Superwog is a smart sitcom masquerading as a dumb sitcom. On the surface it looks like yet another example of ‘wog humour’, relying on ethnic and gender stereotypes, slapstick and broad gags to get laughs. But in reality, it’s much smarter than the likes of Housos or (and here’s one for those with long memories) Acropolis Now.
What’s more, this isn’t a show that only gets laughs out of stereotypes – although when it does, it does it well. Wog Dad (Nathan Saidden) is an ethnic stereotype, but he could also be anyone twisted and embittered by their quest to triumph over someone or something. His rage is universal and relatable to anyone whose seen wounded pride quickly escalate into a dangerous obsession.
Similarly, Superwog (Theodore Saidden) and his best friend Johnny (Nathan Saidden again) are working-class inner-city male stereotypes, yet their interactions with everything from the Google search engine to public officials are more intelligent than you might think.
Who expected a satire on contemporary art or a deconstruction of empathic woke culture in Superwog? It’s more the sort of material you might expect from a show which aims to be a smart social satire sitcom, like Why Are You Like This?, yet Superwog managed to make material on these topics funny while Why Are You Like This? struggled.
But if you’re not interested in a satire on art or woke, Superwog switches seamlessly to some gags involving people shouting at each other or getting hit in the face with a ping pong ball. Truly something for everyone, there.
The only letdown is Wog Mum, a sometimes pointless character, who doesn’t seem to do much more than giggle, shout or wear that fur wrap. In many ways, she seems like the sort of female character typical in a 1970s comedy, where women were relegated either to ‘sex object’, ‘harridan’ or ‘bimbo’. Yet the Saiddens are capable of better; female guest roles in Superwog have been as diverse, realistic and funny as any of the male roles, so why’s Wog Mum such a badly-drawn character?
Yet, despite this, Superwog is still something to celebrate. It’s doing something rarely seen in Australian sitcoms: embracing a wide range of comedy styles and making them all work. There’s something for those who enjoy seeing dumb, aggressive men get their comeuppance, there’s something for those who like to see our institutions get a kicking, and there’s something for those who find projectile vomiting funny. And in a world where most Australian sitcoms can’t even make one of those things work, Superwog is a comedic triumph.
With the Olympics fast approaching, The Power of the Dream, a new web series written by and starring Alexandra Keddie and Bobbie-Jean Henning (previously seen in The Housemate) is a worthwhile reminder that not all those who strive for greatness achieve it.
This mockumentary, now available on Facebook and Instagram, follows cousins Amy Bland (Keddie) and Brooke Bland (Henning), a professional dog walker and a Best & Less deputy manager, respectively, as Brooke trains Amy for Olympic greatness at Tokyo 2020. The problem is, Amy’s a hopeless athlete and Brooke’s a hopeless coach.
Another problem is…that’s pretty much all there is to this series: Amy and Brooke failing at sport/coaching and no one having the heart to tell them to stop. Not that this series contains much in the way of other characters who could stop Amy and Brooke, even if they tried. The only character who has any sort of airtime on the show is Aunty Pam (Christine O’Neill), and she’s barely in it. Which can, at times, make this series feel rather one-note.
If this sounds vaguely like Chris Lilley’s We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year, then it is. Both series have the same problem of too much focus on the star characters, with little in the way of contrast or balance. This, in turn, puts an awful lot of pressure on those star characters to be consistently funny, and when they sometimes aren’t, it’s a disappointment. (Although, unlike We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year, The Power of the Dream at least manages to avoid any white performers doing yellowface.)
But when The Power of the Dream does make it work, it can be pretty funny. And Keddie and Henning have worked hard to find every single way they can to get laughs out of Amy sucking at sport and Brooke sucking at coaching.
Keddie, who does most of the slapstick, is particularly good at being uncoordinated in or around a pool, on gymnastic equipment, on a running track, as a weightlifter or almost anywhere else you can name. While Henning’s mix of earnestness, ignorance and optimism make her a perfect bad coach, with Brooke trying out endless, half-understood and half-baked techniques to improve Amy’s performance.
