Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Pointless tasks

Considering one of the first Australian comedies out of the blocks last year was a local version of British favourite Would I Lie To You? it’s perhaps not a surprise that we start 2023 with an Australian take on Taskmaster. Original concepts are not what we can expect from Ten at this point in history.

The cast of Taskmaster Australia

For those not familiar with one of the several international versions of Taskmaster, the show sees a Taskmaster (Tom Gleeson) and his assistant (Tom Cashman) setting five regular contestants (Danielle Walker, Jimmy Rees, Julia Morris, Luke McGregor, and Nina Oyama) a series of odd and challenging tasks. In the first episode, these are:

  • Getting a balloon out of a caravan without touching the balloon or the caravan.
  • Making a short video about your life in just 45 minutes.
  • Juicing enough oranges to fill a glass, only touching the oranges with the small number of objects on the bench.
  • A knockout round, where the contestants must throw some everyday items nearest the edge of the stage.

Given everyone involved is a comedian, and that the tasks are a bit off-beat, you might expect all this to be funny. It isn’t particularly, although the contestants try to make it so.

The best opportunity for comedy was, unsurprisingly, the life story video task, where the contestants’ script-writing and improvisational skills resulted in some amusing short pieces. The other tasks were more the kinds of things that might provoke debate amongst those watching the show with other people. Should that contestant have used that object to juice the oranges? Or that method to get the balloon out of the caravan?

Overall, this places Taskmaster more in the realm of the light entertainment stunt or prank show, except there’s less opportunity for slapstick laughs. At least, there was in this first episode.

It’s also worrying that two kinda similar “no touching” tasks are in the first episode. Are we going to get a lot of tasks which are slight variations on previous tasks across this series? That doesn’t bode well given there are nine more episodes of Taskmaster to come.

On the plus side, if you’ve had enough of Tom Gleeson’s schtick on Hard Quiz, the focus of Taskmaster is more firmly on the contestants, and so there’s less opportunity for Gleeson to do his smarmy high-status humour. Gleeson does get to shine during the scoring, though, and takes delight in disqualifying a contestant on the slightest whim.

Not that who wins necessarily matters. This is about being as entertaining as possible within the confines of the task. Sadly, Taskmaster’s definition of “entertaining” doesn’t quite mean “being really funny”.

Australian Tumbleweeds Awards 2022

Welcome to the Australian Tumbleweeds Awards, in which we honour the best and worst of Australian comedy in 2022.

Australian comedy is at a crossroads. Not one of those exciting ones where a clear choice lies ahead; this is a barren wasteland where two dirt tracks intersect, the kind of crossing where you turn up at midnight hoping to sell your soul for the ability to make people laugh and instead walk away with a vague idea for a youth-focused dramedy about lung cancer.

The real crossroads – the one where we might have had a chance to avoid the wasteland that now surrounds us – was miles back and years ago, when the ABC decided that actually making new comedy was too much like hard work and instead, they’d just run a bunch of “new talent” showcases that never went anywhere. And then they stopped doing those too, gifting us a world where Charlie Pickering, who let’s not forget had already burnt through an entire career on commercial television, would forever be the fresh young face of comedy on the national broadcaster just don’t focus on his hairline thanks.

In 2022 it became very clear indeed that outside of whatever Working Dog can get on Network 10, there’s no gas left in the tank. The brief flurry of activity during the various Covid lockdowns has faded away, to be replaced by weekly programs regularly losing guests and hosts to Covid. And when we did see the occasional new face on an ABC panel show, there seemed to be an iron law that they had to be balanced out by oh let’s say, Wendy Harmer or Paul McDermott, those exciting new comedy finds of 1989.

Comedy shouldn’t be filed away under “nostalgia”, but in Australia in the 21st century that seems to be the only way anything gets made. If it’s not a salute to an old show then it features the stars of yesteryear, or just some oldie from a decade or two back who has nowhere else to go. And we can’t even blame them for refusing to piss off, because when they do move on they’re not replaced – comedy having shrunk from “something that makes people laugh” to “something hosted by these six people and nobody else”.

Apropos of nothing at all, has the ABC announced a replacement for Mad as Hell yet? Has the ABC shown even the slightest inclination to replace Mad as Hell? Is there any sign at all that the budget for Mad as Hell will go towards a new comedy series and not just vanish into consolidated revenue before funding yet another series where some negatively amusing host wanders around some moribund government institution providing free advertising for some upcoming commercial event the ABC is sponsoring?

Because losing Mad as Hell was the closest thing to a death blow to Australian comedy we’re going to get until Have You Been Paying Attention? gets axed. It was the last example of sketch comedy on the ABC, the final example of decent political satire. It was the sole remaining slice of being silly for the sake of it, the final outlet for funny performers who weren’t also writers and directors and producers and any other job that can be piled onto an individual to cut costs.

Consider it a lifeboat, containing the final traces of what was once a thriving Australian comedy ecosystem. It was the kind of thing you’d hope would eventually land somewhere hospitable – that is, it would stick around until the ABC started getting funded again – and provide the seeds (or just the inspiration) for a whole new world of comedy.

Instead, it went down with all hands. We’re guessing if anyone at the ABC has even thought “yeah, we should maybe replace that show people liked” about now is when they’ve realised that, thanks to a decade of point-blank refusing to nurture new talent, there is now no new talent. What you see is what you get, and we’re not seeing much that’s new or interesting these days.

Of course, it could always be worse, but in a year that saw multiple Hey! Hey! it’s Saturday specials we’re struggling to figure out exactly how. A Trial by Kyle celebrity special? Hey, let’s not give them any ideas.


Worst Sketch or Short Form Comedy

Runner-up

Mark Humphries 7.30

17% of the total votes

That kind of satire that Mark Humphries’ strives for requires a point of view. Mocking the rich and powerful suggests you’re on the side of the poor and downtrodden. Now more than ever, Australia could really use a prominent political satirist willing and capable of sinking the slipper into the cosy cabal of vested interests that are steering our society into a brick wall. We’re still waiting for one to arrive.

