Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Vale Australian Epic

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.

An Afghan refugee is led off by the SAS in a scene from Australian Epic
An Afghan refugee is led off by the SAS in a scene from Australian Epic

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.

History Repeats: Time Addicts

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!

Vale The Cheap Seats 2023

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.

Clip Joint

Imagine, if you will, a fan of Australian comedy. Not all that long ago, this fandom might have kept them pretty busy; these days it only takes a few hours a week to keep up to date. And yet, even with that meager diet it still feels like they’re watching the same thing over and over – because the only comedy that’s left is news-based clip shows, and they’re all using the same clips.

It’d be unfair to direct most of our stink eye on this subject towards Question Everything. They’re at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to news clips. The Cheap Seats gets almost a full week to scour the news from around the world before it goes to air on a Tuesday. Question Everything airs 24 hours later; not a lot of hilarious news happening in that tiny gap.

And this year has been a bumper year for clip show comedy. Twenty-six hour-long episodes of Have You Been Paying Attention? alongside 28 or more episodes of The Cheap Seats doesn’t leave much over for anyone else.

Both those shows clearly worked hard to avoid stepping on each others toes. They’re also different shows in terms of humour. What might have got a quick answer and moving on on HYBPA? might be two minutes worth of riffing on The Cheap Seats. Yes, there were times this year when both shows – coming from the same production company, so presumably sharing at least some resources – used the same clip. So long as the jokes are different, who cares?

Well, for one, the jokes usually aren’t all that different. Someone makes a weird noise on a news report, you’re going to get a lot of jokes about making a weird noise. Of course, it’s possible to take one clip and get two wildly different gags from it, but that usually requires one of the shows to be Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell.

The whole point of clip show comedy is that it’s comedy in bulk, a rapid-fire onslaught of the most obvious jokes. See a funny clip, use the first joke that comes to mind even if it’s barely a joke and guess we’re giving Question Everything the stink eye again over that, and onto the next clip. Do that thirty times a week, you’ve got the start of a show.

There have been plenty of times in recent comedy history where clip shows have clashed. Everyone knows the ways around this kind of conflict. Cast your net wider, come up with smarter jokes – it’s all easier said than done. For one, these things cost money, and the point of a clip show is that it’s meant to be cheap.

Question Everything tries to get around these limits by getting the panel to go on extended riffs about the clips. But if they fully committed to that, then what’s the point of Wil Anderson? So he gets to do the usual gags in between and suddenly the show seems just that little bit staler.

While The Cheap Seats is clearly doing a better job with this kind of material, they’re not resting on their laurels either. They cast their net globally (and not just Across the Ditch) so their material’s more varied. The hosts occasionally pop up in sketches, which adds to the variety. They have running jokes they can pull out to use to make relevant clips funnier. And there’s actual chemistry between Tim and Mel so when the jokes falter the bungling still seems funny.

So The Cheap Seats? Actually working on being funny. Question Everything? They’re acting like they’ve got this all under control. Wil Anderson, a pretty basic collection of news clips, a couple of comedians who’ve brought in some old rope that kind of fits the topics; yeah, that’ll do.

Like we said at the start, it feels like we’re watching the same thing over and over again.

The World of Tomorrow 2.0: Snore ABC

It’s been well over a year since the incoming federal Labor government promised a new cashed up world for the ABC. Okay, so 2023 was always going to be business as usual. But surely 2024 was going to present us with the fruits of that momentous electoral decision? Mo’ money, mo’ programming and all that. Got your hopes up? Time to dive into the 2024 ABC upfronts!

We’re so used to getting less comedy out of the ABC each and every year that we’re not entirely sure how to react to a future that is basically “more of the same”. Remember when the ABC had two news satire shows a year, and then Shaun Micallef quit to open the door for new talent and the ABC replaced Mad as Hell with… nothing? Well now he’s back!