So, while The Power of the Dream isn’t gold medal-worthy in the Olympic comedy stakes, it might make the final. Or get damn close.
If you’ve ever stumbled into a cinema only to realise that not only is there a film festival going on but it’s a (gasp) short film festival, then you know just how much hard work goes into making a sketch comedy series. That’s because every short film festival has at least one and usually half a dozen or so short films where a halfway decent sketch idea is dragged out well beyond its natural run time to create “a short film”. Ever wanted to see one 15 second joke turned into a seven minute film? Now you know where to go.
Or you could just watch Cancelled!, the latest attempt by SBS’s The Feed to throw satire fans a bone. A half hour (well, 23 minute) special looking at a bunch of fictional scandals over the years and hosted by the Ghost of Baby John Burgess – guess Ray Martin was asking too much for ironic hosting after last year’s work on At Home Alone Together – it features pretty much everyone you’d expect in front of the camera. Andrew Denton is back! But why?
The first segment is padded out with the usual observations about old television – they’re sexist, they’re smoking, it’s old and overly formal – which… shit, yeah, people did used to smoke, guess they’ve got us there.
Otherwise it features one (1) joke, which for the first five minutes of a sketch show is a pretty low strike rate especially when the joke involves Harold Holt. It’s not a bad joke, but you know how on social media whenever news breaks there’s a wave of people rushing to make every possible joke about it? Imagine that going on for forty years and you’ve got Harold Holt.
The other three “scandals” lift proceedings slightly, though they’re all structured in pretty much the same way: a lengthy introduction to set the scene, then a shock reveal of why they were cancelled (which is THE JOKE). Each sketch largely just peters out after that, leaving the point of it all something of a mystery. Do they even still make these “celebrities talk about the past to pad out a clip show” programs any more? Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet was taking the piss out of this stuff fifteen years ago, which is roughly a millennia in comedy terms.
Still, the ABC does make the occasional local talking heads doco so presumably people under thirty have some idea of how this format is meant to work (only joking – as if people under thirty watch the ABC). And it’s hardly like this is devoid of laughs either; when it gets around to juxtaposing the seriousness of the format with the silliness of what’s being discussed this works pretty well. It just doesn’t do it often enough.
It’s not that comedy always has to have a point, but this particular comedy could have done with another couple of drafts to figure out exactly why it was being made. If they just wanted to be funny, great – be funny! Because a lot of this feels more like a handful of jokes around a bunch of points they grabbed off social media. Corporations will unthinkingly co-op diversity issues for marketing purposes? Sexist white guy music was in style then went out of style? You don’t say.
Segment three is about a novel so successful yet so violent people were calling for it to be banned – which it then was, for a reason you can almost certainly guess. While the back half of the sketch is throwaway gags as usual, this time they’re the best part because they’re actually jokes about something. They present a situation (“can we separate the art from the artist”) that, while not exactly original comedy-wise, does at least put a comedy spin on actual discussions people are having today; the first half is just dull premise-establishing stuff that could have been handled in a couple of lines.
(also, “what if people wanted to ban American Psycho because it was violent and then it turned out they actually had a good point?” is kinda close to “hey, maybe banning things is good”, which is probably(?) not what they wanted to say with this sketch)
The whole thing wraps up with a segment on Australia’s most offensive band TLDR, who turn out to be a couple of dudes (played by women to defuse any potential confusion about where the sketch’s politics lie) singing crude songs about sex. Did Chris Lilley do it better? No, because Chris Lilley did nothing better.
That said, if you’re going to have a parody of an offensive song, maybe listen to some actual offensive songs because a song where the lyrics are just “ass ass ass ass” is a children’s television jingle by today’s standards. Music today is a nightmarish hellscape of pornographic excess that’s all but impossible to parody (also, catchy tunes) that makes the likes of 3OH!3 seem like… damn, we already used the children’s television jingle comparison.