Runner-up

The Bush Blonde vs The World

37% of the total votes

The Bush Blonde wearing a sexy explorer's outfit

If you thought comedy had moved on from the dumb blonde stereotype, or the idiot bushie stereotype, well, it seems it hasn’t. This unedifying and unfunny pilot will hopefully never become a full series, meaning we can all forget it and move on. But given how few out-and-out comedies even get a pilot, it makes you wonder: what was rejected in favour of this? And was anything better overlooked?

Winner

The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

56% of the total votes

Charlie Pickering looking serious and determined at Sydney Harbour

Sketches? Short form comedy? Hang on, what’s The Weekly doing in this category? Guess until we bring in an “inane desk-based blather” section, this’ll have to do. In 2022 Pickering finally stripped away everything that made his show anything more than just him behind a desk openly wondering if this was the year he could finally call himself “Australia’s Noah Trevor”. The result? A show that wasn’t so much a comedy as a metaphor for how the last decade of budget cuts have turned the ABC into a faded whispy spectre haunting its own grave. It’s a pointless waste of time that exists solely so ABC management can pretend they give a shit about satire.


What the voters said about The Weekly with Charlie Pickering

The Weekly, if left to the private sector, would have bankrupted itself years ago.

Unoriginal and formulaic carbon copy of American shows. About as funny as an episode of Friends. Would have preferred this was axed and Tom Ballard’s Tonightly moved to prime time/prime channel.

Nick Maxwell’s clip montage voiceovers would be the notably terrible lowlight of any other show, but with Pickering front and centre he can hide safely.


Worst Sitcom or Narrative Comedy

Runner-up

Summer Love

28% of the total votes

Two white couples looking pleased and smug at the beach

Part of the justification for Summer Love (which was arguably neither a sitcom nor a narrative comedy, but what else was there to include in this category in 2022?) was that it gave emerging creatives with a comedy background an opportunity to write a one-off show which was a bit different. Great, except that each episode was like almost every new “comedy” made these days: a dramedy. Do we really need the ABC and funding bodies putting money into more dramedies when there are already heaps of dramedies, and even more straight dramas, being made? And while it was good to see some racial diversity across the series, and an LGBT-focused episode, setting the show in a chi-chi beach house meant there were no opportunities to do anything about people on modest incomes. Unless you count the couple who did the cleaning.

Runner-up

Aftertaste

30% of the total votes

A young white woman chef and an older white male chef

The second series of Aftertaste was more what you’d expect to see in a sitcom – over-the-top characters, high-energy performances – but time and time again the sit failed to have much com. Part of this was down to the writers not quite nailing the Gen Z versus Gen X dynamic, and part of it was down to whether this was trying to be a sitcom, a dramedy or a cooking show. That and the major plot arches – the death of the grandfather and the return of the missing grandmother – were so obvious you could see them from space.

Winner

Housos: The Thong Warrior

52% of the total votes

A man wearing bikie leather gear and sunglasses with studs around the rim

What does Paul Fenech have over the execs at Seven? It must be pretty shocking because why else would anyone give him money to make this half-arsed crap. Like most recent Fenech shows, The Thong Warrior took a grab-bag of zeitgeisty things – cryptocurrency, conspiracy theories, political corruption – and wove them into a (sort of) plot which involved extended fight sequences, grotesque erotic performers and slapstick. There is an audience for this, but they’re mostly high.


What the voters said about Housos: The Thong Warrior

Paul Fenech, please, just retire. You have enough money. Please. You already are Warren Perso.

Once upon a time I admired the work ethic of Fenech. Despite all the odds he still managed to get shows on TV. Now that’s changing though – it’s not natural. He shouldn’t get to keep making the same show over and over. Something is wrong. Someone is in danger.

Is there a fate worse than being banished to 7mate?


Worst Panel, Game or Stand-up Show

Runner-up

Gruen Nation

25% of the total votes

A Vote 1 Wil Anderson poster being pissed on by a dog

It’s a good thing nobody ever looks back at old episodes of any of the Gruen shows, otherwise, the way this series constantly gushed over the marketing genius of the LNP would seem a trifle embarrassing. Not that anyone involved has to worry in the slightest about getting it all completely wrong: just so long as they sound authoritative and smirk at each others “jokes”, they’ll be back to spread even more bullshit around the dinner table next series.

Runner-up

Win the Week

29% of the total votes

Alex Lee hands Craig Reucassel a cup of poison

It’d be nice to think that the ABC’s seemingly rock-solid commitment to giving just about everything a second series, no matter how shit or pointless the first turns out to be, would come with some strings attached of the “try and fix the mistakes before you come back” kind. Yeah, nah. If only the executives that said that this could return were as good at backstabbing as some of the contestants.

Winner

Hey Hey It’s 100 Years / The Best of the Best & Worst of Red Faces

61% of the total votes

If you ask around, chances are you probably know at least one or two people who still think Hey Hey it’s Saturday was “a bit of a laugh” or “the kind of show it’d be good to have back on telly” or “not a total disgrace”. Cut those people out of your life. Then cut the antenna cord on the back of your television set just to make sure you never accidentally watch another second of these garbage nostalgia bonfires. They’re just glorified commercials for Daryl Somers anyway, and he’s a product nobody needs in their home.


What the voters said about Hey! Hey! It’s 100 Years / The Best of the Best & Worst of Red Faces

Like all commercial channels in this country, the name of the game is cheap nostalgic retreads to squeeze what’s left of any influence these comedy icons once had. Except Hey! Hey! That’s always been shithouse.

This whole category is appalling and offers life support to Australia’s mediocre rump of alleged comedians, but Hey! Hey! is something to be critiqued, not celebrated: it was always casually racist, sexist and homophobic, and watching clips of it now should only make everyone involved cringe in shame and beg for forgiveness. I feel ashamed to have enjoyed it as a child and have no nostalgia for it now.

Nostalgia will murder you.


