Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

Television’s Night of Nights of Nights

Press release(s) time!

Let’s get spelling!

Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee premieres this August on ABC

Get ready to laugh-out-loud as Guy Montgomery and his loyal assistant Aaron Chen test the spelling prowess of some of Australia’s favourite faces on Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee. The fast-paced eight-episode series will premiere Wednesday 14 August at 8.30pm on ABC TV, with all episodes available to stream on ABC iview.

Based on the successful New Zealand format and sell out Melbourne International Comedy Festival show, each episode Guy and Aaron will put four famous faces to a hilarious spelling test across five wildly inventive spelling challenges designed to befuddle, bamboozle, and bedazzle them all.

The star-studded names stepping up to the podium include Tony Armstrong, Tom Gleeson, Wil Anderson, Urzila Carlson, Geraldine Hickey, Luke McGregor, Peter Helliar, Tim Minchin, Steph Tisdell, Demi Lardner, Nazeem Hussain, Rhys Nicholson, Concetta Caristo, Zoë Coombs Marr and more.

Each episode will culminate in the final, fast-and-furious spelling round where anyone could emerge victorious and receive the ultimate prize – a one way ticket to the next episode to defend their crown and glory. However, the loser will suffer the indignity of sitting in the dunce’s corner donning the infamous dunce’s hat

And if you’re looking for something to watch beforehand, good news!

Shaun Micallef is back on the ABC with a chat show that’ll have everyone talking (or at least the guests)

The ABC is thrilled to announce the return of Shaun Micallef with a brand new eight-part talk show, Shaun Micallef’s Eve of Destruction, premiering Wednesday 14 August at 8pm on ABC TV and ABC iview.

It’s a talk show like no other: one question, two guests and the man everyone agrees is this country’s least experienced interviewer.

The question? If your house was about to be destroyed, what two things would you save?

The guests? Ah, but that would be telling.

Join Shaun each week as he chats with his famous celebrity acquaintances about what’s REALLY important to them.

“It’s a chance for the guest to set the agenda” says Shaun in an attempt to justify his own lack of preparation. “They bring into the studio the most significant items in their life; the things that they cannot imagine ever being without and I psychoanalyse them. I am not a certified therapist, but I think I can help these people.”

Merv from the ABC security desk raves: “A live studio audience, a set, and the former host of Mad as Hell – this show has got it all. I’m looking forward to it. Micallef’s shows always run late and I get paid overtime!

So Wednesday August 14 is shaping up to be a big night in Australian comedy? You’d better believe it! Hope you’ve got your VCRs plugged in because…

Thank God You’re Here Returns!

Premieres Wednesday, 14 August At 7:30pm On 10 And 10 Play.

Last year, some of the world’s funniest performers walked through the iconic Thank God You’re Here blue door. None of them knew what to expect, but all of them created comedy chaos that lives in our minds rent-free.

The best part is, we were only getting started.

In 2024, TV Week Logie Nominee Thank God You’re Here and its host Celia Pacquola are back for more with another, even longer, season of unscripted goodness. Want to peek behind the door and see what’s ahead?

There’s No Time like Fam Time

Finally, a new comedy on Seven that isn’t from Paul Fenech! Wait, did we say “new”? As fans of The Last Year of Television know, Fam Time has been sitting in a drawer for years. A change of management at Seven around the start of the decade saw it fall firmly out of favour, even though the six-episode run was finished and ready to air. So now that it’s been dumped on digital channel 7+, was it worth the wait?

The commercial networks have always loved family sitcoms. Audiences? Well, Hey, Dad..! was a hit for years. Shows like All Together Now and The Bob Morrison Show rated well enough if you didn’t care about quality. Kingswood Country? We could go on.

So Fam Time fits nicely into a long and storied legacy of utterly forgettable sitcoms. Or it would, if not for the nagging feeling that it’s actually trying to be funny. The misadventures of a blended suburban family in the internet age, the joke seems to be “they’re online all the time”. Which in 2024 is like a sitcom based on the idea that people spend a lot of time in their cars and oh shit we just re-invented Squinters.

Remember the bland family comedies of yesteryear? They made sure to have one or more boring viewpoint characters for the audience to focus on. You might laugh* at Betty on Hey, Dad..!, but you were meant to empathise with Mr Kelly’s struggle to be as boring as shit.

