Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

The Man With the Getaway Face

Is it just us, or has Shaun Micallef been losing his grip a little lately? Not that he’s ever really been known for his iron grasp on things, but the occasional smirk at an over-the-top performance has, in recent weeks, seemingly blossomed into a lot of near-corpsing in the face of what’s become a regular installment of “let’s see who can make the host laugh”.

Weirdly for a news satire program, this isn’t really a bad thing. Micallef has never pretended to be a “real” newsreader, let alone whatever it is that Charlie Pickering is doing on The Weekly, so there’s no character to break by breaking character. And it’s never the kind of forced laughter that, well, we’ve already mentioned Charlie Pickering once in this paragraph. Faced with a laughable performance, he laughs: what’s wrong with that?

Usually a run of breaking character by laughing (aka “corpsing”) is less than ideal because it turns the performance away from the audience: they’re making each other laugh, not us. But Mad as Hell has a slightly different feel to it. It’s not as ramshackle as, say, The Late Show was (that was a show where the comedy was almost entirely based on the idea of “look how pissweak this is”), but there’s definitely an element of watching a group of performers putting on a show that’s not quite as polished as it could be.

In those circumstances, occasionally breaking character to laugh at an extra hammy slice of performance is as much part of the show as dodgy wigs and wobbly sets. No doubt the lack of an actual audience at the moment plays a part too – performers love a reaction, and if there’s not a crowd handy to give them one it’s hardly surprising that they’re going after laughs anywhere they can find them. And having people actually laughing during a comedy show? Not a bad thing.

(they’re hardly playing characters that demand a subtle touch either. Not every interview subject requires a performance dialled up to 11, but when they do the cast aren’t going to hold back)

Over the last few years Mad as Hell has quietly expanded its approach. It’s been taking advantage of the ABC’s dwindling comedy output to push things, safe in the knowledge they won’t be infringing on anyone else’s turf. Not that telling topical news stories through the medium of interpretive dance was ever a regular feature on, say, Tractor Monkeys, but there is a bit of a sense that, as the last comedy program left on the ABC, they might as well take advantage of all the tricks nobody else is using.

One of those tricks is to invite the audience in by making the occasional dud moment part of the performance. Sometimes a comedy (especially a parody) has to be flawless to work; other times, being a little rough around the edges makes the end result more grounded and welcoming. Mad as Hell is the latter, and Micallef occasionally over-reacting to an especially egregious piece of over-acting is just one more way to get a laugh at home.

Or, you know, they’re all cracking under the strain of Melbourne’s lockdown. If that’s the case, look out for a rash of sketches in the next few weeks that end with the men in white coats turning up to take away someone from the cast. That stuff’s always comedy gold.

Pissed At the Wheel

So Channel Ten’s finally realised they still have the Australian version of Drunk History on the shelf and figured they’d slot it into the coveted “stand up clips from that Canadian comedy festival” slot. Has anyone ever mentioned before just how good-looking most American stand up comedians are? It’s like it’s an audition for a television gig or something.

The cast of Drunk History Australia

We said just about everything we had to say about Drunk History Australia back when 10 made it available online back in April:

Drunk History Australia isn’t always hilarious, though, as its charm depends a lot on whether the comedian telling the story is the sort of person you’d like to get pissed with. Something which is especially important if you, the audience, happen to be sober.

Basically it’s a show that has its moments, though possibly not enough of them to make it any kind of classic. It’s hamstrung a little by the way it feels like this format’s moment has passed, what with True Story with Hamish & Andy already having made a pretty good local fist of the “check out this wacky tale” genre a few years earlier, followed by 10 giving this (and season 2 of How to Stay Married) the binge treatment on their website half a year ago. People who don’t have the internet, finally your chance to laugh has arrived.

