodes straight. Because everything from having guest actors like Collette Mann and Marg Downey, to creating a shot where Ray (Marty Sheargold) ends up with a tiny fez-style lampshade on his head in the middle of a meeting, tells us that this show is 100% about the comedy and nothing else.

Ray Gruber (Marty Sheargold) with a fez-style lampshade on his head

Vale Hughsey We Have a Problem (2021 edition)

There’s been a lot of talk around the place over the last week or so about Hey Hey it’s Saturday. At a guess, this is how Daryl Somers likes it: even bad publicity – and it’s been all bad – keeps the memory of his most prized achievement alive. But in amongst everybody pointing out all the racism and sexism and just general creepiness that was The House that Somers built, one of the more consistent themes has been this: what the hell were we thinking?

Looking back now, it seems obvious that Hey Hey wasn’t quite right, and yet it was a much-loved part of a lot (but not all) of people’s pasts. The easy answer is that hey, we were young, we didn’t realise exactly what it was we were taking in. It was a show with an ostrich as a co-host! Dickie Knee! Wacky sound effects! Sure, Plucka Duck was a bit dodgy but, you know, Red Faces!

And yet when Nine dropped Hey Hey it didn’t take long for The (AFL) Footy Show to pick up the baton. There’s been clip compilations doing the rounds highlighting the worst of Hey Hey; does anyone think it’d be all that difficult to put together basically identical compilations based on the work of Sam Newman and Eddie McGuire? It wouldn’t be hard to find the blackface clips, that’s for sure.

The logical conclusion is that Hey Hey wasn’t some aberration, the product of a power-mad Daryl run amok. Rather it was simply Channel Nine giving their audience what it wanted; broad, loud entertainment based around dividing the audience into “us and “them” and getting laughs from giving “them” a good unapologetic kicking. They were mirrors held up to the audience, and the audience liked what they saw.

Which brings us to Hughsey, We Have a Problem.

There’s no blackface on Hughsey. There’s no real racism, or sexism, or anything seemingly controversial beyond a bunch of dodgy advice and face-pulling. But there was nothing controversial on Hey Hey either (well, during the first run at least); that’s how mainstream entertainment works.

But like Hey Hey, Hughsey is lowest common denominator entertainment designed to give the audience what it (seemingly) wants and absolutely nothing more. Which, as we’ve established, can be a bit of a problem in Australia. You think you’re having a harmless laugh at a married couple who want to know how they can get up to a bit of rooting on their honeymoon that for some reason they’re spending with the bride’s parents, and then ten years later someone’s fished out the clip and in the harsh light of 2030’s values it doesn’t look so good.

We’re not saying that Hughsey, We Have a Problem is going to end up seen as everything that’s wrong with Australia. We are saying that it’s lazy, basic, pandering television starring at least two people – Dave “I just bought a $3 million house from The Block on a whim” Hughes and Kate “get the junkies out of St Kilda” Langbroek – who’ve already shown themselves to be unafraid to act like rich arseholes. Today, that’s fine: fifteen years from now that might make them Class Traitors who were first up against the wall when the revolution came.

Or who knows? If we could predict what was going to be offensive a decade from now we’d be a lot smarter than we obviously are. “You mean these people drove to work in petrol-burning cars? Hashtag cancelled.” Or maybe being inoffensive will be the new offensive? It wasn’t offensive to be offensive fifteen years ago (it was “edgy”); half the facial expressions Dave Hughes pulls today seem pretty offensive to us.

The thing with basic, crowd-pleasing, lazy comedy is that it goes out of style fast. The comedy that lasts is the comedy where some thought’s gone into it: the creators are making fun of specific things for reasons they can defend beyond “it’s just a laff, innit?”. Sure, despite the best intentions good comedy often dates, and can end up awkward and out-of-touch – but it’s the lazy comedy that ends up looking hateful and mean-spirited.

Hughsey better hope nobody’s had their VCR running these last few years.

The Face That Would Not Die

Daryl Somers is not the absolute worse human being ever to make repeat appearances on Australian television, but he almost certainly is the worst person to host Dancing With the Stars which means he’s beaten out at least one confirmed racist. Isn’t Australian television great?