Time and again the parodies here are close but no donut. They’re good enough to suggest the thing they’re parodying, but not good enough to get laughs of recognition – there’s nothing going on with the TLDR videos to make you think, for example, “yeah, what exactly was the deal with the guy with the cardboard box on his head in the LMFAO videos?”
This feels a lot like the kind of project put together by a bunch of skilled comedy professionals who came up with an angle the commissioning board thought was topical. Which is great when you’re dealing with actual funny people and not just skilled comedy professionals, because what this really needed was someone with an actual comedic point of view at the helm to make the whole thing feel like it had a reason for existing beyond “being cancelled is topical and hey look, Andrew Denton”.
Then again, good luck making comedy about the concept of being cancelled because the whole thing is super-politicised and the only people who think we shouldn’t have some kind of standards in the media are literal Nazis. It’s comedy gold!
Slightly delayed because we weren’t entirely sure it was an actual comedy series press release time!
ViacomCBS Australia and New Zealand today announced that its first original Australian commissioned drama series, Spreadsheet, has begun production in Melbourne for Paramount+.
Starring UK actress Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Doc Martin), Spreadsheet features a stellar cast including Stephen Curry, Robbie Magasiva, Rowan Witt, Katrina Milosevic, Ryan Shelton, Zahra Newman, Tina Bursill and Richard Piper.
Produced by Northern Pictures in association with ITV Studios and created by Kala Ellis, Spreadsheet is an eight-part comedy series about divorced, hectic mother-of-two, Lauren (Katherine Parkinson) who is looking for sex without commitment.
With the help of best friend Alex (Rowan Witt), she develops “Spreadsheet”: a database of sex options, customised to ensure her sushi train of sex rolls around with variety and order amidst the chaos of her life. What Lauren didn’t expect was a slew of needy men, which apparently even a well-managed excel tracker can’t control.
Head of Drama and Production, Rick Maier, said: “When you read an idea this fresh and laugh out loud funny from such an original voice as Kala Ellis, it very quickly gets into your system. Then when you add Katherine Parkinson and this sensational ensemble you know you’re really onto something. I can’t think of a better first original commission for Paramount+.”
Northern Pictures Executive Producer and Head of Scripted, Catherine Nebauer, said: “Northern Pictures prides itself on creating unique series’, which surprise and delight, and this is certainly one of them! It’s been a joy to see Spreadsheet come together, with such a talented team behind it. Director, Darren Ashton and Creator/Writer, Kala Ellis have worked closely together to create the perfect blend of comedy, drama and spice, which only Katherine Parkinson can deliver!”
ITV Studios, EVP Global Content Julie Meldal-Johnsen, said: “Just thinking about Spreadsheet puts a smile on my face. Kala’s writing is warm, funny and poignant at the same time – making Katherine Parkinson the perfect person to play the hilarious and chaotic Lauren. Working with producer Northern Pictures again is a pleasure and we are very proud to be bringing Paramount + Australia’s first original comedy commission to our international clients. The show is sexy, frank, unapologetic and we are sure will engage and entertain people around the world.”
So wait, it’s both their “first original Australian commissioned drama series” and “an eight-part comedy series”? We’d say make up your mind, but this is how scripted television works in 2021: everything is a drama aimed at an overseas audience who probably won’t get the “jokes”, unless people start laughing (unlikely), at which point of course it’s a comedy, everybody loves those things.
Just not enough to actually make any of them.
History Bites Back, a satirical documentary on structural racism in Australia, aired on SBS Viceland last night as part of NAIDOC week. Presented by Trisha Morton-Thomas (8MMM Aboriginal Radio) and co-written by her and Craig Anderson (Sando, Double The Fist), History Bites Back features a cast of indigenous comic actors led by Black Comedy alumni Steven Oliver and Elaine Crombie, who reminded us, in fairly stark terms, of the multiplicity of ways in which non-indigenous Australians have made life near impossible for indigenous people over the past 200 or so years.