Here though, everyone is at least a little bit wacky. Technically, the mum is the normal one. But she’s running around trying to get everyone involved in her blog, which seems to be more like TikTok clips or Instagram stories. Here everyone (oldest daughter makes ASMR clips, teen son is an online sleaze, youngest daughter is a gamer) is on the internet, just not any specific part of the internet – it’s the internet as generic sitcom suburb.

The one who’s not online is the Dad, but he’s a dickhead handyman who is possibly dyslexic considering the multiple times he writes “fellatio” on things. Everyone else is a child, and therefore a figure of fun. So everyone is a comedy character; it might be about a family, but it’s not a family sitcom.

That might sound like nitpicking. But this kind of comedy really needs an anchor character – a straight man, if you like – to hold it together. It doesn’t matter if every other character is doing bizarre random shit so long as there’s one character in the middle of things who’s also thinking “why are they doing this bizarre random shit”. Without that, there’s no reference point to let us know when we’re supposed to find their behaviour wacky. It’s just a show full of poorly written characters.

Being generous, this feels like a show made with a “second screen” mindset. You know, the idea that television shouldn’t be too involved or compelling, because compared to what a phone has to offer it’ll only ever be on as a second screen. Only nobody here realised that comedy doesn’t work as a second screen. You need to pay attention to a comedy if you’re going to laugh at it. If you’re writing jokes aimed at people who aren’t paying attention, you get what passes for comedy on Fam Time.

And what a comedy it is! Constantly humming with the vibe of old folks torn between shaking their fists at the kids and trying to be down with them, and with a cast of characters ranging from “try-hard loser” to “try-hard dork”, it bravely tackles head-on a world the creative team seem to have read about once in a Sunday newspaper article.

So yeah, it’s a mess. Occasionally there’s a half-decent joke or funny moment, but there’s no focus to it. Mostly it’s just a lot of high energy antics from half-baked characters desperate for attention.

Which, to be fair, is a pretty good reflection of the online world.

.

*you didn’t

Satire-day Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week

Australia is a country you can barely trust to deliver the news, let alone make fun of it. Once upon a time there was something of a vague commitment by news organisations to be balanced and informative, which happily also provided a rock-solid foundation for satirists to bounce off. Now our news is a mix of barely coherent partisan shouting and smug condescension, wrapped around stories that are either tabloid horror porn or naked attempts to bully one side or the other of politics. How could it possibly get any worse? Hey, isn’t that Mark Humphries?

Seven nightly news recently announced they were considering introducing a short astrology segment to their evening bulletin. Maybe if they had they could have predicted that getting Mark Humphries in to do an end-of-week comedy segment was going to suck. Or, you know, they could have just asked around.

Humphries has spent a good chunk of the last decade or so hosting satirical news segments with varying results. His efforts on the ABC were helped by the fact that the ABC takes news seriously, thus providing the kind of backdrop and contrast news comedy needs to work. But being embedded in a serious news program meant that taking the piss was, well, taking the piss out of the program he was on. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Seven news presented a very different challenge. The trashiest of the commercial network news services (and that’s saying something), it’s a natural home for outraged talkback radio hosts, not someone who wants to be funny. Seven news is also a good deal more right-wing than Humphries’ previous gigs (watch out for those crime gangs!), removing a lot of his usual targets.

So we got “oh no, Joe Biden is old”. That was it. Just a straight news report on a bunch of Biden gaffs with a few “Joe Biden reassured voters with a confident and assured performance… is what I wish I could say” lines thrown in.

It’s tough for us to say this as we’ve never been huge fans of Humphries’ work, but: this felt beneath him. This was a segment almost anyone could have done; his work might not be for us, but there’s usually a level of thought put into things that was lacking here.

Sure, it was his first night, it’s a difficult line to walk, once he settles in blah blah blah. There’s only two things we ask from these kind of segments, and we don’t even expect the first: be funny, and provide a new angle on old news. Tonight we didn’t get either.

Meanwhile, there’s this. Press release time!

