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:
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?).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mind you, it’d be even more exciting if it wasn’t on Binge. Still, after the year (in comedy) we’ve just had, we’ll take what we can get. Hurrah!
Press release time!
When it comes to sex, it’s better late than never
When their able-bodied friends hook up at a bar, lovelorn Frank (Angus Thompson) and Sarah (Hannah Diviney) are thrust together and form a reluctant bond over their shared disability and its impact on their romantic lives – or lack thereof. Bold, hilarious, and at times heart wrenching, the new SBS and Screen Australia Digital Originals series, Latecomers, is both an expression and representation of the intricacies of sex and disability. The series premieres on International Day of People with Disability, Saturday 3 December, on SBS Viceland and SBS On Demand.
Influential writer, and disability and women’s rights advocate Hannah Diviney shines in one of the lead roles – her first ever acting role – alongside actor and co-creator Angus Thompson (The Angus Project). Earlier this year, Diviney made headlines for holding pop stars Lizzo and Beyoncé accountable for their ableist lyrics. She is also founder of the global ‘Create a Disney Princess with Disabilities’ campaign, Editor in Chief of social impact publication Missing Perspectives, and was recently named Winner of 2022 “Voice of Now” at the Marie Claire Women Of the Year Awards.
Alongside Diviney and Thompson, title roles are also played by New Zealand actor Miriama Smith (Filthy Rich, Harrow) and rising star Patrick Jhanur (Sea Patrol, Troppo), and featuring Tracy Mann (Top End Wedding), Emily Havea (Wentworth), Tom Wilson (Heartbreak High), Brittany Santariga (Fighting Season), Amy Kersey (The Twelve), Piper Brown and Liam Greinke.
Written and created by Emma Myers, Angus Thompson, and acclaimed comedian, actor, and writer Nina Oyama (The Angus Project, Tonightly with Tom Ballard, Utopia), Latecomers draws from the trio’s lived experiences, from both Nina’s perspective as a carer and Emma and Angus as individuals with cerebral palsy. Latecomers is directed by Madeleine Gottlieb (You and Me, Before and After) and Alistair Baldwin (writer on The Weekly, Hard Quiz) and produced by Hannah Ngo (Iggy & Ace, Tribunal) and Liam Heyen (Top End Wedding, New Gold Mountain).
Loveable larrakin Frank and cynical bookish Sarah couldn’t be more different, other than the fact they both have cerebral palsy and are both virgins. After their able-bodied carers, kind-hearted heartthrob Elliot (Jhanur) and perimenopausal party girl Brandi (Smith), hook up on a night out, Frank and Sarah are forced to get to know one another and confide in each other their sexual inexperience. Frank decides to pursue Sarah but sabotages the relationship when he turns up drunk to their date and insults her (before drunkenly vomiting on her for good measure). But when Elliot is left to clean up the mess, it sets off an unpredictable chain reaction that causes both Frank and Sarah to confront hard truths about disability, misogyny, love, and self-worth.
SBS Commissioning Editor, Loani Arman said: “Latecomers is part of an exciting new wave of television where fresh voices get to own their stories. At SBS Scripted, we have two key goals: to make bold and distinct drama that resonates with audiences in Australia and around the world, and to help launch a tidal wave of new talent from under-represented backgrounds. Latecomers over-achieves on both those goals and is a perfect example of what’s possible under the Digital Originals initiative. It’ll leave viewers laughing and crying as Sarah and Frank navigate their way through the highs and lows of friendship, love, and sex. We’re so proud of the team and can’t wait to see what they do next.”
Co-Writer, Co-Creator and Actor, Angus Thompson said: “When you have cerebral palsy and you’re trying to find love, or even just a hook-up, the journey comes with a lot of awkwardness, rejection, pain and loneliness. Most people just take it as their lot in life – but not me. I made a whole show out of it! And so did my co-creator Emma Myers. Thank you SBS for the opportunity, we are honoured to be able to show an authentic portrayal of disability and sex to a wider audience. I never thought I’d see disabled characters seen sexually on-screen the way we’ve portrayed them. My shirtless scenes have already become a hot topic amongst the production team… we’ll soon see what our audience has to say!”