Frankly, the news that Micallef is returning to the ABC in 2024 with Shaun Micallef’s Unnamed Project could only be better if we knew what kind of show he’ll be fronting. But here’s an educated guess:

In the last decade, Shaun Micallef has only made three kinds of programs. There’s serious documentaries on topics he’s interested in. Oh look, he’s also doing one of them for SBS next year in the form of Shaun Micallef’s Origin Odyssey:

A reflective and joyful comedy travelogue where Shaun Micallef – one of Australia’s favourite and most respected comedians – explores the cultural roots of his guests. Through the minutia of international travel, conversation, immersive experience and observational humour we will discover more than expected of our travellers. Developed and produced by Endemol Shine Australia (A Banijay Company) for SBS.

Then there’s comedy shows that mix pre-recorded sketches with live material, which we all know and love and would really like to see more of but he did already make a shitload of episodes of Mad as Hell so who knows.

And then there’s the game shows. Honestly, considering the ABC’s firm editorial commitment to delivering the worst possible result for comedy fans, we’d have our buzzers ready.

Anyway, even we can’t find a way to scowl at the news we’re getting more Fisk. Fisk is great: good job ABC, presumably this has nothing to do with it being a hit on Netflix.

After that, we’re back in the exciting yet extremely familiar world of hoping really hard the ABC has a few winners that they forgot to mention. Here’s what else is coming back:

*Spicks and Specks

*Hard Quiz

*The Weekly with Charlie Pickering


And supposedly a second season of Mother and Son is “in development“. Maybe they’ll develop an angle that’s actually funny this time? Even the ABC’s Chief Content Officer seems to care about a second series for the show more out of duty than anything else:

The numbers were okay, I think we would have liked a bit more, but this is one of the most iconic ABC shows of all time. I want the show to have the respect it deserves and see if we can find an audience across two series. Now, whether it will finance or whether it will creatively develop, I don’t know. But we want to at least give it the best shot, potentially for 2025, but not 2024.

There are also a couple of new comedies:

*White Fever

“Jane (Ra Chapman) is a cocky Korean-Australian adoptee with a love of hairy white guys – the hairier and whiter the better. When her friends call her out for having a white man fetish she sets out to try and reprogram her libido, reignites a connection with childhood friend, Yu Chang (Chris Pang) and stumbles into the process of finding out who she really is.”

Has there ever been a sitcom based around a character’s “quest to find themselves” that’s been funny? Oh wait, My Name is Earl. Okay, we’ll file this under “wait and see”.


“When much-loved children’s author Julian Hartswood (Ben Miller, Bridgerton, Death in Paradise) inadvertently causes a social media storm, his career and that of his illustrator wife Ingrid (Sally Phillips, Veep, Bridget Jones’s Diary) appears to be over. That is until Austin (Michael Theo, Love on the Spectrum), the neurodivergent son that Julian never knew existed, turns up out of the blue.”

Time for some tough questions. Is this an Australian comedy? Or just another one of the kind of co-production where it’s basically a UK show that happens to be set here (see Queen of Oz, chunks of Frayed, and most of Spreadsheet)? Two out of the three leads are from the UK, and they’re the parents (well, step-parent in Ingrid’s case) of the third. Is this even set in Australia? All we have to go on is the production information:

A Northern Pictures production for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Major production investment from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in association with Screen Australia, Screen Canberra and ITV Studios which also handles international distribution

So plenty of local money at least. Hopefully they can greenscreen in a visit to Bondi beach at some point.

Australian Epic (Fail?)

Despite what television producers like to think, musicals aren’t automatically funny. The joke with Australian Epic is meant to be that hey, we’re making big musicals out of small stories. It’s not a bad joke – but going by the first episode, it’s not good enough.

When it was first announced, Australian Epic was called Stories From Oz. Presumably that’s because the concept was a straight lift from the series Stories From Norway, which aired on SBS here a few years ago. Since then, it looks like the ABC realised they didn’t need to pay royalities for the “musical documentary” concept. Hey presto, new title (and no mention of the original).