Jenna Owen, Vic Zerbst and Charles Firth are the masters of spin in ABC’s new comedy series Optics

ABC and Screen Australia are thrilled to announce filming has commenced in Sydney on Optics, a new six-part comedy series from the brilliant creative minds of Jenna Owen and Vic Zerbst (The Feed, Nugget is Dead: A Christmas Story) and The Chaser’s Charles Firth.

Written by and starring this dynamic trio, Optics is an Easy Tiger and Chaser Digital production, directed by the award-winning Max Miller (Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café, Australian Epic), executive produced by Firth, Easy Tiger’s Rob Gibson and Ian Collie (Colin from Accounts), Owen and Zerbst, and produced by Paige Wharehinga.

Optics follows two whip-smart 20-something women (Jenna Owen and Vic Zerbst) who are unexpectedly promoted to run crisis management PR firm Fritz & Randell, after the death of office patriarch Frank Fritz. As they battle weekly public relations crises from celebrities, sports stars and corporate titans, and power challenges from veteran PR flack Ian Randell (Charles Firth), they slowly come to realise that their firm might have a scandal brewing of its own, and start to wonder: have they been set up to fail?

It’s a fast-paced, laugh-out-loud workplace comedy that lifts the veil on everyday office politics and on the corporate spin that inflects all the news we consume.

ABC Head of Scripted Rachel Okine said, “We’re thrilled to be working with such an incredibly talented team to bring this fast-paced and bitingly funny comedy to ABC. As well as being dazzled by their sharp comic minds, we know audiences will also be gobsmacked to learn what goes on behind the scenes in the often murky world of PR.”

Rob Gibson and Ian Collie said, “Jenna and Vic are among our brightest new comedy talents, and their intergenerational sparring with the always-hilarious Charles Firth – the middle-aged man’s middle-aged man – is comedy gold. We can’t wait for Australia to see them all practising the dark arts of PR in the halls of Fritz and Randell.”

Owen, Zerbst and Firth said, “When we started, we were worried that there weren’t enough PR crises in Australia to sustain 30 minutes of television each week. As it turns out, there’s enough material for about 30 years of television each week.”

Screen Australia COO Grainne Brunsdon says, “Optics is clever, high-energy and perfectly poised to elevate Jenna Owen and Vic Zerbst’s careers. With their unique style and Charles’ hilarious touch, it’s an exhilarating ride that highlights the absurdities of our digital age. I can’t wait to watch it on the ABC.”

Head of Screen NSW Kyas Hepworth says, “Jenna and Vic are two of the most exciting and refreshing voices in comedy and I can’t wait to see them join forces with Charles Firth to put their own unique spin on the world of crisis PR. Screen NSW are thrilled to support the entire team, including Easy Tiger and Chaser Digital, in bringing this hilarious series to ABC next year.”

Optics will premiere on ABC TV and ABC iview in 2025.

Press releases are funny things. Not “funny ha-ha”, mind you. More like “funny how anyone thought we wanted to know this series was ‘perfectly poised to elevate Jenna Owen and Vic Zerbst’s careers'”. No shit getting a show on the ABC is a step up for them. But does their workplace promotion mean shit to anyone else?

Then there’s this gem: “Jenna and Vic are among our brightest new comedy talents”. Not “two of our brightest new comedy talents”; just “among” the brightest. Possibly somewhere up the back, we’re not sure. Guess they’re hoping Charles Firth is going to be the big drawcard here, what with his ability to be a middle-aged man for middle aged men, that most prized of television viewer demographics.

To be fair (really? – ed) at this stage this show barely exists. Somehow Charles Firth is back at the ABC, despite spending a decade or more calling them cowards for not paying him to project a cock and balls onto the Opera House or something. But this 110% feels like a project pitched as “what if we did a Gruen… but as a sitcom?”

What these kind of shows always always always forget is that the thing that makes a comedy funny? Almost never anything to do with the subject matter. Usually we’d gesture towards Seinfeld here, but take your pick. Fawlty Towers wasn’t comedy gold because it was practising the dark arts of resort hotel management, Kath & Kim wasn’t a classic because Kel lifted the lid on the seedy world of shopping mall butchers. You’re not getting an in-depth look at the inner workings of suburban law firms on Fisk.

Even The Games, which seems like the closest thing to this in recent Australian history, was about bureaucracy in general. Anyone who’s ever worked at any large organisation knew what was going on, and the only thing about it more specific than that was the niche subject that is [checks notes] sport.