Not that Daryl’s got a particularly clean record when it comes to racial issues, or sexism, or workplace bullying, or homophobia, or literally anything else you can think of when you think of someone you wouldn’t hesitate to call a garbage human being. Back on our screens in 2021, everyone!

Aussie legend”? Yeah, nah.

Now Daryl’s back hosting Dancing With the Stars, a gig he quit over a decade ago because Channel Seven wouldn’t bring back Hey Hey it’s Saturday, a career decision that’s somewhat similar to smashing your indoor toilet because you want to go take a crap in a hole in your backyard. That means media outlets are asking him for his views on comedy, despite him never having actually worked in the field. Let’s save you the bother: he’s not happy with the modern world, because the modern world no longer airs programs where a man in a duck suit dry humps stage equipment and cast members for minutes at a time.

Obviously it’s no surprise whatsoever that the 69 year-old washed up host of a repeatedly axed variety show remembered now largely for featuring a blackface act is unhappy with comedy today:

‘You probably could not get away with half the stuff you could on Hey Hey now because of the political correctness and the cancel culture. It is a shame because showbiz does not get much of a chance.’

So making jokes about the sexual orientation of your music segment host and giving the only woman on the show a theme song with the lyrics “folks are dumb where I come from” is Daryl’s idea of showbiz? We’d hate to see what he calls live entertainment oh wait that’s Hey Hey it’s Saturday… so yeah, we’d hate to see that.

We’ve been sinking the boot into Daryl for a long, long time now, because there’s literally no reason for him to be on television and yet he comes on coming back. There’s no mystery to this: he keeps on returning because there’s a segment of the Australian media that props him up, makes light of his shitty behaviour, refuses to investigate any story that could possibly paint him in a bad light, glosses over the general disinterest in him shown by the general public, and just generally gives him an outlet for his boring, ill-informed, self-absorbed views. Or as we pointed out a decade ago:

On Thursday October 8th, the day after the blackface skit went to air, The Herald-Sun ran a small story on page seven about the previous night’s episode of Hey Hey. Mostly consisting of a photo of the Hey Hey team, the short sidebar covered the impressive ratings for last night’s show, and in the final three sentences mentioned that Harry Connick Jr. hadn’t been impressed by a blackface skit on Red Faces. This wasn’t a case where a Herald-Sun reporter thought someone down the line might be offended: this was a case where someone ON THE ACTUAL SHOW ITSELF was clearly offended and with obvious good reason. Not to mention the internet pretty much exploded over it. Three sentences on page 7, huh?

The trouble with bringing Daryl back is that he’s shit and the show he made is also shit. Maybe there was a time when it wasn’t shit – but if there was, it was a good fifteen years before it was axed, meaning at least half of his career was spent hosting a show that was, let’s say again for those up the back, shit. There’s no debate here, no “but it was a product of its time”. There are shows “of it’s time” that are now problematic, or ill-advised; Hey Hey was shit then and its shit now.

Maybe you have fond memories of Hey Hey it’s Saturday. Maybe you’ve also heard of the term “rose coloured glasses”. Even in its heyday Hey Hey was a show largely built around rambling segments where Daryl Somers dominated proceedings while a pack of underlings made dubious racist and sexist jokes in an attempt to curry favour. Even at the time it was a backwards looking show, celebrating the kinds of jokes and variety acts that were dying everywhere else; no wonder Daryl was puzzled that a blackface act wouldn’t fly in 2009.

And yet here we are in 2021 still having to put up with him twenty years past his use-by date. Yeah, we get it, nostalgia nostalgia nostalgia. But a lot of things people remember warmly – Summer Heights High, The Glasshouse, Please Like Me, Randling, that one episode of Housos that wasn’t garbage – have been consigned to the past with nary a murmur. Times change, people move on, bad television is buried.

It’s time we buried Daryl Somers with the rest of the trash.

The Future of Comedy isn’t Fisk

Okay, so to get the obvious out of the way: Fisk is the best sitcom the ABC has served up in years, and if it’s not a bonafide comedy classic it’s very close to being one. The cast is great, its sense of humour is spot-on, the whole thing is nicely paced and there’s even a warm fuzzy moment at the end when Fisk finally gets the hang of dealing with clients. Our reputation as haterz has faded (a little) over the years, but even so it’s a rare pleasure to have a series come along that we can point to and say “more of this, please”.