(Comedy Central has also just gotten around to axing the US TV version after six seasons. Guess they finally ran out of both booze and history)

But just because it feels like the product of a previous administration (the pilot aired in 2018) and there’s pretty much zero chance of their being a second season and The Weekly tried to get in on the act with that occasional segment about forgotten but true tales from history and Shaun Micallef already spent three hours earlier this year sadly informing us that drinking isn’t funny with Shaun Micallef’s On the Sauce doesn’t mean this particular run at the concept isn’t worth a look.

For one, it’s often pretty funny. And these days, who’s going to say no to that?

Jungle Juice

Finally, an international Aussie comedy success story that we won’t have to pretend never happened in a decade or so:

There are just a handful of independent production companies with three or more half-hour series currently on U.S. television. One of them could surprise you: It’s Australian indie Jungle Entertainment, owned by CEO Jason Burrows, director Trent O’Donnell, writer Phil Lloyd and COO Chloe Rickard.

You know Jungle, the artists formerly known as Jungleboys: they’re the producers behind Squinters, the various Moody series, No Activity, Sando, Here Come the Habibs and of course, The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting.

Basically, they’ve been at the heart of Australian scripted comedy, especially on the ABC, for most of the past decade. Unfortunately, most of the scripted comedy on the ABC for the past decade has been shithouse. Slightly surprisingly, this article provides some clues as to why.

Jungle, whose portfolio to date includes 12 comedy and drama series and documentaries, is currently prepping two more of its Australian formats for American adaptations: drama Bad Mothers and comedy Squinters. They also are looking to begin producing series for the U.S. market in Australia — shows they originate as well as shows from American creators and producers — offering creative input in addition to attractive tax Australian incentives, lower production costs and a safe environment for filming during COVID-19.

Unlike Australia, where the networks often act like they’re doing us a favour by even bothering to make Australian programs, Hollywood is a content creating machine. They are constantly scouring the world for anything they can use to create more television: actors, concepts, formats, you name it, they’ll use it.

If you’ve ever wondered why clearly average Australian actors can go to America and make a go of it – that it’s somehow easier for Australian actors to make a living acting in another country entirely than it is in their home industry – you’ve probably thought about it too much. It’s like living in a small country town and wanting to be an astronaut: sometimes the good jobs are somewhere else.

But one thing that does help in Hollywood is giving the power brokers something to look at. There are a number of reasons why movies based on comic books are currently a big deal, but one that doesn’t get mentioned often is that making a comic book first for your movie idea gives you a big advantage – a comic is something a producer can read and go “ahh, I get it”. And what’s better than a comic book?

“Generally, our best-selling tool has been the Australian version of the show that we’ve made, and when we’ve managed to sell the formats, it tends to be that as much as we’re selling the format, we’re also selling the voices behind them,” Lloyd said. “We’re not as much in the business of making a format and sort of just pushing it out off a cliff into other territories as much as being able to be creatively involved.”

Hollywood has next to zero interest in actual overseas shows: they’ll just take the ideas and make their own version. So being a production company who can turn up with shows that the money men can actually watch (ten minutes of) is a huge advantage.

Of course, first the production company has to make their own version so they have something to sell, and if they want to stay involved it really, really helps to have a presence in Hollywood: if you’ve ever wondered why Squinters – an Australian series that was filmed entirely inside cars inside a studio with a green screen background behind them – was half filmed in LA, you’ve been reading this blog too often.

Squintaaaaaaaaas

We’re not saying that Jungle made their local products as basically test reels for ideas they wanted to sell to the US, nor are we saying that being able to make them in-house on the cheap made them attractive to the ABC. But even if we were, why would that be a bad thing? The ABC is broke: cheap programming is better than no programming, and considering the web of funding deals that lie behind every single local show that makes it to air in Australia, having a company show some faith in their own ideas makes for a refreshing change.