Fortunately, there’s enough buried in this press release to suggest a comedy that isn’t just “hey look, we’re re-doing that sports star’s media meltdown only with the names filed off” each week. Here’s hoping.

And in the meantime, there’s this to look forward to:

Dead Heat for Deadloch

Press release time!

Prime Video Renews Global Hit Deadloch For Season Two

SYDNEY, Australia – July 9, 2024– Prime Video, Guesswork Television and OK Great Productions, with the support of Screen Queensland and Screen Territory, today announced that Amazon Original, Deadloch, has been renewed for a second season. From co-creators Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, Season One of the award-winning crime comedy garnered widespread global success in 2023. Production on the 6-part second season will commence later this year and will be released globally on Prime Video.

Lauded by critics and legions of fans in Australia and around the world, Deadloch became a bona fide breakout hit, reaching the Top 10 TV Shows in more than 165 countries and territories on Prime Video including the U.S., UK, and Canada. The first season, set in Tasmania, saw two very different detectives thrown together to solve the murder of a man. The series won five AACTA Awards earlier this year including Best Acting in a Comedy for Kate Box and Best Screenplay in Television for Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan. The series recently scored three nominations in the 2024 TV WEEK Logie Awards including Best Scripted Comedy Program.

Season Two heads to the Top End of Australia and sees the return of Kate Box and Madeleine Sami as Dulcie Collins and Eddie Redcliffe. The detective duo are in Darwin investigating the death of Eddie’s former policing partner, Bushy, but when the bodies of two Top End icons are discovered in a remote town, they are flung into a new sweatier, stickier investigation. Also reprising their roles are Nina Oyama as Abby Matsuda and Alicia Gardiner as Cath York, Dulcie’s wife.

“We are thrilled that Deadloch will be returning for a second season to give our global Prime Video customers another dose of its unique blend of Australian humour and gripping mystery, this time set against the visually stunning Northern Territory landscape,” said Sarah Christie, senior development executive, Amazon MGM Studios. “The success of the first season, which has become a critical darling and cultivated a passionate fanbase, is a testament to the brilliant creative force of Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan. It’s wonderful to be continuing our collaboration with them, Guesswork Television and OK Great Productions, and to bring back our outstanding cast in Kate Box, Madeleine Sami, Nina Oyama and Alicia Gardiner. We can’t wait to share more from the world of Deadloch with fans around the world.”

“We are so excited to head to the Top End for a sticky, sweaty and filthy Season Two,” said Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, creators, writers and executive producers. “Both of us are thrilled to be teaming up again with comedy angels Kate Box, Madeleine Sami, Nina Oyama and Alicia Gardiner and we can’t wait to work with a new bunch of cast members and some massive fucking crocodiles.” 

“Smart, slyly satirical and flat out funny, Season Two picks up where season one left off,” said Kevin Whyte and Tanya Phegan, Executive Producers, Guesswork Television. “Once again Amazon MGM Studios and Prime Video have given us the opportunity to take the Kates’ story to every corner of the planet and our new partners Screen Territory and Screen Queensland have enabled us to leave the puffers behind and head north for the next instalment. We can’t wait to get back on location with this extraordinary team.”

“It’s fantastic that Deadloch’s second season will be made at Screen Queensland Studios, Brisbane as well as utilising our local waterways,” said Jacqui Feeney, CEO, Screen Queensland. “Screen Queensland is passionate about supporting Australian drama production and we look forward to welcoming the creative team behind this internationally acclaimed series to Brisbane.”

“Screen Territory is delighted to continue its production relationship with Prime Video and for the first time Guesswork Television in welcoming Deadloch Season Two to the Northern Territory.” said Jennie Hughes, Director of Screen Territory. “Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan are immensely talented creatives and we look forward to their unique and quirky take on the Northern Territory’s ‘Top End’ through the adventures of comedic detective duo Dulcie and Eddie. We are excited to support this terrific project which will deliver more opportunities for our local cast and crew and anticipate the production of a fantastic series for Deadloch fans with a unique Territorian twist.”

No big surprise there, though it took them long enough. Guess they had to find another state willing to cough up the funds (season three they’ll be heading to… the Gold Coast?) before the big announcement.