That said, it’s not without flaws. Kitty Flanagan has been funny on our screens for over 20 years now, almost always as a brash, straight-talking, slightly larger-than-life type. As Helen Tudor-Fisk, she is not that. As the series spells out, she is not a “people person”. Nor is she big on fashion, dealing with loud noises in cafes, or facial expressions beyond looking slightly puzzled at having to operate in the human world. She’s still funny – at times very much so – but for a sitcom that in many ways is kinda old-fashioned she isn’t the big brash comedy character you might have expected.

But even we can tell that’s in part because she’s set up to be the voice of reason in a workplace full of nutjobs (and with more coming in the door as clients). Again, this doesn’t so much subvert expectations as put an entertaining spin on them. Julia Zemiro’s office manager is set up to be a straight-laced comedy foil, but she’s the one who happily sits for Glenn Robbins’ penis painter (as in, he paints with his penis). And this is a show featuring Glenn Robbins as a man who paints with his penis, so it’s not like it isn’t going for big laughs.

That’s what’s so – we were going to say “refreshing”, but “good” is probably more accurate – about Fisk: it’s always going for laughs and it never apologises for it. Every scene either has jokes or is setting up jokes (and then has jokes); everything around the jokes is either there to make the jokes funnier or is trying hard not to distract from the jokes. At a time when it seems like every single ABC sitcom is required by law to constantly undercut the comedy with “dramatic” scenes or “arty” camerwork or “tasty” shots of food, watching a comedy that’s just “hey, let’s have a laugh” is a blessed relief.

So if this is so good, why doesn’t the ABC make more sitcoms like it? At a guess, we’d say in part this exists because the ABC wants a return on those years of investment in promoting the team at The Weekly. They made Flanagan an ABC personality and if she wants to do her own show it’s a decent way to (hopefully) recoup some of that PR spend. If you or I turned up at the ABC’s front door with an equally funny script but no ABC personality attached, we’re not getting through that door.

(this is also another reason to think less of Tom Gleeson: given an opportunity to move on from The Weekly and pitch whatever he liked, he chose a game show)

To get a comedy as retro as this up in 2021 you almost certainly do need friends in high places, because comedy doesn’t work if you’re not paying attention and today’s networks aren’t interested in shows you have to actually watch. Hang on, let’s explain this properly:

Back in Ye Olden Days, the whole idea of television was to get you to pay maximum attention to it. That was how they made money: they grabbed your attention, then sold it to advertisers. And comedy was perfect for this, because the more attention you pay to comedy, it better it is (you know, unless it’s crap).

But now, all that’s changed. Networks – by which we mean streaming services, who set the tone for everyone else (especially as everyone moves online) – don’t make their money by selling ad space: they make it by selling themselves as a service. So what they need is big flashy attention-grabbing shows to get you to sign up, and then once you’ve signed up they have to be as mild and unobtrusive as possible so you won’t think “why am I paying for this shite?” when it’s on in the background.

Comedy, as you might have guessed, is no longer optimised for this environment. For one thing, you have to pay attention to it for it to work; a joke half-heard is a joke that won’t get laughs. For another, while a crap drama still seems like a drama, a crap comedy isn’t funny and people aren’t keen on paying for duds.

With the stakes now higher – in the old days you might change the channel to avoid a bad comedy, but you’d be back because the channel wasn’t going anywhere; if a show is so shit you cancel the service, it’s going to take a lot to get you back – comedy has become a bad bet.

Fisk is very funny stuff, but for a casual viewer it’s mostly just a woman in a drab outfit sitting behind a desk. And with everyone surrounded by screens these days, we’re all casual viewers. So the moral of this story is: watch Fisk, and tell your friends to do likewise. Not just because it’s funny (again: it is) but because it’d be great to see more shows like it.

After all, what’s the alternative in a world where Tom Gleeson’s hosting a game show and Charlie Pickering’s back later this year with his Hypotheticals knock-off – Corona Cops the series?