We bring it up here not (just) because we’re shitty people, but because the original version works as a comedy in ways this does not. For one, it was the product of a pre-established musical comedy team. Think Norway’s version of Flight of the Conchords, or Hamish & Andy but with guitars. Aunty Donna! Yeah, let’s go with them.

It’s not hard to see how that version would be funny. And the local version is put together by a duo of sorts – The Chaser’s Andrew Hansen and Chris Taylor. But they’re not exactly renowned for their hilarious point of view. Hansen is an extremely talented songwriter, but he turns topical issues into satirical songs rather than just making up crap for the sake of a laugh.

So instead of an established double act messing about, we get a slightly more polished ensemble who bring pretty much nothing pre-existing to the table as far as comedy goes. The joke is that they’re going all in with a big musical about a small subject. Once you get past that, what’s left is a collection of musical sketches that are impressive more for their production values and musical virtuosity than their jokes.

Another strength of the Norwegian version was that it wasn’t afraid to go a little off-book with its adaptation of events for a laugh. While it also featured interviews with people actually involved, the songs often put a weird spin on events. They’d happily go surreal or over-the-top if that’s where the laughs were.

It’s hard to say exactly why the local version doesn’t do this. The first episode is looking at the story of ice skater Steven Bradbury. You know, the guy who won Olympic gold when everyone in front of him fell over. You’d think that’d be prime material for a bit of piss-farting around, but the actual episode? Surprisingly reverential.

The only explanation that comes to hand is that having the co-operation of the the real Bradbury (and his coach, and his parents) left Hansen and Taylor feeling that cheap shots were off the table. In a traditional comedy musical, they could go big and silly with Bradbury’s character. But because this has real interviews with the real people, it’s constantly pulled back to reality.

And each song has to stand on its own. We get the real story, then a song, then it’s back to the real story. They don’t build on each other, or even have much in the way of running jokes. Which is weird, because the whole point of the Bradbury story is that it builds up to a punchline: he won gold because everyone in front of him fell over.

Constantly resetting back to reality limits where the show can go, even if the individual songs are pretty good. Everyone involved is treated with respect, which is what you want in a documentary but a bit of a laugh-killer in a comedy. And the choice of what to turn into a song doesn’t really provide much in the way of insight.

Of course there’s a song on the decision to hang back in the big race. But why is there a full musical number about him needing to get a second medical opinion about a career-ending injury? The whole point of musical numbers is to get at things that lie underneath the surface of the story. Here the songs mostly just illustrate things the documentary side has already explained.

We’re told that Bradbury realised he couldn’t out skate the pack. He knew all too well that people fall over a lot in ice skating, so his best path to victory was to hang back. So his win wasn’t an accident after all! And then there’s a lengthy song that tells us again what we just heard, only in musical form. Good thing it was hilarious oh wait.

But going over old ground is built into this concept. Creating a musical around the joke that anyone would make a musical about recent Australian history isn’t new (see: Keating!). And quasi-comedy docutakes on recent events is… *waves hand in general direction of The Betoota Advocate Presents*.

What Australian Epic ends up being is a show for a): people who really like musical theatre, b): people who really like Australian Story, and c): people who tuned in really hoping to get some comedy.

Prats in the ranks: Darradong Local Council

There’s a scene in Darradong Local Council, Paul Fenech’s latest series for 7Mate, where a barista is obliged to laugh at a feeble joke told to her by Fenech’s character Fox. The woman playing the barista does her best, but it’s clear that she doesn’t think the joke is funny. Wait until she sees the rest of the series…

Yes! Fenech and his repertory company (Angry Anderson, Kevin Taumata, Garry Who, Vince Sorrenti and others) are back with a show which is technically an all-new series but, let’s face it, you could probably slap the titles for Housos on the front of this and some people wouldn’t notice the difference. Because while Darradong Local Council may set itself up to be a satire on why local government is broken, it’s actually just a loose frame on which to hang a series of scenes where moronic characters get into fights, indulge in soft porn and be out-and-proud anti-woke.