The real interest here’ll be how much comedy this retains, or whether it makes the (small) leap from “comedy take on a much loved genre” to “slightly quirky example of a much loved genre”. Sure, the first series did a pretty good job of balancing comedy with outrage, and it’s not like the Northern Territory is a less overtly blokey setting for what wikipedia calls “a feminist noir comedy”. But commercial pressures do tend to flatten out the rough edges of a series as time goes by.

And that’s not even considering the real elephant in the room. Fingers crossed they can find a small town in the NT named Deadloch, otherwise they’ll be in real trouble.

Why dramedies suck with reference to Austin and Colin from Accounts

With dramedies seemingly the only scripted comedy genre that anyone in Australian television or streaming is prepared to make right now, we expect a lot of the relatively few which turn up. Sadly, what we get from shows like Austin and Colin from Accounts, are shows which feel written to a formula and contain few laughs.

Austin started off well in that it got a few decent laughs from the Australia/UK cultural clash, and from the almost affair between Ingrid (Sally Phillips) and hot barman Luke (Tai Hara). The titular character’s autism and how others reacted to it, also made for some good (sensitively handled) comedy.

Austin in a tree-lined street with a shopping trolley cart
Michael Theo as Austin

But when the action moved to London, and tension between Austin (Michael Theo) and his estranged father Julian (Ben Miller) heated up, things became more serious. Right on cue, in the second-to-last episode, something big happened which could tear the family apart. Also, there was romance in the air. Light and shade, remember, are so important in this sort of soapy drama.

Colin from Accounts, on the other hand, decided to schedule its big dramatic moment, which could tear the family apart, for episode six. And, yes, just like Aftertaste before it, they killed off an arsehole old bloke character. Although, admittedly, this was an arsehole old bloke character we only got to know in that episode. This meant he had to be – and was – a 1,000,000% arsehole out of the blocks for us to react strongly to his death. And the actor John Howard played him brilliantly.

But don’t worry folks, the drama (not comedy) caused by this death, was balanced in episode eight by that other well-worn plot point of dramedies, a wedding with a twist (see also Rosehaven).

Ash hugging Gordon while holding dog food
Patrick Brammall as Gordon and Harriet Dyer as Ash in Colin from Accounts

If you’ve been watching Austin and Colin from Accounts and wondering if there’s a tick list of plot points that Australian TV producers seem to want in dramedies, then you’re not alone. And assuming there is such a list, it would seem that “a sub-plot about someone getting cancelled” is also on it.

The notion of “someone being cancelled” is topical, of course, and prime clickbait, but based on Austin and Colin from Accounts, it doesn’t often translate into laughs or good drama. Part of the reason is that in both shows the man who got cancelled deserved it; you shouldn’t re-tweet Nazis (Julian in Austin) or hit on your students (Lee in Colin from Accounts). Also, while both men lost their jobs, they still live in big expensive houses and still have lots of money. So, why should we care? *

Colin from Accounts did have a go at delving deeper into the world of being cancelled, with an episode about Lynelle’s anti-cancellation action group “Women Against Women Against Men” but it was fairly unconvincing as a take on the backlash against cancellations. Even if it did make a strong statement about Boomers lacking younger generations’ understanding of the issue.

Overall, it’s easy to walk away from shows like Austin and Colin from Accounts disappointed. For every part of the show which is interesting or worthwhile, there are a dozen things which you’ve either seen before or could have been better done. That, and they’re not particularly funny.


* If you want a much more interesting, and far less formulaic, take on a well-off white man being cancelled, we suggest Douglas Is Cancelled, which recently aired on the UK’s ITV. It also includes some quite funny digs at the world of comedy and the line “sitcom is dead”. Which, sadly, is true.

There’s a reason people call them the Bogies

The Logie Award nominations for 2024 came out the other day and honestly, it’s hard to work up any feelings towards them. But we feel like that about many things related to Australian television and comedy these days.

TV Week Logie Award statuette

The 2024 Logie Awards nominations are what you’d expect them to be after the last 12 months of television: some of the better or more interesting comedies get nominations, but it’s the comedy-adjacent shows and personalities who dominate. If you’ve got time, you could cast a vote for comedian-hosted shows like War on Waste, Lego Masters Australia, I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, Gruen or Hard Quiz; the latter two shows are even nominated in the Best Comedy Entertainment Program category.