Worst Topical or Satirical Show

Runner-up

A Rational Fear

13% of the total votes

A Rational Fear

A Rational Fear does a lot of good things – it gives new and established comedians a platform to speak about topical issues, and it creates engaging content about the climate crisis – but its satirical sketches are a hard listen. Once you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. Take the tropes of advertising, an issue the audience cares about and combine the two to make several minutes of barely amusing “satire”. Here’s a compilation of some of them. Even if you agree with the sentiment, the execution is piss poor.

Runner-up

Mark Humphries 7.30

20% of the total votes

Mark Humphries looking smug

Biting satirical commentary isn’t Mark Humphries’ forte either, with his sketches often being mistargeted and weak. And this was even during the era of the Morrison government, where Morrison and colleagues so blatantly failed to address our concerns that we overwhelmingly booted them out. There is an audience for this kind of satire, but they’ve fallen asleep. Rather like the people making these sketches.

Winner

The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

65% of the total votes

Charlie Pickering looking serious and determined at Sydney Harbour

The recent outrage about the greenlighting of Frankly, a chat show hosted by a white woman in her 60s and aimed at Boomers, highlighted who the ABC’s target audience really is. A less obvious manifestation of this is The Weekly, a show hosted by a Gen X white guy but aimed squarely at older generations. Ever wondered why The Weekly has a rather conservative take on issues that are important to younger generations? Or why the show rarely does any robust satire? It’s because everything’s pretty good for the target audience, so why think about anyone or anything else?


What the voters said about The Weekly/The Yearly with Charlie Pickering

Charlie Pickering is long overdue for a nice drive out to the comedy retirement farm. Or he would be if he were an actual comedian.

The folksy explanations on The Weekly were loathsome. And Micallef almost pleading to be let go of speaks volumes.

This may be a case of bad comedy recency bias, but Pickering’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air parody on The Yearly deserves the death penalty.


Worst Comedy Film

Runner-up

Christmas Ransom

11% of the total votes

Two women, one pointing a gun, hide behind a pregnent security guard

Streaming service Stan has gone all-in with the Christmas movies over the last few years, and good on them for giving it a red hot go. Maybe one day they’ll come up with something worth watching over Christmas, but considering these days around 40% of all films are “a Christmas movie, if you really think about it” we’ll stick with Bad Santa for now.

Runner-up

How to Please a Woman

11% of the total votes

An excited woman at the beach holding a bottle of champagne

When a middle-aged accountant takes over a struggling removalist firm and turns its fortunes around by retraining the all-male staff into sex workers, you’d expect something a lot funnier than this ended up being. Who thought turning what was obviously the set-up for a 70s sex romp into a serious look at the politics of female desire was a good idea oh it’s an Australian film forget we said anything.

Winner

Wog Boys Forever

69% of the total votes

Two middle aged Greek Australian men sitting on the bonnet of a muscle car with the number plate WOGBOYS

Look, to be fair this was pretty much the only real Australian comedy film made this year. Everything else just had trace elements of comedy sprinkled over some other, more popular dramatic format. So if you could squint just right and ignore the actual content of this film – which was not great even when it wasn’t outright bad – you could almost imagine you were watching something with the potential to be both entertaining and funny. You weren’t of course, but aren’t the movies about playing let’s pretend?


What the voters said about Wog Boys Forever

People who watched Wog Boys are now all over 45. People who liked Wog Boys are all over 60. Must have been some good tax credits on the production costs

Congratulations Nick Giannopoulos you have officially made The Wog Boy the Police Academy of Australian cinema. The first Wog Boy, a genuinely funny and satirical take on modern multicultural Melbourne through the eyes of a first generation man. Wog Boys Forever…, hey everyone it’s me Nick, remember me and how funny I was?! Well I’m back and dancing in a night club, please see my movie! That’s the whole premise.

As a wog, this should have been a slam dunk (soccer goal?) But the cameos from Sooshi Mango, kings of Instagram, prove that these particular Wogs are out of work for a reason.


Best New Comedy

Runner-up

Shut Up

18% of the total votes

A white woman sitting on a sofa holding a glass of sherry

Shut Up was a stand-out new release in 2022. This two-hander starring Debra Lawrence and Celia Pacquola as a mother and daughter meeting up between lockdowns had a strong script, lots of laughs and occasional moments of poignancy. Written by Sarina Rowell and directed by Tony Martin, it’s available on YouTube. You should check it out.

Runner-up

Hot Department: Dark Web

23% of the total votes

Two female characters sit on a bed in their nighties smoking

Also available on YouTube, this series from Aunty Donna spin-off Grouse House is a series of parodies of online pop culture (TikTok, Netflix, porn, YouTube). Not all episodes were great, but the best got solid laughs from putting a Black Mirror meets Aunty Donna-type twist on familiar online tropes.

Winner

Colin from Accounts

25% of the total votes

A white couple at a dinner party

Is this uneven rom-com sitcom the best new comedy made in Australia in 2022? We don’t think so but you voted for it… Colin from Accounts is beautifully shot, it includes some funny moments, and there’s an on-again-off-again romance at the centre of it and some people enjoy that sort of thing. Is the romance entirely believable? Not really? Are many of the situations funny? Again, not really. But if you’re looking for eight pleasant-ish half-hours about decent people leading a slightly glamorous but also fairly relatable life then there are many, many worse shows you could watch.


What the voters said about Colin from Accounts 2022 new comedy in general…

None of them are any good. That’s the sad thing. When the new shows and ideas are just as bad as the old ones, that’s when you know we have no more comedic talent on mainstream Australian media.

This was a mediocre year.

I’m just so tired.


Best Comedy

Runner-up

Have You Been Paying Attention?

36% of the total votes

Have You Been Paying Attention?

The kind of consistently funny and entertaining show Australian commercial television rarely made even in its heyday, it’s frankly astonishing that we get something this good on our screens for half the year each year. Don’t believe us? Think of every single panel show the ABC’s made this century. A well-oiled laugh-generating machine with an amazing depth of talent and the ability to make even paid sponsorships seem amusing, it continues to be a triumph.