The cast of Darradong Local Council giving the thumbs up

There are attempts at satire here – the Mayor (George Kapiniaris), Deputy Mayor (Jon-Bernard Kairouz) and Councillors vote to close down all the local libraries to enable a dodgy Chinese property developer to erect new apartments – but it seems unlikely to go beyond “Hey, this happens in local government sometimes”. As usual with a Paul Fenech show, there are way more important things to do than satire, like fill up a few minutes of airtime with a sex scene or a fight sequence.

The show gets a few decent laughs from the Greens Councillor character, who also votes to close down the libraries because the books aren’t made of hemp. But having him turn up and mention tofu or lentils or whatever it is he’ll get to do each week – in case you haven’t picked this up yet, this is not clever or original satire – will quickly wear thin.

What will be kind of interesting is how the Fox character, who proclaims himself to be a Sovereign Citizen, will develop. Fenech probably intends this character to be an idiot, sucked into dumb Cooker conspiracy theories about vaccines and so forth, but he’ll also likely have his cake and eat it too. Yes, the characters in Darradong Local Council are corrupt, lazy, dumb morons – and sexist, racist and homophobic to boot – but they’re also unlikely heroes, who get away with stuff like theft and up-skirting. And there’ll be no Donald Trump-esque series of court cases at which they’ll get a sort of comeuppance.

Maybe the subplot about the state premier wanting to shut down Darradong’s Chinese-backed property development, so he can build an even worse development, will be funny and interesting? But wait, this is Paul Fenech, so all the potential satire will be drowned in a melee of titillation, shouting and punch-ups.

Of course, after several decades of near-identical Paul Fenech series, no one watching his shows doesn’t love his trademark formula*. Or, at least, that’s the theory. There presumably will come a point where doing the same material in a slightly different setting will wear thin, even amongst Fenech’s rusted-on fanbase. Could this half-arsed local government satire be the series that kills his career?

Ah, who are we kidding? Paul Fenech will never die. See you next year for our review of Darradong Local Council series two.

* Unless they have to review it. Hello!

The World of Tomorrow

“We are all interested in the future,” someone once said, “because that is where we shall be spending the rest of our lives”. But what if the future looks really shit? Welcome to the magical world of Australian television’s plans for 2024.

He’s already announced he’ll be back in 2024 – as will Charlie Pickering

In recent weeks the commercial networks and streaming services have been holding their upfronts – the events where they let the media and public know what they have planned for the coming year. The only holdout left is the ABC, which in recent years has been the main focus when it comes to local comedy. But could 2024 be the year that comedy makes its big comeback on ah fuck even we can’t say that with a straight face.

Let’s start with the one network we know will be showing local comedy in 2024: Network Ten:

Returning in 2024: Thank God You’re Here, Have You Been Paying Attention?, The Cheap Seats, The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical) Jokers

New shows: None.

Verdict: Considering the usual approach over the last decade or so is to axe even decent comedy shows, we’re not going to complain when Ten decides to stick with the winners they already have. Must kind of suck to be someone wanting to do comedy outside of Working Dog when the only network that does comedy only seems to want to work with them, but it must kind of suck to be someone wanting to do comedy in Australia in general.

Oh, and RIP the local version of Would I Lie to You?. It hasn’t been confirmed dead or alive, but now that TGYH is back… yeah, it’s dead.

Now for the former home of Australian comedy: The Seven Network:

Returning in 2024: Nothing – bad news for We Interrupt This Broadcast.

New shows: The Australian Roast of John Cleese, Outback Comedy Outlaw (7Mate) which we guess is at least somewhat comedy related.