Also up for Best Comedy Entertainment Program are programs that lean a bit more into the whole “comedy” thing, like Have You Been Paying Attention? or Thank God You’re Here. But given that the final two nominations for this award are The Weekly with Charlie Pickering and The Yearly with Charlie Pickering, we’re guessing the organisers have been quite liberal in their definition of “entertainment”.

Nominated for the Best Scripted Comedy Program category are Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney’s comedy noir murder mystery Deadloch, depressing post-suicide comedy/drama In Limbo, depressing revival Mother and Son, Population 11, a Stan comedy which The Guardian’s Luke Buckmaster described as “a letdown” (two stars), Strife, starring Asher Keddie, which various websites list as either a drama or a comedy/drama (don’t ask us, we haven’t seen it!), and the not brilliant fifth series of Utopia. Of the six, we’d give it to Deadloch, but given this a public-voted award, we’re guessing one of the three ABC shows will win purely because more voters are likely to have watched them.

As has been the case for a few years now, there are Silver Logies for Best Lead Actress and Actor in a Comedy. And the nominations are…

Best Lead Actress in a Comedy

  • Celia Pacquola, Utopia
  • Danielle Walker, Gold Diggers
  • Denise Scott, Mother and Son
  • Kate Box, Deadloch
  • Kitty Flanagan, Utopia
  • Madeleine Sami, Deadloch

Best Lead Actor in a Comedy

  • Ben Feldman, Population 11
  • Bob Morley, In Limbo
  • Lincoln Younes, C*A*U*G*H*T
  • Matt Okine, Mother and Son
  • Rob Sitch, Utopia
  • Ryan Corr, In Limbo

We like to think Lincoln Younes will take out Best Lead Actor, but has anyone apart from us actually seen C*A*U*G*H*T?

As for the Gold Logie, Andy Lee, host of The Hundred and Julia Morris, co-host of I’m A Celebrity… are nominated along with occasional guest on The Weekly… Tony Armstrong. On the plus side, Sam Pang is hosting again, so even if some questionable people come away with awards, there should be a few laughs throughout the ceremony.

Emu War (What is it Good For)

The Emu War is an Australian comedy movie and we’ll stop right there. To clarify: this is a comedy that’s (barely) movie length, not a movie that’s claiming to be a comedy. What’s the difference? Australian movies are almost always either scams to extract money from funding bodies or calling cards for the cast and director as they try to kick start a Hollywood career. Australian comedies? You remember those, surely.

After appearing in selected cinemas for one weekend only (it has a proper distributor, so it’ll be online and on blu ray soon enough if you missed it), The Emu War is loosely based on a bunch of comedians making shit up. Sure, the basic concept – the Australian Army vs a bunch of Emus in 1932 – has some grounding in fact. But this film takes that starting point and just throws a bunch of crud on it, to coin a phrase.

After a massacre of Australian forces (including Luke McGregor, in a wordless cameo) due entirely to a vengeance-crazed Major Meredith (Damian Callinan) disregarding orders, he’s given a chance to redeem himself by leading an elite unit deep into enemy territory to assassinate the Emu Queen. Much stupidity ensues.

The most flattering comparison we can make is to early D-Gen material where a loose parody of a well-worn genre – in this case, war movies – is basically an excuse for a lot of shoddy “special effects” and silly jokes. As such, this largely gets the mix right: you won’t laugh at everything here, but you’ll probably laugh at something.

Another subplot involves an attempt to smuggle Australia’s “horniest man” into the Emu base. There he can root the Emu Queen to death (being extremely horny is her one weakness). The mission relies on the improv skills of a stand up comedian who might be able to do the impossible: impersonate an emu. Does this require her to wear a pissy costume? Of course.

There’s a few “historical” cameos thrown in. Ned Kelly is a stand up comedian, Burke & Wills are (extremely gay) conjoined twins. The Prime Minister is a pants-pissing Harold Holt. They’re one-joke appearances that don’t outstay their welcome. At barely over an hour, this (mostly) powers through the gags so the duds don’t get time to stink up the place.