“At the moment we’ve got new film and TV production incentives that add up to 30% of qualifying Australian expenditure. We’ve got a very competitive exchange rate now. We’ve got very, very low COVID-19 cases in New South Wales. We’ve also got very film-friendly regulations, and we have world-class infrastructure, studios and talent. We’ve got more talent home now than we’ve ever had, obviously, because COVID has been so terrible in a number of territories, including the U.S.”

If there is a problem with all this, it’s this: if a production company is pitching cheap shows to the ABC with an eye to recouping from overseas sales, and if the cash-strapped ABC is happy to say yes to shows made by a production company that can keep overheads low, at what stage do the viewers become relevant? Because if the deal is you make shows for cheap, persuade the cheap-content-needing ABC to put them to air, and make your money back by selling the now proven shows to Hollywood, it seems like the actual quality of the shows stops being much of a factor.

Obviously, this is just crazy speculation on our part. It’s not like there’s been a steady decline in the quality of Jungle’s comedy output over the last decade or so. Sure, Review with Myles Barlow was great, then the various Moody series were just maybe okay, then Squinters and Sando were shit, but it’s not like we’re saying the more successful they’ve been commercially the less successful their comedies have been as comedy. Definitely not.

Whatever’s really going on, there’s no denying it’s working out for them; this article is just another sign of their success. And it’s not like they’re only churning out crap: Mr Inbetween, despite not really falling under our remit, is a pretty decent crime series (though the creative input of the original creator and star, who is not a member of Jungle, plays a big part there).

But the way things are set up, there’s simply no incentive to made good shows here: just come up with a cheap idea that’s flexible enough to work when remade with US talent and everybody wins.

Apart from the chumps watching the end result.

A New Day Dawns

Press release time!

This came as a bit of a surprise here, as we’d thought he’d nabbed the top job months ago:

Producer Todd Abbott (Please Like Me, Micallef Tonight, Geoffrey Robertson’s Hypotheticals, Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey, Rove) is the hot tip to join the Entertainment and Specialist division.

ABC has been without a Head of Comedy since Rick Kalowski departed in February.

And just look how well they’ve been doing since then! Seriously, we’d hazard a guess there was more new comedy commissioned this year (what with the rush of corona comedy) than the last… three years of Rick Kalowski’s reign, so somebody must have been left behind to push the big red button marked “go”.

Anyway, big congratulations to Todd Abbott, who clearly has an extensive resume as far as decent comedy goes* and also Please Like Me. Maybe he’ll bring back The White Room! Finally its time has come.

Of course, these days at the ABC The White Room would literally be just an empty white room, as they don’t have the money to put anyone in it. It’s not exactly a good sign that he’s taking on the job (if he is actually starting this week; we’re going by a media newsletter, not an official announcement) at a time when the ABC can’t even manage 90 minutes of new comedy content on a Wednesday night.

Not that he’ll be responsible for the majority of the ABC’s “comedy” line-up either. For a while now the ABC’s increasingly shoddy Wednesday night has been roughly as follows: one game show or lightweight interview thing at 8pm, one news satire show at 8.30pm, and one sitcom. sketch show or slightly more serious interview thing at 9pm. Things may have changed since we last knew what we were talking about, but from what we remember of how things work, out of these three, only the scripted comedy – sketch or sitcom – counts as “Comedy”; everything else is light entertainment, including Mad as Hell and The Weekly.

Things could obviously be worse – it’s not like Abbott has arrived threatening to “axe left-wing comedy” like in the UK – but you couldn’t seriously say ABC Comedy is in glowing health. It’s hard to know exactly why the comedy department shrank so severely under Rick Kalowski’s leadership. We weren’t the first to note that practically nothing new was commissioned during his tenure; whether that was thanks to dwindling budgets or a decreased appetite for risk from head office we don’t know.

What we do know is that without a couple of rushed-out lockdown series the only ABC sitcom this year would have been season four of Rosehaven, and we’ve yet to hear anything that makes next year sound any more promising. Hopefully Abbott’s brought a truckful of money with him; without that, those repeats of Utopia are going to become permanent fixtures.