And if this doesn’t sound like a particularly hilarious program, then, no, it isn’t much of the time. Mostly, this is a deadly serious documentary, with some occasional, dark in tone, comic re-enactments of some of the historical moments discussed.
A section on British bomb testing in the outback in the 1950s shows how entire groups of indigenous people were blinded and killed by the nuclear fall-out or forced off their land and into slavery, but also a sequence where Steven Oliver tries to outrun the expanding mushroom cloud of one of the bombs. Oliver is great at visual comedy, and the sight of him running away as fast as he can is funny, but his character doesn’t beat the nuke, so there’s no happy ending here.
There also aren’t many laughs to had from some of the (sadly genuine) social media comments which Morton-Thomas reads out to illustrate the scale of how fucked white/indigenous relations actually are. All the usual tropes about indigenous people being lazy bludgers (and much, much worse) are presented – this is no holds barred – but so is the response from Morton-Thomas and company. If you’re one of those white people who assumed that indigenous Australians aren’t routinely denied the basic rights and privileges of Australian citizenship like passports and welfare, then you may need a lie down after watching this. The scale of the problems and the lack of interest in addressing by our political establishment is truly shocking.
History Bites Back is the kind of programme that more people should see. And the histories it discusses should be taught in schools. If you’re a city-dwelling white person whose sum total of education about indigenous Australia was a few Dreamtime stories and a brief look at the 1967 referendum, then this is a real eye-opener. And shows how far we as a society have to go.
One of the many, many ways you can tell Mad as Hell is a great comedy show is that when things get shit out in the real world, the comedy on Mad as Hell gets sharper. Which sounds like it should be obvious, but then you remember The Weekly gave us multiple seasons of Corona Cops during a pandemic where hundreds of people in Australia died and gee, the bar isn’t so much low as buried in an abandoned NBN trench when it comes to Australian satire these days.
This week’s episode was especially interesting, in that on a couple of occasions it seemed so cutting that the audience – in stark contrast to last week’s extremely enthusiastic crowd – forgot to go nuts. Maybe they’d been flown in from NSW? It’s amazing how the national discourse has suddenly turned to “oh well, guess there’s no stopping this Delta variant, time to learn to live with it” now that people are on ventilators within coughing distance of the country’s media HQs.
But across the board this week’s episode seemed firmly determined to sink the boot in, from the 100% percent accurate and deserved dismissal of
Dr Karl Dr Orbspider to an even more brutal than usual kicking delivered to the Daily Telegraph to calling Micallef himself FriendlyJordies (ouch). Not to mention the usual savaging directed towards our political leaders; we’re fairly sure there’s a very good reason why every episode begins with Scott Morrison telling everyone to leave Mad as Hell alone.
Sure, there was plenty of quality lightweight stuff in the mix too. Micallef eating popcorn! “Australia’s immunity will be seen and not… herd”! But on the whole with this week’s episode there seemed just a slight undercurrent of “this country’s fuckin’ fucked”. Hey, it’s not like they’re wrong.
Let’s be honest: we’re very much here for an Australian comedy series that actually has something to say. Most of the time our current comedy is either bland to the point of pointlessness, or simply the kind of good time you get when a bunch of mates are hanging out talking shit to (and about) each other. There’s a time and a place for that kind of thing (in the case of The Weekly, that place is the bin), but in 2021 things are just a little too serious for that to be the only kind of laughs on the menu.
At a time when comedy itself seems to be on the chopping block – comedy movies are dead, sitcoms are close behind, don’t even mention sketch shows and stand-up specials are people crying in their room about how being online is stressful – Mad as Hell increasingly seems like an outlier. The idea that you can have a view on current affairs and still make jokes about it (rather than just shouting at people) is increasingly out of style; each week Mad as Hell proves you don’t have to be fashionable to be funny.