Speaking of which, there’s a fair amount of gross-out comedy here. Many of the many, many deaths are extremely gory. Fortunately, none of the effects are remotely convincing so you’ll have no trouble sleeping afterwards… even if you did just see an entire emu village burnt to the ground with mothers and children inside.

The relentless drive to try anything for a laugh sells a lot of the shonkier material. In one scene an elite unit discovers they’ve been fitted with suicide cyanide teeth for a joke older than the Emu War itself. And yet, the fact they were willing to make such a hack joke is funnier than the joke itself. Even in Australian cinema, committing to the bit still pays off.

Mark Humphries’ satire is back

In news no one was expecting, including possibly Mark Humphries himself, Mark Humphries is back on TV doing satire. On Channel 7’s 6pm Sydney news bulletin, no less.

An article in The Australian gives further details on this but we’re too cheap to pay to read them, so here’s our thoughts on what we know about this story instead…

WHAT?!

No, seriously, what?! On Channel 7?!

Channel 7 doesn’t exactly have a fine tradition – or in fact, any tradition – of making satire. And given the closest it gets to making comedy these days is whatever Paul Fenech has thrown together recently, it’s not exactly the home of quality laughs either.

As for its news output, a typical 7 News bulletin focuses on the latest ram-raids, stabbings and servo hold-ups in your area. Want to know what’s going in Ukraine? Or how the government’s trying to tackle the climate crisis? Or the rental crisis? Er, try the ABC or SBS.

So, what is 7 News Sydney doing creating a satire slot? That doesn’t seem to fit with everything else they do or have ever done. Or indeed, anything Mark Humphries does or has ever done. Humphries’ satire on 7.30, and elsewhere, has tended to focus on political news and big issues. And isn’t a sketch about something that happened in Canberra going to look weird after a bulletin dominated by fear-mongering stories about African immigrants, and nonsense stories about how Boomers are coping with falling house prices?

A satire slot which takes the piss out of stories about sensationalist commercial news stories would be fun, but Channel 7 Sydney’s 6pm News bulletin seems an unlikely place for that to happen.

Or are we looking at this the wrong way? Perhaps the thinking goes like this: why should satire be focused on the stories that people who watch ABC News and read The Guardian care about? Isn’t it time for satire which comes from the perspective of people worried about local crime, immigrants, and house prices?

And yes, that perspective has been historically under-represented in satire, but why go to Mark Humphries to make it? A satirist whose recent work includes this video for the Climate Council.

Honestly, this whole thing sounds a bit weird. And are we sure it isn’t 1st April?

But given it’s June and this story is real, we’re intrigued to see how this pans out. And if it doesn’t, how quickly Humphries gets the arse.

Austin Powers

Austin is the kind of series you get when the production side of television couldn’t give a rat’s arse about whatever it is the audience actually wants to watch. And fair enough. The entire basis of ABC television is to provide programming for those who aren’t being served by mainstream broadcasting. But there’s a big difference between “television for people who the commercial networks ignore” and “jobs for the boys”. Austin? Lets hope the ABC got mates rates for this one.

Like almost everything local that appears on the ABC, Austin is a television series the ABC and other Australian funding bodies have invested (heavily?) in. Good news for the local industry. What they haven’t considered is whether you, the viewer, might be getting anything out of the deal.

This isn’t so much a matter of being funny; these shows never really are. The ABC has only three scripted “comedy” series lined up this year: White Fever, Austin and season 3 of Fisk. Guess containing actual comedy is an optional extra for those comedy series the ABC decides to invest in.

So, not very funny*. It’s also not, in just about any way that counts, Australian. It’s a series about two British people who, while on a trip to Australia, discover that one of them most likely has an Australian son. Awkward. It’s a British comedy with British stars that’s partly set in Australia. So why are Australian funding bodies investing in it?

Oh right, Miller’s character’s secret son, the titular Austin (Michael Theo). The character is on the autism spectrum. So is Theo, making his major acting debut after two seasons of ABC dating show Love on the Spectrum. He’s not bad in this. He’s also very much the third wheel on a series headlined by UK comedy stars Ben Miller and Sally Phillips. They’re also not bad in this. They’re also not Australian, not exactly household names, and not much of a reason to tune in.