Verdict: Look, comedy goes in and out of style at the commercial networks, and after a few years of half-heartedly giving it a go (remember Australia’s Sexiest Tradie?) the fizzle that was We Interrupt This Broadcast at the start of the year seems to have killed off Seven’s drive to reclaim their Fast Forward-era comedy crown. Daryl Somers is gone; they’re not even bothering with those best-of specials any more. And what happened to Paul Fenech?

(we should probably point out here that comedy is often a relatively last-minute addition to a network’s line-up. It’s cheap, it can be made in a hurry, and it’s not something that gets a lot of pre-launch hype. The overall picture here is pretty grim today, but there’s probably going to be a few surprise comedy arrivals in 2024)

Then there’s the network that doesn’t give a stuff about comedy, which is why they have a lock on Hamish & Andy (just kidding): The Nine Network:

Returning in 2024: Does The Hundred with Andy Lee count? Lego Masters definitely doesn’t.

New Shows: Stephen Fry is hosting a local version of Jeopardy, if that’s your thing.

Verdict: Nine doesn’t do comedy as such – they do entertainment that contains trace elements of comedy. If you laugh at something, great; if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. Somewhat related, there’s a documentary coming up looking back at the AFL Footy Show so hopefully there’ll be a few good lines from Trevor Marmalade someone will cut out and put up on YouTube and save us the trouble of fast forwarding through all the racism and sexism.

And finally (for now), in 2024, Australian commercial television isn’t just the free-to-air networks. Remember Foxtel? They have a streaming arm – Binge – and they’re back to being almost relevant: Foxtel / Binge:

Returning in 2024: Colin From Accounts. Because the first series left so many questions unanswered.

New Shows: Yeah, nah.

Verdict: We can understand not bringing back RocKwiz, and Upright didn’t need its second season so no problem here with not giving it a third, but where’s The Back Side of Television? Or The Last Year of Television? If you have Mitch McTaggart right there hosting your upfronts – and they did – surely you can do him the common decency of giving him a show on your network?

Never Underestimate the Power of the Press

Press release time! And we’ve been waiting for this one:

Get your jazz hands ready as ABC delivers new musical comedy doco Australian Epic in November. 

The ABC is thrilled to announce the ingenious new six-part musical comedy documentary series Australian Epic, where six of Australia’s most defining stories are retold as musicals, will premiere on Wednesday, 8 November at 9pm on ABC TV and ABC iview.

Written by The Chaser’s Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen, with 36 original songs  performed by an ensemble cast of dazzling triple-threats, including Phoenix Jackson Mendoza (Six The Musical), Michelle Brasier (Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café), Fiona Choi (The Family Law), Sami Afuni (Hamilton), Nicholas Kong (Miss Saigon) and Amy Lehpamer (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), this 6-part extravaganza breathes new life into some of the country’s most colourful stories, by giving them the full musical treatment they’ve always deserved.

Australian Epic swings between interviews with the real-life players and musical numbers that give Taylor and Hansen full rein to put their trademark satirical spin on the material. The stories receiving the complete razzle-dazzle makeover include the unlikely triumph of ice-skater Steven Bradbury, the fairy-tale of the young Tasmanian woman Mary Donaldson, the international meltdown caused by Johnny Depp’s pet dogs, Pistol and Boo, the comedy of errors that befell Melbourne’s cursed Ferris wheel, the saga of Schapelle Corby and the political showdown of the Tampa affair.

Writer and executive producer Chris Taylor says: “Writing comedy songs with Andrew Hansen has always been one of my favourite things in the world to do. So it was really great to reunite with him on this bonkers project, which features some of the best songs we’ve ever written, I think.”

Writer, composer, executive producer and ensemble cast member Andrew Hansen says: “At the same time, it’s also the only show we’ve done that has a heart. We actually wanted some of the songs to be quite moving, especially in the Tampa episode. So, there’s some emotional stuff in there that we finally allowed ourselves to have in our middle age.”