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*It’s interesting to compare his resume – which is mostly talk shows and live stand-up recordings, AKA the cheapest possible comedy television you can make and still be making both comedy and television – with Rick Kalowski’s, which was mostly based around (very broad) scripted comedy. Around the time Kalowski was hired there was a bit of talk that bringing him on board was going to signal a new direction for ABC comedy towards more mainstream fare; that didn’t really happen, but if we assume a Head of Comedy’s past work is an indication of where the ABC sees its comedy future, then it looks like they don’t expect a boost to the budget any time soon.

Vale Rosehaven series 4

So ends another series of the slight, very slight, adventures of Emma and Daniel in Rosehaven. And by Rosehaven standards, this episode was action-packed.

Four episodes previously, Emma (Celia Pacquola), Daniel (Luke McGregor) and Barbara (Kris McQuade) had attended a regional real estate conference, where they’d met big-shot agent Donovan (Josh Quong Tart), who’d tried to head-hunt Barbara for his agency. Now Donovan’s arrived to set-up shop in Rosehaven, is spending big on marketing and has even shouted the entire town a drink. How can our heroes at McCallum Real Estate compete with that?

Like we said, as episodes of Rosehaven goes, this was high stakes. Or had any sort of stakes at all. Usually, Pacquola and McGregor fill their allotted 25 minutes with little more than a flimsy plot (half the town’s on work experience), some pointless banter (we have double chins and we should do something) and the odd zany character, such as Anthony Morgan as local idiot, Phil.

Phil’s occasional appearances are especially welcome, as they provide almost all the best comic moments. In last week’s penultimate episode, when half the town seemed to be on work experience, Phil volunteered to let local cop Greg (Phil Hardwick) show his work experience kid what it’s like to arrest someone. Cut to a few seconds later when Phil decides to let the kid see what it’s like when an arrested criminal escapes, and runs off, still in Greg’s handcuffs, hotly pursued by Greg who doesn’t find this at all amusing.

In this series finale, sadly, there was very little Phil. But there was a nice moment where Phil tried to drink all of Donovan’s bar tab himself. Ah, Phil, if only he was in the show more often…

Rosehaven’s problem is that the style of comedy it revels in – not much happening – is also its greatest problem. And we, the audience, need something to happen. A decent plot to keep us watching, for instance. And this week aside, there haven’t been a lot of those this series. That and sometimes it’s a bit grating when Emma and Daniel start up on the banter. Yeah, OK, it’s fun when you’re doing it with your friends down the pub (or more latterly on Zoom), but it can get a bit draining when you’re watching third parties do it.

But four series in, who’s going to listen to us critiquing the signature style of a sitcom which has got four series and will no doubt get a fifth. So, see you in a couple of years for our review of series five, when we’ll be making all these points again.

Comedy Stans

Press release time!

STAN ACCELERATES GROWTH STRATEGY AS NINE THROWS WEIGHT BEHIND ORIGINAL PRODUCTIONS

Expanded slate of upcoming Stan Original productions also announced​

Followed by a bunch of stuff that isn’t really of interest to us here today. Basically, as various international streaming services look to expand their operations, Stan is increasingly in a bit of a pickle. Showtime (who provide a lot of Stan’s high end product) are planning to move on, and to stay viable Stan needs a new source of shows people want to watch. Their solution? The same as everyone else’s: start making their own shows.

The only slightly interesting thing about this is that they’re going to be teaming up more directly with Nine as far as the production side of things goes, which presumably means that some if not all of the series they’ll be making for Stan will also turn up on Nine eventually. Which explains the bit about this press release that is interesting to us: they’re only doing one comedy. After all, what would Nine do with new comedy?

Dom and Adrian: 2020, an original comedy special from the creators of the Bondi Hipsters, Christiaan Van Vuuren and Nick Boshier, is currently in production.