It’s possible to create a series that does a good job of mixing casts and locations. Surprisingly, NCIS: Sydney does an ok job of it. So does ABC crime series Troppo. The first features a largely US cast in a firmly Australian location where the cast are treated as outsiders. The second is an Australian series that just happens to have a US actor in one of the lead roles. Austin does neither of those things. It’s a 2024 version of an On The Buses movie where they go to Australia and discover one of the regulars has a secret son.

Austin at least is specifically set in Canberra. That puts it slightly ahead of similar projects where Australia is a stand-in for “somewhere in the Western world”. It’s a step up from, say, Spreadsheet. That featured pretty much the same mix of a UK lead, an Australian setting, and a suffocating blandness that could have come from anywhere. Oh look, the co-creator and director of Austin was also the co-creator of Spreadsheet, what a coincidence.

Hey, while we’re on the subject of international productions: why are they always set in Australia? Australia doesn’t seem to be making all that many series where some big name local actor goes overseas and has adventures. Oh right, because the entire Australian film and television industry is based around the idea that what’s important are local jobs, not making things locals want to watch. So long as a bunch of behind-the-camera crew get paid, who cares what’s up on the screen?

Which brings us back to Austin. It’s a perfectly competent series** that wouldn’t make it to air here without the local angle, and the local angle is so minor*** you could remove it without anyone noticing. But that’s par for the course with this kind of project, which almost always feels like the kind of thing an overseas network would never produce on their own but will happily put it to air so long as Australia covers a lot of the costs.

Hope you weren’t expecting them to spend that money on something you wanted to watch.

.

*it’s a series about a white middle-class man who gets #cancelled, a subject that is yet to deliver a single decent comedy after at least six years of trying

**One big problem comedy-wise is that for this set-up to be funny, Miller’s character really needs to be a right bastard – but as we all know that everything is leading towards him realising he really does love his son, there’s a hard limit on just how shitty he can be

***Theo is good, but he’s not irreplaceable

The (F)art Of…

ABC arts programming has been rubbish for years and new effort The Art Of… is no exception. Just how bad is it? It manages to make Josh Thomas seem good.

It doesn’t make him seem funny mind you because haha, they’ve got him on the episode about “heartbreak”. Why is a program about the arts doing an episode on heartbreak? Welcome to today’s ABC, where everything is about feels and personalities and the feels of personalities. For fuck’s sake, the other local shows on a Tuesday night are “Tony Robinson looks at things” and “Myf Warhurst has emotions”. Presumably “Sammy J pats cats” is on hold until 2025.

So yeah, the new ABC arts program is a show where the ABC invites a bunch of their mates on to talk about how feelings have inspired them to come on an ABC arts program. Remember when the ABC would air shows that actually reviewed books and films? The ABC sure hopes you don’t.

Obviously, Josh Thomas is here to remind the audience of the heartbreak they felt when they tuned into Please Like Me expecting it to be funny. Just kidding. Slightly more seriously, was Please Like Me an especially heartbreaking show? It had a rock-solid formula where the second-last episode each season featured a death / near-death so the final episode could be sombre. But so did that show about the cranky out-of-touch chef and his cool niece (Aftertaste – Ed) and that wasn’t exactly a classic of heartbreak. Or anything else.

While there’s a bunch of other people in this episode, none of them are technically comedians (though Clem Ford seems like someone who possibly gives lectures that get a lot of clapter?). Again, insert your own Josh Thomas joke here. Research reveals his appearance here is even more of a sick burn as there actually is an episode coming up about comedy (featuring amongst others, Shaun Micallef). Didn’t even make it into the funny episode, damn.

But in a twist, Thomas gets to make a bunch of reasonable and even occasionally interesting points. He explains that mining his own pain to inflict it on his viewers was tricky because (on the one hand obviously, but on the other nobody else seemed to mention it) heartbreak involves two people. Plus, in fictionalising his mother’s mental illness he was constantly aware that she’d be watching the show (also, she had script approval… and yet didn’t demand more jokes). And so on and so forth.

It’s not that Thomas says anything more than the usual weekend newspaper supplement interview platitudes. It’s that pretty much all of the rest of this arts show is so basic and stunted and bad at being interesting. Though if you haven’t been to Melbourne in a while (or ever), there are a shitload of pointless establishing shots of the CBD to enjoy. Arty!