Runner-up

Fisk

61% of the total votes

Still going strong in its second season, Kitty Flanagan has come up with the goods and then some with this understated sitcom about a lawyer who doesn’t quite fit into a world that you probably wouldn’t want to fit in with anyway. A timely rebuttal to those who say that the future of Australian television must lie with appealing to an international audience, it’s homegrown in all the best ways, mining comedy from the quirks of our culture while tapping into the universal nature of a whole lot of dickheads. No word yet on a third season but with a Logie on Flanagan’s mantelpiece and Fisk’s baggy brown suit back in style, here’s hoping.

Winner

Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell

70% of the total votes

There’s a school of thought that says after a loss you shouldn’t mourn the fact they’re gone but instead celebrate the time you had together. Yeah, good one. We’ll remember that for twenty weeks in 2023 when instead of enjoying world-class comedy created by one of the sharpest satirical teams this country has ever seen, we’re not. Making matters worse – which really should be the ABC’s new slogan – the final season of Mad as Hell was as strong as it’d ever been, skillfully pointing out the flaws in the freshly elected Labor government with sketches that had a new sense of purpose. Plus all the regular stuff? Still just as funny. It went out on a high note; we won’t see its like again.


What the voters said about Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell

Mad as Hell’s departure leaves a big hole in Australian television. Fortunately that leaves somewhere the country can dump all that soft plastic.

You have to wonder how satire is going to hold up without Mad As Hell around.

Bye Mad As, we love you.


We asked our readers… What did you think of comedy in 2022?

It could always be worse. It’s time for the ABC to start again and give us some fresh shows that actually take risks. No more panels, no more established talent, please.

Fisk was the big TV-narrative-comedy highlight! Whether or not you think it’s funny, and I do, it’s so refreshing to see a comedy that puts itself out there with the primary aim of being funny, rather than having a bedrock of ‘serious issues’ to make it critic proof. Its huge success is really heartening.

Underwhelming, especially if you tend to want to see films or TV sitcoms. I’m at the point where I don’t care if it’s not great. Just put on a show with a 23 year old I don’t know hosting, or sitcom, something out of the blue. Nostalgia is biting at my bosom too readily and I seek out the tried and true oldies rather than bother with the new. Is that wrong?

Same as the last 15 years or so, very bland with the same handfull of dinosaurs on every show. I think Australian and New Zealand stand up comedy is stronger than ever and would like to see these youngsters replace all these lame ABC on air types across all forms of our comedy media.

It’s too soon to say what 2022 meant for screen comedy. Mad As Hell finishing marks the end of an era, but there are a surprising number and variety of shows slated for 2023 (Taskmaster, Aunty Donna’s sitcom, the Channel 7 sketch show) which could set the tone for what’s next. Kitty Flanagan winning the most popular actress Logie was funny and bizarre enough to tip the scales over to positive. Not a standout year on its own, but hopefully good things are to come.

Mitch McTaggart’s seasonal evisceration of the awful lowlights of Australian TV (as well as noting a few positives) has become must-see TV, even if you have to join Binge to see it. Mad As Hell leaves a huge hole to fill (bye Tosh), Fisk, HYBPA? and Cheap Seats delivered solid laughs. The rest? A huge angry sigh…stuff I can’t be arsed to watch to be able to determine just how little I care for it. Bring on Aunty Donna and The Back Side of Television season 2…

Like our Olympic performances: you only get out whatever dollars you put in. Aussie comedy has evolved past the long-form and the only consistent quality comes from the bite-size format: “don’t forget to subscribe, like, and share” is the new catch-cry of the popular Aussie comedy performer.

Panel shows remain the absolute worst, keeping the same few hacks employed while emerging talent has nowhere to go. Also, too much scripted ‘comedy’ is still really drama with quirky trappings.

A few glimmers of brilliance in a sea of formula and dated reboots. Fisk has become a clever, well written 30 minute sitcom. Sad to see Mad As Hell go, there is nothing like it on Australian TV. I hope Micallef’s wit will be seen again soon elsewhere. Colin From Accounts was an excellent new sitcom; funny, authentically Australian and unique.

Satirical comedy really peaked. I think it helped process the horror of the worst Prime Minister we’ve ever had. It was kind of like therapy.

The fact Tosh Greenslade has gone into advertising is enough to tell us what’s gone wrong with TV comedy.

At least it’s not getting worse.

Needs improvement and more financial support.

There weren’t enough panel shows about the news, they should do more of those.

The above is a selection of the many comments we received. Thank you for voting and commenting, now comes 2023…

Vote now in the Australian Tumbleweeds Awards 2022

Yes, you read that headline correctly, you can now cast your vote in the Australian Tumbleweeds Awards 2022.

Check the voting form for the full rules and regulations.

A white hand places a ballot paper into a ballot box with the Australian flag in the background
This stock image is here to reinforce the idea of voting

You have until 8th January 2023 to give us your views on Australian comedy in 2022.

We’ll announce the results on or about Australia Day.

Vote now!

A Bit of a Dog’s Breakfast

Colin From Accounts is a romantic comedy, which would usually send us running for the hills. Comedy? Love that stuff. Romantic comedy? That’s usually a love story with some mild banter and maybe – if you’re lucky – a wacky mix-up or zany best friend. So why are we reviewing this one?

Mostly because for a romantic comedy, it’s surprisingly light on the romance. Thanks to the set-up, the two leads are pushed together sooner than either really finds comfortable – which works out well, because it means a lot of the early “romance” stuff is them trying to pull away from each other and fight against the situation they’re in. But we’re getting ahead of things.

Gordon (Patrick Brammall) owns a microbrewery yet somehow is not a total wanker, while Ashley (Harriet Dyer) is a medical student who doesn’t mind a drink and a sleep in. They meet on a street corner in inner-city Sydney – he’s driving, she’s walking, he stops to let her cross, she flashes a boob as a thank you and does this kind of thing really happen oh wait “romantic comedy”. Anyway, Gordon is distracted and runs over a dog.