Vale Why Are You Like This

Why Are You Like This was one of those shows that started out promising and then just ended up a bit of a mess. Why? Well, in a nutshell, because halfway through the series it decided to divert from doing what it was decent at, parodying young, cool woke people in inner-city Melbourne, so it could explore a serious issue. The serious issue, in this case, being depression.

We’re not saying it’s never okay to include serious issues in a comedy show – what is satire if not a bunch of serious issues being made more palatable by adding some laughs? We’re also not saying that it’s never okay to include plots about depression or characters with mental health issues in a sitcom – Fawlty Towers, The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin and You’re the Worst all did that very successfully. And indeed, writing an episode of your sitcom which focuses on serious issues, seriously, can have a huge impact on the audience. If you do it once. But if you do it across multiple episodes then…wasn’t this supposed to be a sitcom?

Why Are You Like This was at its best when it dissected youth fads and cancel culture, parodied the irredeemably conceited and selfish, and created funny moments by showing how being a well-intentioned “ally” can sometimes make things a lot worse. The episode where Penny (Naomi Higgins) had to help an old school company with its digital transformation, and ended up getting half the workforce the sack, was bitterly funny, all the more so for Roz Hammond’s involvement in a key role (which she reprised in the final episode of the series). But meanwhile…here’s a character with depression!

What is it with depression and mental illness subplots in sitcoms at the moment? We get that, finally, after millennia of silence and shame, people suffering from depression and mental ill health are making their voices heard…but as a viewer of a sitcom, you’d have to be a sociopath to find the subject funny.

So why do sitcoms seem to keep doing this (Please Like Me, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Why Are You Like This)? Is discussing social issues like depression and mental health now more important in a sitcom than getting laughs? We hope not, because it sure made what could have been a consistently funny and entertaining social satire not particularly hilarious anymore.

It’s usually at this point in our reviews that we wonder if a show will get a second series. In the case of Why Are You Like This, it probably will given it has the backing of both Netflix and the ABC. But let’s hope when it does, it sticks to parodying youth fads and awful people, and avoids lurching into serious subjects that it’s ill-equipped to handle.

Vale Aftertaste

You get the sense with programs like Aftertaste that their goal isn’t to make us laugh, or entertain us, or to satirise something happening in our society, or even to examine the human condition. No, their goal is to stay alive. Staying alive, in TV terms, meaning: GET ANOTHER SERIES.

Aftertaste’s relentless drive to GET ANOTHER SERIES was manifest from episode one, when the first seeds of doubt were sewn about Grandma June (she’s thought to be dead but is she really?), and when the first taps of the endless drumbeat of Diana’s ambition were sounded. The drumbeat that would, inevitably, Adelaide being Adelaide, take Diana far away from Adelaide in order to have the career she wants.

If Aftertaste gets a second series, and it probably will, this will all play out: Grandma June will bowl up in town and bring even more chaos with her than her dead ex-husband Jim, and Diana will return from London in triumph. Or have become successful far closer to home. Or maybe she’s just moved into her own flat down the road? The big finale with the ‘up yours’ cake at least left us guessing.

There are a lot of positive things to say about Aftertaste – it had a good cast, great scenery, it was occasionally funny, and the clash of ‘teenage woke feminist’ and ‘arrogant older bloke’ was less annoying than it could have been – but the big negative was always that it was plotted by THE BOOK. THE BOOK being one of those tomes written by some great American showrunner, which tells you when to introduce the A-plot, the B-plot, the C-plot, the D-plot, etc, and which generally make almost everything on TV these days solid but predictable.

By the way, we’re not naïve to the benefits of following the advice in THE BOOK – go watch a random selection of TV from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and you’ll see that a reasonable amount of it will feature a meandering or inconsistent plot, and some pretty strangely-drawn characters. Having said that, old TV shows are often less predictable than their modern-day equivalents, and do, at least, feel unique and different.

But if unique and different is what you need to sacrifice in order to GET ANOTHER SERIES, then why not? Everyone likes to stay in employment, right?

So, vale, Aftertaste. There were some promising elements in there, but subtlety of plotting was not one of them. And – and this is kind of key for a sitcom – it really should have been possible to get more laughs out of that mismatched family, so what the hell went wrong?