Screen Australia’s Head of Online Lee Naimo said: “We’ve been so impressed with Latecomers at every stage of development and production, and we’re so proud that it’s part of the Digital Originals initiative. The team have created an edgy and emotionally charged series that’s funny, engaging and authentic.”
Usually we’d be on the fence about this one – sure, Nina Oyama is involved, but is it even a comedy? – but SBS has had a surprisingly strong track record of late when it comes to creating dramedies where the comedy side of things is more than just a token gesture.
(put another way, A Beginners Guide to Grief is well worth a look)
So we’re going to go with “cautiously optimistic” here. When there’s drunken vomiting involved, how bad can things get?
So we waited an extra week just to make sure we weren’t imagining it but yes, it seems that season two of Fisk is just as good – if not better – than the first. Phew.
Some things have changed: the downstairs coffee shop is now an even more infuriating “blended beverage” venue. Roz (Julia Zemiro) has decided her true calling lies in mediation rather than law (don’t worry, she’s not leaving the office). But it’s still the adventures of the perpetually mildly exasperated probate lawyer Helen Tudor-Fisk (Kitty Flanagan) as she deals with a stream of dingbat clients and a world that seems intent on frustrating her at every turn.
After years of failed dramedy and snippet sitcoms that forgot to be funny, Flanagan and company make it all look so easy. A handful of distinct characters in a set location where they can bounce off each other? A format that introduces a couple of guest stars each week to drive storylines and provide variety? A cast of people who are funny and are given funny things to say and do? Why don’t we have a dozen series this good every year!
But unlike almost everyone else making sitcoms for the ABC, Kitty Flanagan knows what she’s doing. She’s great when it comes to pointing out the absurdities of modern life and of certain types of characters. But instead of just setting up cliched characters and having their existence be the punchline in a “we’ve all seen this guy, right?” kind of way, the jokes come from the dialogue. Which is to say, there’s loads of funny lines on top of everything else.
Just as importantly, she has an actual comedic point of view on the things she observes. Fisk is annoyed by a lot of stupid shit, because a lot of shit really is stupid. Ok, yes, gaming chairs don’t usually explode and breakfast soup isn’t a real thing (yet). There’s a fun streak of silliness running through Fisk too.
It’s not an angry show either. Fisk’s annoyance is at life itself, which is full of obstacles and weirdoes and trendy drinks with names like “greengasm”. Social media influencers might be bizarre and a pain, but that’s not a problem in itself. Fisk would just rather they do their thing somewhere away from her so she can get on with important things like ordering a brown burkini online.
And the tone across the series is pitched just right. The guest stars get to be broad caricatures because they’re here for a good time not a long time. The core cast are all just plausible enough to be believable people while also being well-defined enough that they strike (comedic) sparks off each other.
Of course Ray (Marty Sheargold) and office dogsbody George (Aaron Chen) would share a love of comfy seating while Fisk can’t even get couch privileges. Ray – and everyone else – might suffer under the authoritarian thumb of Roz, but there’s still a sibling bond there that goes deeper than getting an air fryer in the office.
Running a blog looking at Australian comedy is a lot like crawling in circles in the desert: you see the same crap over and over again and it never gets any better. So you might be thinking “hey Tumbleweeds, tone it down a little would you? Clearly the lack of any decent sitcoms in living memory has driven you loco”.
Nope: Fisk really is that good. It’s a comedy that’s a delight to watch, and we’re delighted by it every week.
Wil Anderson has a new book to promote, and we all know what that means: talking about ways to get more young people on the ABC! Wait, what?
In a feature headlined “Wil Anderson’s bold solution for the ABC’s youth problem” – presumably the bold part is that he’s not offering to give up any of his own air time, but more on that later – he suggests the solution to the lack of young presenters on the ABC is to hire more young presenters. Genius!