The pair race the dog to a vet, where for some reason they end up a): owning the dog and b): owing $12000 in vet bills. Things get more complicated from there as Gordon can’t have a dog in his life, Ashley can but she can’t have a dog in her flat, and soon Gordon has both a dog and Ashley living with him. Plus he owes the vet $6000 because they’ve decided to split the bill. But hey, what price love?

Dyer – who also created this series and wrote a number of episodes – has been appearing in a lot of different series recently, but it’s her work on Matt Okine’s The Other Guy that’s relevant here. There she played Stevie, a drug-loving party gal who was… let’s say, “in your face”. Here, she plays a similar character, only this time she’s often funny and likable.

Likewise, Brammall isn’t wandering far from his comfort zone as a non-threatening dork with a decent heart and a second-guessing brain. So good news, everybody: this is a rom-com where you’ll probably want the two leads to find some level of happiness, maybe even with each other.

But is it funny? Well, it’s often trying to be, and we’re always happy to hand out points for effort. On the other hand it’s a real grab bag of styles, and that’s being generous. There are jokes in here we haven’t seen attempted in years: they actually do the old “oh wow this date’s really awkward, they have no chemistry and [SMASH CUT] now they’re passionately making out in the back of a car whuuuuut” gag.

Yeah, but is there toilet humour? Ashley is literally rummaging around in a toilet in the first episode. And then she sleep-pisses on Gordon’s bedside dresser in the next episode (making Dyer two for two when it comes to pissy sitcoms). Then her mum turns up to let her know some random childhood friend’s been raped. Meanwhile, Gordon’s talking to his doctor about cancer. What is this, 2003?

Who knows, maybe it’s time for this kind of “shocking” comedy to come back in style. At least it’s trying to be funny! Trying really hard! Which is kind of the tone of the whole series. Are we talking a wacky mix up involving an accidental dick pic? You know we are.

Working against the comedy’s… uh, manic energy (we’re going to be charitable there) is the way the locations are all very inner city and tasteful and oh look a microbrewery. Which is what you expect from a rom-com where the rom is the point, but… did we mention Ashley plucks a giant turd from a toilet and throws it out the window? Love may be in the air, but it’s clearly not the only thing up there.

“At least it’s a comedy” is something we’d really like to say here, but if you stick around you’ll discover that this is not a series that shies away from tragic backstories and heartfelt moments. Fortunately it delays them long enough that by the time the waterworks start, the unwary viewer will have become emotionally invested in the characters. If that hasn’t happened – maybe because you’re here for the comedy – chances are that you are going to bounce right off these scenes.

This isn’t a series like Summer Love where it was clear the comedy was a distant second. This has plenty of jokes and some of them are pretty good. It’s just all over the place with its comedy, and the aforementioned comedy isn’t really the type that fits in well with a romance – even a down-to-earth, plain-speaking one like this.

There’s a lot here to like (if nothing else, the dog has been selected for maximum adorableness). But there’s also a lot here to like somewhat less, and they’re all jumbled together like a… what’s the term again?

Vale Fisk series 2

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Fisk is the funniest Australian sitcom for years. It also rates incredibly well, with more people tuning into Fisk than the World Cup.

Fisk has come in with over 1m viewers. The episode was up 59%, with 1,106,000 tuning in.

Not far behind was the match between the Socceroos and France, with 981,000 tuning in to the FIFA World Cup on SBS.

And this for a show which flies in the face of the accepted conventions of ABC sitcoms in 2022:

  • Feature likeable/relatable characters
  • Include moving/dramatic elements
  • Have the entire series arch lead up to a big bombshell in episode five which, in episode six, gets resolved and paves the way for a new series

All of which seem like good ideas and are pushed heavily by execs and screenwriting courses alike, except they result in every show feeling the same. And same doesn’t equal funny.

Fisk, on the other hand, is a show written to get laughs. The characters aren’t 100% realistic, although we’ve all met people a bit like them. And the show isn’t trying to make some wider societal or satirical point, although it ends up doing that too (modern cafes, anyone?).

All she wants is a cappuccino

It’s also not a show you’re meant to feel moved by or where the sort of differences that are sometimes used as plot points become a thing. Yes, the main character Helen Tudor-Fisk (Kitty Flanagan) is probably neurodivergent, but that’s not really the point. If anything, it’s celebrated, as Helen’s unwillingness to accept idiocy makes her the perfect voice of the audience.

Modern cafes are ridiculous. Roz (Julia Zemiro) and Viktor (Glenn Butcher) are ridiculous (and quite possibly neurodivergent in their own ways). Lots of people are self-centred and behave stupidly and unreasonably. And the only thing we can do is laugh about it.

But even as we laugh knowingly at the characters and situations – the signs in office kitchens, the arguments about who gets a toilet key, the protocols around staff birthdays, Roz’s tone-deaf disaster charity and Viktor’s over-zealous scheduling – the relatability isn’t the point. We don’t want to be friends with any of the characters. We just think they’re funny.

And, really, that’s all you need in a sitcom: some situations and characters you can laugh about. Helen success in the final episode was nice, but it was also kind of incidental. When Fisk comes back for a third series – and there’s no reason to assume it won’t – Helen’s newfound success won’t change things. She’ll still have eccentric clients and mad colleagues to deal with. And as far as anyone who likes to laugh is concerned, that’s absolutely fine.

Vale ABC Wednesday Night Comedy for 2022

Okay, yes, the ABC are going to be showing a Wil Anderson comedy special next Wednesday night, but it’s hardly like that invalidates the premise of this blog post. Zing?

At least with an Anderson stand-up special there’ll be a lot less of Anderson actually laughing. Which to be fair, was often understandable during Question Everything because they had some pretty decent panelists doing some pretty funny material. So why was it one of the bigger piles of steaming garbage the ABC put to air in 2022? Let’s explain:

If you want to show comedians doing their stand up act, give them a stand up special. If you want them to talk about the news of the week, let them do that. If you want to… look, we could go on all day like this. Question Everything was a mess, and being a mess got in the way of being funny.