This lack of comedy (the other four projects announced are all pure drama) is how you know they’re serious about things. Comedy has always been the cheap and cheerful side of local production, but on streaming services comedy has basically been a procession of filmed stand-up specials and the occasional “wacky” game show, with the rare ultra-low budget sitcom (remember No Activity?) thrown in.

Streaming services are all about luring viewers in, which means streaming services are (mostly) all about quality drama. That’s because quality drama is the kind of thing people will pay money for: unlike cheap, throwaway comedy, it seems like good value for money.

But weirdly, comedy is what people actually want to watch a lot of the time. That’s why pre-streaming television (which actually had to keep people watching, rather than just get people to pay up front for something they might rarely glance at) was packed with shit, utterly forgettable drama and sitcoms that people are still happily watching and laughing at today. People are still watching Friends and Seinfeld; who’s watching The Wire?

So while there’s little doubt that this –

Australia’s leading local streaming service Stan today announced it is ramping up its slate of local and internationally produced Stan Original television series and films, with volume to increase to over 30 productions a year over the next five years.

– is going to also mean more filmed live comedy and other super-cheap local laff-getters to make the numbers add up, the sad fact is that comedy is no longer seen as a quality premium product by Australian networks (and probably audiences). New comedy is something cheap you bung on to make it look like you’re a real network and not a warehouse full of old VHS tapes of 90s sitcoms, even though most of what people watch streaming for – old sitcoms – is comedy.

Anyway, that’s a problem for twenty years from now when we’ll all be dead anyway. Meanwhile, we have this to look forward to:

Dom and Adrian: 2020 is a mockumentary chronicling their journey through the garbage fire that is 2020.

Having been billed to play at a premier bush doof, Dom and Adrian’s USBJ’ing (DJing with pre-loaded USBs) career was on precipice of taking off… when the bushfires hit. They were next booked to play a bushfire fundraiser when the floods washed through. Then they were going to headline a flood-relief show when the hail storms came down. And now, the night before their biggest gig yet, raising money for the #PanelBeatBondiAiD movement, the whole country was thrown into lockdown because of one little global pandemic, “Such a nanny state!”.

In spite of the initial personal turmoil, the two best friends quickly see all this as an opportunity to refocus, “pivot” and evolve creatively – but as time goes on, it’s not only their creativity and entrepreneurial-ship that’s tested, but their friendship and sanity.

Across the mocumentary special, Dom and Adrian try desperately to remain positive, make rent and redefine their lives. And hey, there’s always regrowth after a fire – so by traversing madness, 5/6G conspiracy theories, being baited by the illuminati and philosophical clashes, Dom and Adrian are forced to rediscover why they’re best friends in the first place.

Dom and Adrian said: “The number 2020 used to be synonymous with good eyesight. But given how much of a bin fire 2020 has been, we’re fully going to have to find a new number to define good eyesight. “The fall of capitalism has made us a lot more resourceful and there’s a lot of interesting ways you can eat ibis.”

Nick Forward, Chief Content Officer at Stan, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Christiaan, Nick and the team. We’re huge fans of everything the boys have done and we’re really looking forward to being able to bring some laugher and lightness to 2020 – all through the lense of the Bondi Hipsters.”

Lee Naimo, Senior Online Investment Manager at Screen Australia, said: “We are delighted that Christiaan Van Vuuren and Nick Boshier are teaming up with Easy Tiger Productions and producer Julia Corcoran to bring the unique and often hilarious points of view of Bondi Hipsters Dom and Adrian to Stan and YouTube.

“The Bondi Hipsters were part of that first wave of Australian online content creators to carve out a niche with online sketch comedy and we can’t wait to see them further develop these iconic characters as they cope with isolation and the challenges of 2020.”

Stan Original special Dom and Adrian: 2020 is created by Christiaan Van Vuuren and Nick Boshier and produced by Julia Corcoran in partnership with Easy Tiger, with Christiaan Van Vuuren also directing. Additional social content will be developed by the creators to accompany the special on Stan.