Finally we’ve been able to lay our hands on a copy of Tosh Greenslade and Andrew Weldon’s The ScoMo Diaries. And we didn’t even have to wait for one to come free at the library! Guess there’s an upside to all those bookshops having closing down sales.
First, the good news: in something of a rarity when it comes to Australian comedy books, this is actually funny. At least some of the credit there goes to Morrison himself, who under another media regime would be labelled “a persistent bungler”. Any list of his activities over the last few years would struggle to come up with many (any?) positives; his supporters are on board because he’s their guy, not because of his strong and forceful leadership when it comes to steering the ship of state.
But there’s more going on here than a collection of cheap potshots at an easy target (though rest assured, there’s a few of those too). As a regular on Mad as Hell, Greenslade’s a vital part of that finely tuned comedy machine – and presumably, having seen it work up close for a number of years now, he’s picked up a few tips along the way.
For starters, the comedy is just a little bit more fantastical than you’d usually find in Australian political humour. It’s not an over-the-top parody of a chunk of Australian politics, but it’s not played with a completely straight bat either. That keeps things fresh (it’s not 200 pages of tax cut jokes) and keeps people whose interest in politics is somewhat superficial (that’s us) entertained with silly diversions.
The big strength here – aside from Weldon’s illustrations, which are always charming and frequently hilarious – is ScoMo himself. Greenslade has done a great job turning him into a comedy character, a blinkered egotistical self-serving dimwit who, despite having a certain kind of faux-innocence that isn’t so much stupidity as it is an extremely rigid way of viewing the world, is still able to make a number of fairly sharp and funny observations about those around him.
As the book goes along and ScoMo’s dodgy antics pile up, things tilt from a kind of chirpy “of course I’d be plotting and scheming and screwing people over, it’s how politics work” to a (slightly) darker mix of frustration and naked entitlement. The laughs are always there though – even if sometimes they’re at the expense of us poor sods who have to live with him. As ScoMo himself puts it, “If second class doesn’t exist, then there’s nothing special about being in first”.
That said, this is probably more of a book to dip in and out of than to read in one sitting. Some minor engagement with Australian politics wouldn’t hurt either, if only to separate fact from fiction. The sports rorts were real; Christopher Pyne being a demonically possessed wooden dummy remains up for debate. And the sheer weight of the scams, rorts, and blunders detailed here can be a bit overwhelming; no wonder people were feeling stressed out even before Covid.
If we were professional book reviewers this is where we’d come up with a snappy line that could go on the cover of the second edition if the publishers were extremely hard up. Unfortunately we’re not professionals in any sense of the word, so you’ll have to make do with “it’s good, go buy a copy”.
After all this is a book that has ScoMo saying “Do what you like to everyone else, but I’m off limits”; we can’t top that.
Press release time!
Sketch comedy returns to Australian screens! The Moth Effect launching 30 July on Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video’s new Australian six-part Original satirical sketch comedy series The Moth Effect from Bondi Hipsters co-creator Nick Boshier and Tonightly’s Jazz Twemlow
From the less attractive half of the Bondi Hipsters and the comedic savants that created Nice Shorts comes The Moth Effect – a six-part daft and joyous journey into comedy satire
COMING TO AMAZON PRIME VIDEO WEEKLY FROM 30 JULY
Produced by Bunya Entertainment and Amazon Studios
The world is melting but fear not: satirical sketch show The Moth Effect is here to repeatedly flap and bump into humanity until all our problems go away. Created by Nick Boshier and Jazz Twemlow, this satirical bonanza features some of Australia’s best and funniest performers as they punch up and punch themselves, tackling everything from climate change and reality TV to the military industrial complex and time travel paradoxes. There’s no target too weird, complicated, silly, or dumb in season one of The Moth Effect, as Australia’s best and funniest performers send up humanity in 2021.