Ahem. It’s obvious to all that our recent “Where’s Stories From Oz?” campaign was the driving force behind getting this finally on air. It’s clearly in no way the result of a scheduling decision that was probably made months ago and the very idea is ludicrous thanks for asking. Was it possibly delayed to avoid comparisons with the non-musical but otherwise similar-sounding The Betoota Advocate Presents? How would we know?

No, we can take the credit for this finally reaching our screens 100%, even if the ABC has changed the title to try and throw everyone off the scent.

Whether we’ll want the credit once it airs remains to be seen.

A Question of Timing

Question Everything made its triumphant return to the ABC for a third season this week. A third season? Of a show that still can’t figure out how to make its core concept – fake news but comedy! – work? Good thing it’s not our tax dollars paying for this crap oh wait.

Having it back for more than the ABC’s traditional “bare minimum” two seasons suggests that either a): the ABC has decided to make it a regular Wednesday night feature – yes folks, this is the Mad as Hell replacement you’ve been waiting for, or b): the ABC needed a last minute replacement for the supposedly debuting this year Stories From Oz. Where is Stories From Oz anyway?

Sadly, Question Everything is not about that kind of news. Instead, it’s a news-ish panel show where ABC “personalities” and actual funny people get to occasionally make jokes – racists like monster trucks! – in between endless cutaways to the audience or to wide shots or to Jan Fran and Wil Anderson or to anything else that could drag things out.

To be fair, when the second joke of the show is pretty much “democracy… yeah, it’s not working is it?”, you can understand why they might want a bit less comedy and a bit more anything else. Why can’t we just have a strong leader who’ll make all the right decisions for the nation? Can’t see how that could possibly go wrong.

So the format is basically they show a clip, then Anderson picks a panelist to do a scripted bit based on the first half of the clip, then they show the rest of the clip and Jan Fran says something boring. It’s the platonic ideal of a pointless ABC “comedy” series, right down to the part where the panel… answers random questions? Didn’t we just have a show that did that? Is this now going to be a part of every ABC series going forward? Because we’ve got a bunch of questions we’d like the Gruen team to answer on-air.

Like all panel shows, a decent line-up can make the world of difference. Nath Valvo is always good value, so having him on? Good move. And yet, it’s still pointless shit, the kind of nothing timewasting trash that everyone alive today has better things to do than watch.

You’d think that maybe thirty years ago – back when Australia had five TV channels and no functional internet – this kind of show had a place. But you’d be wrong. Even back then this kind of crap didn’t cut it; if you wanted to be funny on TV, you did sketches, wrote a sitcom, or tried to keep variety alive. Panel chat? Leave that to the sports shows.

So what does the ABC have against comedy? Seriously, just look at the “comedy” output from them over the last few months. Mother and Son was a dramedy about a thirtysomething loser who happened to have a wacky mum somewhere in the background. WTFAQ was an answer to the question “what if you wanted to do a sketch show but didn’t want to write any sketches?”. And now Question Everything, which is pretty much Gruen Panel Show with bonus pointless asides about the news.

On the one hand, technically these are all considered comedies in 2023. On the other, they all have big Get Out Of Jail Free cards handy if you were to suggest they weren’t actually funny. Dramedy doesn’t have to be funny! Answering viewer questions is meant to be informative! Question Everything is promoting media literacy! Only not too much, otherwise the viewers might realise it’s shithouse.

None of these shows are cheap to make. Which means the ABC made a conscious decision to spend serious money, not on making actual funny shows, but on this half-baked garbage (the worst kind of garbage – ed). Remember Mad as Hell? Remember how it was funny? People like funny: just look at the way the ABC press department makes sure to call pretty much everything a comedy. And yet the ABC has shown no desire whatsoever to provide audiences with even a half-hearted attempt at following up on Mad as Hell.

Instead we get Question Everything, a show so bad it has Dickie Knee on – but doesn’t let him speak:

“Not now Dickie, I’m about to say fuck”.