A viral hit with millennial audiences, the Van Vuuren Bros, Bondi Hipsters and Soul Mates YouTube channels have a collective subscriber base of over 150,000 and boast over 25+ million views to date.

And who’s going to argue with those numbers?

Paper Champions: A Movie Review

Remember movies? Worse, remember Australian comedy movies? Oh sure, there was that Paul Hogan one a few weeks back, but aside from that? Nothing. Well, nothing unless you’ve been scouring the listings for the various Australian film festivals that have been forced to relocate online thanks to 2020 being garbage, in which case you may have spotted a little film called Paper Champions.

Usually a film screening at MIFF (the Melbourne International Film Festival) would be tough to catch: films showing at festivals usually only get one or two sessions at one location, so while it’s all nice and exclusive for those who can make it, everyone else is out of luck. But this year, things are different: MIFF is now entirely online, which means that anyone anywhere can watch the films on offer. The films (aside from a handful of high profile titles) can also be watched at any time you choose once you fork over your money. All of which means you have roughly four days left to check out Paper Champions from the comfort of your own home. The real question is… should you?

The story of a subdued-to-the-point-of-comatose photocopier salesman, it’s the kind of Australian comedy film that’s more about the “film” side of things than the “comedy”; anyone expecting a laff riot should keep on scrolling. Though probably not scrolling through the MIFF listings as there’s bugger-all else as far as comedy goes this year. But as is often the way with even low budget Australian films these days, Paper Champions looks okay, has a decent cast, and has a clear beginning, middle and end story-wise so even if you don’t laugh (and you probably won’t) you’ll still leave feeling like you saw an actual film.

You may even feel like you’ve seen a number of films, as the big problem with this small film is that there’s just too many subplots. Subdued dude Rey (Luke Saliba, who also produces and co-wrote the script) is trying to get his mana back (think of it as a Polynesian version of “his groove”) and so he goes through a range of situations trying to figure out how he can regain his spark. Part workplace comedy, part awkward family comedy, part awkward family comedy only with his best friends family, part wrestling movie, part rom-com, part dance movie, part jokes about photocopiers and there’s a rugby game in there too, this really needed to pick two or three subplots instead of spraying ideas all over the place.

It’s all largely held together by Rey – he’s the one constant in all this, so the constant shifts aren’t as annoying as they might have been – only Rey spends a lot of the movie just sitting there being a sad sack. It’s a slightly odd choice for a movie that’s clearly been put together as something of a showcase for Saliba (co-writer and producer, remember), as it feels like the kind of thing you’d do if you were making a movie around a lead who wasn’t that compelling a screen performer. But Saliba does come across well throughout, and the rare scenes where he perks up do register as big moments. Hey, maybe he’s just a generous guy who wanted to let just about everyone else in this film steal almost every scene he’s in. Being the straight man in a comedy is a thankless job.

But is it funny? There’s two possible scenarios to consider here:

A): Australian film is so firmly built around the grants system these days that you can hardly blame film-makers for wanting to tailor their product to funding bodies rather than audiences. Even if they didn’t get or need a grant this time around, who knows when they’ll have to knock on (say) Film Victoria’s door, cap in hand? And with comedy still seen as something popular that doesn’t need funding, increasingly Australian screen comedy looks like Paper Champions: a film that often feels like it really wanted to be funnier, but then remembered it was time to drop in some family drama just to make sure we knew we were watching a “real” movie.

B): There’s a lot of things going on here that feel like they probably seemed funny written down, but don’t really work that way on the screen. The wrestling subplot is pretty over the top; Rey’s work features more than the usual amount of kooky characters; someone dances really, really badly. And there are a handful of moments here that are legitimately laugh-worthy, alongside a lot more that feel like they’re meant to be running gags or quirky observations. It doesn’t try so hard to be funny that it’s failures are painful to watch, but that also means there are long stretches of this film that are just… you know, pleseant.