The Moth Effect is a 6-part sketch comedy series filmed in Sydney Australia for release on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 30 July in Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, plus select additional territories launching later this year.
Nick Boshier and Jazz Twemlow are bringing a new kind of satirical comedy to 2021, going broader, bigger and funnier than ever before with a sketch show that goes above the news cycle. This weekly show condenses current meaty issues, zeitgeisty vibes, and cultural catastrophes into quality, high production-value universal comedy.
Featuring sharply written sketch comedy, where no area is off limits, The Moth Effect pokes fun at social movements, parodies the worlds of breakfast and reality TV, the Aussie way of life, and much more, all with sheer comedic flair. The Moth Effect is set to deliver the finest Australian sketch comedy for Amazon Prime members.
The Moth Effect, features over 30 sketches, music videos and interstitials starring superstars including Bryan Brown, Vincent D’Onofrio, David Wenham, Jack Thompson, Miranda Otto, Ben Lawson, Peter O’Brien, Kate Box, Zoe Terakes, Miranda Tapsell and Jake Ryan alongside some of the best and freshest Aussie and Kiwi comedic talent and personalities including Mark Humphries, Nazeem Hussain, Zoe Coombs Marr, Jonny Brugh, Lucinda Price, Dave Woodhead, Louis Hanson, Steen Raskopoulos, Tim Franklin, Sam Cotton, Christiaan van Vuuren, Sarah Bishop, Sam Campbell, Megan Wilding and Brooke Boney.
The Moth Effect is directed by Craig Anderson (Double the Fist, Review with Myles Barlow, Laid, Black Comedy) and Gracie Otto (Under the Volcano, The Other Guy, Bump). Produced by Lauren Elliott (KGB, Small Town Hackers, DAFUQ?) and Jordana Johnson (Nice Shorts), and Executive Produced by Sophia Zachariou (Nice Shorts, The Checkout, Gruen, The Chaser, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell and Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey). The series was written by Nick Boshier and Jazz Twemlow with a team of contributing writers including Sarah Bishop, Bridie Connell, Mark Humphries, Nazeem Hussain, Natesha Somasundaram, David Woodhead and Meg O’Connell and Ramsay David Nuthall.
Moths are famously distracted by bright, shiny lights and as people we’re often drawn to the biggest, loudest spectacle, even if it’s bad for us. We have created The Moth Effect to take Prime Video viewers on a daft, joyous, and every-so-often-not-a-dumb journey into satirical absurdity. The series seeks to tap into what’s on everyone’s mind and even tap into what’s not on their mind, but perhaps should be. We’ll even put some stuff in your mind you never wanted there in the first place!
Is it just us, or does it sound like this show has no regular cast? And part of the run time is going to be filled up with “music videos and interstitials”? And Vincent D’Onofrio? And… look, lets just say this poses more questions than it answers. Especially as the press release goes on to mention a few of the sketches, which are… okay, here goes:
Smart Pillow: A couple (David Wenham and Miranda Otto) have their lives turned upside down when they order a manipulative, needy SmartPillow™
Q-Eye: Old-fashioned academic, Ted (played by Bryan Brown), gets Q-Anon to give him a stylish, modern rebrand.
Dad Vibes: A catchy anthem for all the busy daddies out there who get a disproportionate amount of praise for doing the same as, or less than, mum.
“And those are the good ones!” is the kind of thing you’d expect us to say, but no, they’re just the ones with name stars involved – apart from Dad Vibes, which suggests the music videos will be comedy ones. Answers on the back of a postcard as to who’ll be doing the singing (Vincent D’Onofrio?)
It’s totally possible this could work: getting a bunch of people, many of them funny, to do one or two really good sketches each would definitely lift the current strike rate of Australian sketch comedy. And if it doesn’t… well, it’s not like yet another crap Australian sketch show is going to be front page news or anything.
Mind you, “season one of The Moth Effect” is hilariously optimistic.