For its second season, pretty much everything about the original premise went in the bin. Remember how it used to be a quiz show complete with points being awarded and a “final round”? Not any more. Remember how all the promotion suggested it was going to be a kind of “here’s how the sausage is made” look at the news, like the seemingly obvious but never fully realised concept of Gruen News? Forget that malarkey.

This year Question Everything was just a collection of news-ish clips – often from breakfast television, that well-known comedy goldmine since the days of The Hamster Wheel – which may or may not have provided host Wil Anderson with a segue to ask one of the panel a question, it didn’t really matter because he was going to ask anyway. Cue them struggling to tortuously link that question to some pre-scripted bit or another.

(unless it was Charlie Pickering, who seems increasingly a bit deranged whenever he turns up outside The Weekly. Which might also explain why there is nobody else appearing on The Weekly)

And yet the pre-scripted bits were often good! In between some line-ups that were so painfully “ABC” we could feel ourselves involuntarily turning Incredible Hulk-style into Gerard Henderson, there were also some surprising guests. Carl Barron on an ABC panel show? And he was great?

But the show itself was an absolute dog’s breakfast. Jan Fran was fine while also being completely pointless. Her increasingly brief segments “explaining” the news never failed to bring the show to a screeching halt. For every episode where there was a decent panelist or two, there was one that looked like they’d been rifling through the back cupboard where the ABC stashed the old portraits from their 1990s celebrity wall.

A month or two back Wil Anderson was talking about how he’d love to help the ABC get new comedians on the air – but to do that the ABC would require the involvement of established faces. Question Everything did feature some new comedians; it also featured Wendy Harmer and Paul McDermott. There comes a point where trying to attract one audience actively repels the other. Question Everything managed that more often than not.

Still, individual elements were often good. Sometimes every single part of an episode, taken purely as a stand-alone element and viewed in isolation, was a decent piece of television. But nothing worked together. Building up the kind of comedy rhythm and momentum throughout an episode where the laughs build on each other so even the weak gags work? Not happening here.

The panelists rarely even interacted with each other; Anderson just kept dropping zingers seemingly left over from Gruen; Fran was a visitor from a parallel dimension version of the show that contained actual information (in the final episode she was reduced to introducing a series of clips featuring Karl Stefanovic); the whole thing felt like it was put together by a team who didn’t actually know how to put a television show together.

Worst of all, at a time where Australian comedy is an endangered species on our screens, this refused to do anything new. If we want to watch a show where two hosts make us laugh by going over the news events of the week, we’ve already got The Cheap Seats; if we want Wil Anderson getting the last word, Gruen will never die. If we want James O’Loghlin, we’ll build a time machine. Even Dave O’Neill’s been on our screens this year on Spicks and Specks. Tom Gleeson? He was literally hosting the show that was on before this!

We were going to talk here about Fisk, which also ended tonight. But trying to shoehorn that into this would just be making the same mistake Question Everything did. Not everything works well together. And some things* just don’t work at all.

.

*Question Everything

Everything Old is… Back

Press release time!

Matt Okine and Denise Scott to star in a bold reimagining of an all-time ABC favourite – Mother and Son

ABC, Screen Australia and Screen NSW today confirmed they are delighted to be bringing an all-new Mother and Son to Australian screens, in a charming and hilarious eight-part series starring two of the country’s most-loved comedians, Denise Scott and Matt Okine.

Produced by Wooden Horse and re-created by Okine with collaborators Sarah Walker, Tristram Baumber and the show’s original creator, Geoffrey Atherden, Mother and Son will screen on ABC TV and ABC iview in 2023.

When his widowed mum, Maggie (Denise Scott), sets fire to the kitchen, recently-single Arthur Gbeme (Matt Okine) moves back in to the family home. As he tells it, he has “put his life on hold” to care for his mum, but the truth is, there isn’t much to put on hold.

A former nurse, Maggie used to be a firebrand – a free-thinking renegade of the ‘60s. But since the death of her husband, Maggie has been… a little off.  

(Re)Creator, Writer and Star, Matt Okine says “The idea to re-create Mother and Son first came to me back in 2013 when I was touring Hong Kong alongside Denise.  It was a staple of the Okine family TV when I was growing up; a beautiful snapshot of 1980s Australian suburbia, made hilariously unforgettable by its co-stars Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald. Ten years in the making, it feels like a dream come true to have this idea brought back to life.  Denise and I have huge shoes to fill but with my hairline going the way it is, I feel like I was born to play a 2023 version of Arthur!”.

ABC Head of Comedy Todd Abbott says “I honestly thought Matt and the team were joking when they suggested revisiting this classic series, but the more excited they got, the more it became clear we absolutely had to make it. Australia has changed a lot in 40 years, and this cheeky, fired-up, laugh-out-loud series reflects that beautifully. And for anyone who needs any more convincing, I have two words: Denise Scott!”

“This warm and funny reimagining of Mother and Son is the perfect antidote to the doom and gloom of the last few years. The pandemic forced many of us to reconnect with family and this series will resonate all the more as a result. A beautiful mix of comedy and pathos superbly crafted by Matt Okine, Sarah Walker and Tristram Baumber, Mother and Son shines a timely lens on an ageing population and modern family life in a contemporary, multicultural Australia. With the blessing of Mother and Son’s original creator, Geoffrey Atherden, we are thrilled to bring this hilarious and provocative reimagining to the ABC and audiences the world over,” said Jude Troy and Richard Finlayson, Producers and joint CEOs, Wooden Horse.

Screen Australia’s Head of Content Grainne Brunsdon says, “This hilarious and relatable series is sure to capture the hearts of Australians as it playfully brings this classic story into a modern Australian setting.  With such a strong creative team behind the production, I’ve no doubt Mother and Son will charm a new generation when Maggie and Arthur return to the ABC in 2023.”