Either way, the end result isn’t the worst Australian comedy film of the year. Which has got to count for something even if there’s only been one other Australian comedy film this year. Supposedly Paper Champions will be getting a cinema release once people feel safe enough to go into cinemas, so you might want to hold off and see this one on the big screen… but probably not.

Vale Retrograde

In the first ten minutes of its final episode Retrograde slapped down the “whoops, someone’s dead, time to get serious” card so hard for a moment we thought we were watching Please Like Me all over again. Was there an eulogy full of “confronting” swearing? Was there a slowed down super-sad cover version of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”? Was this show still a comedy? Answers on the back of a postcard.

It’s been close to thirty years now since sitcoms first started seriously exploring the concept of a wacky group of friends just hanging out. It’s probably time somebody came up with a new idea. The twist here was meant to be that the whole show took place via a “not Zoom” conference call, but most of the time that was used for the kind of reaction shots from other cast members that are supposed to make you think you’re watching something funny when all you’re really watching is a bunch of reaction shots.

Which pretty much sums up Retrograde. Firmly determined to put together a cast of cool types pushing 30 who act like teenagers, it never managed to come up with any kind of comedy dynamic between the cast, let alone much comedy in general (the comedy climax involved two characters hiding behind an umbrella while someone threw fruit at them). The online chat format definitely limited any kind of physical chemistry between the cast, but there was no real attempt to conjure up verbal sparks here either. Anyone could have been talking to anyone else for all the difference it made; there was never a point where two characters really stood out as a funny team.

Supposedly the biggest problem facing rom-coms this century has been the lack of obstacles to keep would-be lovers apart. When society is largely on board with the idea that “the heart wants what the heart wants”, it’s tough to keep two or more people apart long enough for a story to develop. So you’d think the enforced isolation of lockdown would be a boon to anyone looking to put together a romantic comedy, right? Not if you were watching Retrograde.

Considering there was next to nothing else going on dramatically each week, it’s bizarre how badly this fumbled the rom-com side of things. All that needed to be done was to have two likable characters flirt and fall for each other, only to find they couldn’t be together; instead this spun its wheels for six weeks as our heroine moved in with one guy then wondered about another but still felt something for the first guy and everyone else though the other guy was a jerk and… why did we care again? And how do you write a love triangle where both of the guys are losers?

Pretty much all the classic “will they or won’t they” plotlines in sitcoms weaved in and out of a whole lot of episodes that were about something else entirely (also: funny). Likewise, the rare successful dramatic moment in a sitcom usually came as a surprising change of pace well into the run, not as a predictable end to the first handful of episodes. Traditionally, these things worked because they were rarely used: the currently popular idea that if you take 22 episodes worth of unresolved sexual tension and surprise dramatic moments and pack them into six episodes they’ll work just as well has been proven to be a dud so many times now it’s worth wondering if anyone making sitcoms today ever watched anything beyond The Office and Friends.

We often continually bitch about how Australian television comedy is increasingly driven by the desires of funding bodies and TV executives rather than audiences. That’s because when you ignore what people want to watch the result is shows like Retrograde: perfectly well-made products with decent casts that give viewers no reason whatsoever to keep watching. There was no comedy hook, no premise beyond “friends talk on Skype”, nothing going on that you could even put in a promo as a reason to tune in – let alone something to keep you coming back week after week because all this had going on was dull soap opera twists and a bunch of generic types being blandly sassy.

Retrograde wasn’t a failure. It wasn’t memorable enough for that.

So, so wrong

The great myth put about by those in power is that they know what they’re doing and that we should trust them (maybe you can think of a recent example of that). So, ultimately, perhaps, we’re all better off putting ourselves in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing? Could we really be worse off if we did?