Give Us 30 Minutes, We’ll Give You the [Expletive]

One of the good things about watching The Weekly is… ahh, nearly had you there, didn’t we? That’s right: there are no good things about watching The Weekly, just a slowly building puzzlement as your brain – a thing that exists in 2021 – struggles to figure out exactly why you are watching a news recap on television – a thing that seemingly is being broadcast from 1964.

We’ve been half-heartedly working on a post for weeks looking at all the ways The Weekly has changed over the years because if the ABC had any shame at all they’d have re-titled it at least three times by now to reflect the actual contents of the show. But the one thing that’s stuck with us through all the head scratching and trying to figure out what the deal was with Briggs is this: who is The Weekly currently aimed at?

Now more than ever, The Weekly is just a straight news recap, a half hour news bulletin only the stories are at least a day old so technically they’re no longer even news. “I watched the news so you don’t have to”. “Give us thirty minutes and we’ll give you the week”. These slogans are repeated every single episode; it’s safe to say they’re a mission statement in a way that “it’s a comedy!” never was.

But who is it aimed at? Not young* people (*anyone under 50), as they’re constantly online and either know all this stuff already or don’t care. Not old* people (*anyone over 50) as they’re the people who still watch the nightly news. Something like Have You Been Paying Attention? can get away with it by using a full hour to cover so much stuff there’s probably something you missed, but The Weekly‘s half hour “in depth” approach just means it’s telling you a handful of things you already know. Five minutes on that royal interview that 1.4 million Australians watched two days earlier? Is there anyone who really thinks Charlie Pickering is going to add anything to that conversation?

Of course, HYBPA? is also funny, whereas The Weekly is… look, our endless snarky digs aside, it’d be very difficult to argue with a straight face that the 2021 version of The Weekly is still trying to be funny in the same way it once was. Well over half the show now is straight news coverage with the occasional joke thrown in (this week’s recap of the week ran for more than two-thirds of the show). Add in a lengthy explainer (“The Study”) usually covering something that can charitably be called “old news”, then the guest comedian does something (that often is funny) and it’s over.

It used to be that comedy was what justified The Weekly‘s existence. It was recapping the news to make jokes about the news. But as the other regular cast members have fallen away* and not been replaced – maybe Judith Lucy will return after her current tour, but she hasn’t been mentioned once this season and Luke McGregor seems to have gone AWOL as well – it’s become just a news show with some snark sprinkled on top.

Isn’t it the case that so long as he throws a little bit of snark on each news story, the ABC can claim the use of other network’s news stories is “satire” and therefore fair use that they don’t have to pay for? Bargain! And yes, that is true. It’s also true that the ABC has, you know, their own entire massive news department constantly churning out news reports they can also use for free. But then they wouldn’t be able to make Andrew Bolt seem like a charming eccentric.

So what’s the point? Everyone who could possibly be watching this has already seen everything being covered, and it’s not really adding much new to the coverage. If they wanted to do a straight news recap, they could easily throw together a much more comprehensive one using the ABC news department; if they wanted to do a decent comedy recap, they could sack Pickering and use the money to hire some funny young people and – more importantly – get some full time writers to really work on the material.

But neither of those things would star Charlie Pickering, who while utterly pointless is clearly a TV host and therefore the kind of person the ABC believes should be hosting a television show. Possibly because they already agreed to pay him a vast sum of money for reasons.

So who cares if that show is shrinking around him like a shrinky-dink in an oven? It’s Pickering that’s bringing in the crowds! Ok, yes, the crowds are roughly identical to the crowds for Foreign Correspondent at the same time Tuesday and slightly smaller than for Four Corners on Monday which does kind of suggest that the ABC’s 8.30pm audience is rusted on and you’d have to put on something really awful to scare them off – which explains why Q&A rates so badly on Thursdays. Long story short, The Weekly is safe!

… until the ABC figures out a way to get loveable crime-solving biddy Vera to host a news recap, then Pickering is totally fucked.


*When The Weekly began it had three regular cast members who were on every week; now it has one cast member and one (1) slot for a rotating roster of guest comedians.