Head of Screen NSW Kyas Hepworth says “Screen NSW is thrilled to support Wooden Horse and the talented team of Matt Okine, Sarah Walker and Tristram Baumber to bring the revamped Mother and Son to Australia and beyond. This iconic Australian series was hugely successful during its original run on the ABC, and I am confident it will leverage the success of the original series and attract new audiences with a modern take.”

With rich, warm characters that could be drawn right from your own family, Mother and Son offers hilarious, poignant, and utterly relatable observations on modern family life.      

Yeah, maybe we were a bit too harsh having a go at Seven for being the home of comedy nostalgia. Hopefully this won’t be a case of “we forgot to laugh” – though the idea of this being a “bold reimagining” is a pretty good zinger to start with.

Comedy in the Rearview

It’s been a big week for comedy on Seven – unfortunately that week was from twenty years ago, as the network continued to ignore producing anything new in favour of saluting shows old enough to vote and performers old enough to be excused from voting.

Seven knows audiences won’t tune in these days for regular old repeats, which is why both Kath & Kim: Our Effluent Life and The Roast of Paul Hogan – much like those Best of Hey Hey specials earlier in the year – threw in some new footage to space out the old. Could they have stood alone without the old clips? Well…

To be fair, in the case of both Kath & Kim specials the old footage pretty much was the point; over two big nights we got two hours of corpsing and outtakes and promotional appearances and celebrity guests talking up Gina Reily and Jane Turner. Seems Tony Martin’s wig fell off during his big pash scene with Magda and he made a joke about how only hardcore nerds would notice a continuity error like that: good to see him staying in character.

There was also some newly filmed “where are they now” clips, which largely served as a reminder that Kath & Kim as characters and as a series ran out of steam a season or two before they left our screens. And speaking of screens: green screening them into their old (and now demolished) locations did not look good. The settings were a big part of Kath & Kim. With them gone it’s not the same.

(pointless speculation corner: was the idea to do one new episode and one clip show and then they were asked to pad out the new episode with clips when they only scraped together ten minutes of new scenes? It just seemed weird to have two clip shows back to back, only one of them had some new footage mixed in)

Meanwhile, the Hogan Roast was mostly new footage that just felt old, as a bunch of fresh faces, former greats and Shane Jacobson sat around poking fun at Hoges, a man who was once very funny and still remains somewhat likable, if possibly not quite up to sitting on a couch being insulted for a hundred minutes or so.

We don’t have much of a tradition of roasts here and Hoges is not a young man, so the nasty edge required was only rarely in evidence (mostly from then Covid patient Tom Gleeson, doing his usual gear). On the positive side, this did contain more jokes than the last two years worth of ABC panel shows, even if most of them were clunkers.

Tax jokes? Yeah, we got them (“”Hoges knew he was in trouble when the tax office sent him two letters – F and U”). Jokes about how his TV work was sexist? Sorted. Calling him Australia’s greatest ever drug dealer for his work promoting ciggies and booze? It’s a fair cop. And yet, the whole thing still felt like a comedy version of This Is Your Life – another nostalgia-heavy show Seven has recently brought back from the dead.

But at least this was trying to make people laugh, which set it apart from around 90% of current Australian “comedy”. Australia tends to be extremely precious when it comes to much-loved celebrities, many of whom have notoriously thin skins anyway (good luck even imagining a roast of Daryl Somers), so for Hoges to sit there and take even this somewhat toothless series of (clearly read from cue cards) insults from a bunch of near-strangers (and former co-star Ernie Dingo) reflected pretty well on him.

(there was much cheering at Casa Del Tumbleweeds when Rob Sitch took a swipe at Flipper, truly one of the low points of Hogan’s career and cinema in general)

Shaun Micallef was something of a surprise guest, though knowing his interest in and reverence for Australia’s comedy icons we probably should have expected he’d pop up. Unsurprisingly, his off-kilter performance was a highlight; we can only wish we also remembered all those brutal murders committed by Crocodile Dundee.

(pointless speculation corner: when exactly was this put together? Some of the pandemic-era jokes seemed a year old, while other references seemed a lot more current. “An epic production over a year in the making”? Oh wait, seems it was filmed back in April)

There’s been more successful comedy characters on Australian television, but a roast of, say, Norman Gunston seems unlikely (Garry McDonald, even less so). Plenty of Australian actors have had more illustrious big screen careers, but… well, come to think of it, a Roast of Russell Crowe isn’t all that unlikely.

But Paul Hogan managed to combine both, then made a whole lot of shitty movies that truly deserve open mockery – and on that level, The Roast of Paul Hogan delivered.

For once, Seven’s obsession with nostalgia paid off.

Overwhelmed & Living in Flats

If there’s one thing that we all learnt from the pandemic, it’s that the way we live sucks. Two new comedy-adjacent shows, Judith Lucy’s podcast Overwhelmed & Living and the YouTube series Flats, explore modern living in two very different ways.

Overwhelmed & Living is the show of the pair that most directly considers what we’ve all been through since March 2020. It’s the sequel to Lucy’s previous podcast series Overwhelmed & Dying, which happened to be released just as the world went into lockdown, and explored themes such as being middle-aged and single, dealing with the death of close relatives, and feeling a general dissatisfaction with life. Now, almost three years on, Lucy has burst out of quarantine and is determined to make changes. And not just in her own life – Judith Lucy’s going to save the planet!

As with some of her previous series, this is Lucy taking a wry look at various self-help/self-improvement topics, except this time she’s genuinely committed, whilst retaining a healthy scepticism. And if doing both seems like a tricky thing to pull off, then it kind of is. Lucy’s trademark wry commentary fitted when she was talking about things which were a bit nuts, like in Judith Lucy is All Woman when she got botox injected into her G-spot. But it’s a harder sell when she’s talking with genuine enthusiasm about gardening, writing to her MP, or what she’s learnt from an Indigenous elder.

Having said that, this is an entertaining and interesting series, which is funny when it intends to be and succeeds in finding relatively easy ways for anyone to take action on the environment. None of which require risking jail time by chucking soup at paintings or glueing yourself to roads.