No wait, we read that wrong – it’s to give him a new show:
Wil Anderson has a proposition he’d like to make to the ABC: Let him come in and oversee five nights a week of late-night TV hosted by young comedians.
“Let’s make something,” he says. “Let’s get all these young people and give them more shows and do something in a slot – I don’t care where it is, it could be 10.30 on a Friday night, or we find a channel and we do it every night — let’s just invest in people.”
Some people might think that hang on, doesn’t Wil Anderson already host two series on the ABC? Maybe the way to get more people who aren’t Wil Anderson on the ABC is to have less Wil Anderson on the ABC? More fool you, because he’s already thought of that:
“I guess the argument could come back in the other direction: ‘Well, you’ve been there forever, why don’t you f— off?’,” he says. “Well, here’s why. I am only on TV for 10 hours a year. So it’s not a huge amount. I already don’t do a lot.
“But if I go, they’re not replacing me with Aaron Chen, that’s the truth. So the best work I can do is try to create something where I can put those people on the show.”
Interestingly, this is the exact opposite argument to the one Shaun Micallef made when he quit Mad as Hell:
As Mad as Hell is not currently being hosted by Aaron Chen, Anderson may well have a point.
Anderson’s “10 hours” argument makes sense from his side of things, where he has a couple of part time gigs at the ABC for a few months each year. From the point of view of pretty much everyone who isn’t Wil Anderson, he’s currently hosting two comedy panel shows on the ABC, which is one more than anybody else and two more than 99.95% of the funny people in this country.
To be fair, he’s not suggesting he actually host this new talent showcase. He’d just be some backstage puppet-master the new talent would listen to or something… it’s a little vague. Because if he’s not hosting, then why is he involved? Isn’t the whole idea of new talent to get new ideas out there?
The obvious model for what Anderson is suggesting is a mentoring role. Something akin to what Denton did with The Chaser and Hungry Beast. But back then Denton already had his own production company – the company that, after a few mergers and with Denton long gone, still produces Gruen. If those guys want to produce a young talent showcase, go for it. If Anderson’s not hosting, and the new talent is providing the talent, it’s hard to see exactly where he fits in.
(and if Anderson did host, chances are it’d just be another version of Question Everything, where the occasional fresh face is given the chance to show they can fit in seamlessly with a bunch of comedians twice their age so the audience isn’t startled by any jokes that aren’t old enough to drive)
As a host, Anderson’s been remarkably committed to the ABC. Andrew Denton and Shaun Micallef went to commercial networks for extended periods. Adam Hills went overseas for years. Anderson stayed put: these days he’s the jokey, fun-loving face of the establishment.
Yeah, he smokes dope and takes swipes at authority. Remember when he used to host The Glass House two decades ago? The ABC audience has grown up with him and now they’re 50 year-old homeowners, just like he is. He’s been hosting a series on ABC television almost every year since 2001: his on-air career is older than some of the up-and-coming comedians trying to get a gig on the ABC.
The truth is that to achieve the goal of “more young people”, the ABC is going to have to get rid of some of the old people*. Even if there was a new talent showcase, everything else on the ABC is hosted by people who’ve been there for a decade or more. You know, like Wil Anderson.
For this system to really make a difference, new comedy talent is going to have to move up the ranks at the ABC, not just vanish when their show gets axed. If Anderson sticks around until retirement age – or even just Fran Kelly’s age – that’s another fifteen years where a top hosting job isn’t going to a young person.
It’d be great if the way to get more young people doing comedy on the ABC was to expand the size of the pie. Maybe one day the ABC will have enough money to do that. But after decades of LNP leadership focused on freezing or cutting budgets, the ABC that gave a twenty-something Wil Anderson his start is gone. If young people are ever going to get a seat at the big table, someone there is going to have to step away.
Anderson’s heart is clearly in the right place, and pretty much everything he’s arguing for has merit. The part that doesn’t is the part where he’s involved.
*haha, as if