That’s the theory behind Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney’s sporadically-released podcast Only Wrong Answers, in which people with a problem email the Kates to ask for help. Relationships, kids, careers, this pandemic thing that’s happening…the Kates’ll have a go at finding a solution to anything. Or not, most of the time.

Only Wrong Answers

A lot of the laughs in Only Wrong Answers come from Kate and Kate not actually helping anyone, more beating themselves up, or having a go at the person who had the temerity to ask them a question. They’re the real problem, after all.

Everyone will have their favourite moment in Only Wrong Answers, but we particularly enjoyed the rant about Gen X music lovers hating on the music their kids listen to. Because men of a certain (highly opinionated) type are always worth kicking.

So – and we’re talking mainly to that certain type of man, here – if you didn’t enjoy the tone of Get Krack!n, you will also dislike this. It’s just not for you. Move on with your lives.

But if you did like Get Krack!n, then this is more comedy in that same vein. Except it’s looser, like you’re in an ideas session for Get Krack!n and someone’s edited-together the highlights.

That someone, by the way, is Greg Larsen (Tonightly, At Home Alone Together), who has very skilfully selected the best bits of Kate and Kate’s rambling and cobbled them together with some well-timed musical stings. Who knew editing could give a podcast the edge? Not many podcasters, that’s for sure.

Also worth noting is that this won’t be the last audio project from the Kates:

The duo are writing a new fiction podcast for Amazon’s Audible, eyeing a launch next year, titled Slushy – “a traditional sitcom, but for your ears,” says McLennan – set on an Australian research base in Antarctica.

So, listen out for that.

All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating

You can tell when Mad as Hell is angry at the ever-increasing rightward tilt of Australia’s media and politics because they start making jokes about Labor. So it was no real surprise that Mad as Hell came roaring back onto our screens this week with a few extremely cheap shots at the nominally left-ish side of Australian politics. Us? We loved it.

Partly that’s because, with the ABC itself seemingly trying to curry favour with the right – when ABC board chief Ita Buttrose isn’t calling young people sooks she’s asking mining magnates to give high profile lectures to explain why the country should continue to be run exclusively for their benefit – it certainly can’t hurt to provide a bit of “balance” when it comes to political comedy. The days when the right spent their spare time complaining that the ABC’s political satire was too hard on millionaires and didn’t spend enough time mocking the poor are long gone, but presumably Gerard Henderson could rise from the grave if anyone was foolish enough to spill some human blood anywhere near it.

But what we really enjoy about Mad as Hell‘s swipes at Labor is that they’re almost always really directed at the right-wing’s view of Labour. “If Labor got in they’d waste all the money and send this country into economic ruin” would be a devastating insult if it wasn’t for the fact that when it comes to economic mismanagement the Federal Coalition wrote the book and then sold it for less than it cost to print. It’s so stupid it’d be a joke if it wasn’t also a right-wing core belief… hang on, why can’t it be both?

Mad as Hell gets to have it both ways: if the Liberals and their minions complain that the show is biased against them, what with the 25-odd minutes of jokes and vitriol directed directly at them and everything they stand for, there’s a number of blunt anti-Labor statements Micallef and company can point at to balance the books. And for anyone with an actual sense of humour, those anti-Labor statements are clearly aimed directly at the kind of unthinking political automatons who would accept said silly statements at face value. The real winner? Comedy!

Our half-baked political analysis aside, this week’s return was a stark reminder of just how good this show is. Whether it was the return of Roz Hammond advertising a bizarre eye expander, Micallef explaining that they wouldn’t actually be doing a “release the Karen” bit because they’d already used that gag in a caption ten minutes earlier, or a hilarious monologue about testing for Covid in people’s sewage that contained the line “Fuckin’ government poo hunters”, Mad as Hell came back firing on all cylinders and thank god for that.

We did feel bad at finding out that the original “mad as hell” guy hasn’t been getting any royalties for his regular appearances in the opening credits though. Typical bloody commie ABC.