Flats, sadly, is less successful at what it’s trying to do. It was meant to be an “online comedy series” about people who live in inner-city Melbourne community housing, starring real people who live in inner-city Melbourne community housing. Sadly, the real people who live in inner-city Melbourne community housing can’t act and the series isn’t funny.

Princess Pictures, the makers of Flats, have some experience in making unfunny comedies with casts largely made up of non-actors, as they produced Chris Lilley’s various series. And while they have learnt something from their experience of working with Lilley – visit the Productions page on their website to not see any of Lilley’s series listed following his long-overdue cancellation – Princess Pictures still haven’t learnt how to get comedy gold out performances by non-actors.

There are some positive things to say about Flats – Australia almost never makes sitcoms about people who aren’t middle class, and the characters seem real even if the delivery of the dialogue is stilted – but the lack of laughs is a real problem. One issue is the plot. So far, the main character Joey (Will Weatheritt) has come out of jail, been rejected by his girlfriend, and wasted a bunch of money he doesn’t have on drugs. None of which are obviously hilarious events.

Will Weatheritt as Joey in Flats

If you want an audience to laugh, you have to give them a reason to do so. Chris Lilley’s shows weren’t funny because the laughs mostly came from punching down. In Flats, it’s more punching across – desperate people hurting other desperate people – Joey stealing money from his ex-girlfriend to pay his drug debt, for example.

To get laughs in this sitcom, Joey needs a pompous authority figure to fight, or to get himself into avoidable scrapes which aren’t tragic. Instead, Joey is a guy who’s in a fight for survival against structural inequity. If Flats had been branded as a gritty drama about life in inner Melbourne, it might get away with it, but branding it as a sitcom, when there are no laughs in sight, is just plain weird.

Vale Working Dog 2022

Say what you like about Working Dog, but they definitely know the right way to do an end-of-year wrap-up. Throw in a few old clips, make the hosts dress fancy, and otherwise stick to business as usual. Which is just the way we like it.

Of the two Working Dog series that wrapped for the year recently, Have You Been Paying Attention? was the one that stayed closest to the script for its final episode. After almost a decade of hard graft, it’s a show that doesn’t need to blow its own horn. It rates well, people love it, it’ll be back next year, thanks for watching.

It’s good news for Australian comedy (but bad news for bloggers who need fresh things to write about) that there’s such a rock-solid performer out there week in week out. They rarely even need to bring in anyone new these days: if any of the regular regulars can’t make it (and there were a couple of last minute Covid replacements during the year), there’s another dozen proven performers out there ready to step in.

There’s all the usual points to be made about how much hard work it takes to make a show seem so effortless, and how HYBPA? skillfully works hard to avoid taking much of a firm stance on anything (though even they knew which way the wind was blowing with Scott Morrison). Even the many, many promotional elements – whether cross promotion for the network or external sponsorships – are now pretty much seamless thanks to WD making it clear that the comedy side of things comes first.

Some weeks are better than others. Some panelists stand on their own as comedy powerhouses, others bide their time before delivering a handful of classic lines, and some might just be there for variety’s sake. But overall, the standard is high; extremely high if you’re going to compare it to what the ABC’s been serving up panel-wise.

It moves fast, it’s funny, and it doesn’t wear out its welcome whether at the end of an episode or the end of the year. Australian comedy could use a lot more shows like it.

*

Considering they’re both made of the same basic material – jokes about news clips – it’s surprising just how different The Cheap Seats has turned out from HYBPA? That’s almost entirely down to the two hosts, and not just because having two hosts (who can banter between each other) has pushed the news jokes into the rough outline of a regular tonight show: opening jokes, more jokes, interview, entertainment, sports, and a final wrap up where things get a little wacky, AKA “What’s On What’s On In the Warehouse”.

Ever since The Panel and Thank God You’re Here, Working Dog have been creating some of Australia’s most expensive cheap TV. They’re experts at making television that has all the look and feel of something endearingly low budget, until you actually stop to think about what’s gone into making it and realise that it takes real effort to make something that effortless.

Put another way, The Cheap Seats looks like a show where a couple of comedians make fun of news clips, then have on some guests who also make fun of news clips. News clips are free and guests are plentiful; why isn’t everyone making shows like this?

At a guess, it’s because those clips come from all over the world, and when you’re taking ten seconds out of a three hour breakfast news program that’s three hours of breakfast television somebody has to watch. Of course, no doubt there’s shortcuts when it comes to finding wacky news clips and hello social media.

But gathering enough material for a show that powers through clips like The Cheap Seats – not to mention writing follow up gags for each one – is a step above grabbing a bunch of the ABC’s usual suspects and getting them to sit around a desk for a couple of hours doing their usual and hello Question Everything.

The other major part of the equation is the hosts, who are likable and have chemistry together and are quick with their own jokes and can make running gags work and all the other obvious things that are difficult to do. But perhaps just as importantly for a show that is, at it’s core, two people laughing at other people, they manage to come across as… well, not underdogs exactly, but as decent people just having a bit of fun.

It’s not hard to imagine how this could all have gone wrong: just listen to pretty much any commercial radio prime time team. The Cheap Seats works because the laughs are inclusive – not so much in a “we’re willing to laugh at ourselves” way (though that is definitely there), but in a way that avoids punching down. Which is fatal for this kind of thing.

Ratbags are celebrated for their ratbaggery; the rich and famous can handle a few pointed digs. There’s not a lot that’s mean-spirited about the show. When the jokes go too far there’s always somebody ready to pull a shocked expression…

…and usually when the hosts go “too far” it’s something to do with sex, which is not an area Working Dog are otherwise known for. Getting young people to do comedy results in comedy about things young people are interested in: who woulda thought?

Anyway, both shows are great, they’ll be missed between now and mid-2023, and hopefully everyone involved is taking a well deserved break before making a whole lot of Donald Trump jokes next year. Comedy ain’t easy under Albanese.