So farewell then The Chaser’s War on Everything, whether it was the pointless and repetitive pranks, the seeming plagiarism, or the press and industry reaction – both the wowserish condemnation and slave-like devotion – it’s sure given us something to talk about for the past three and a half years. If I were to sum up my feelings on the series I’d say that it was deeply disappointing and one of the great lost opportunities in Australian TV comedy history, but admittedly, there aren’t that many who agree with me.
Going back through the many things I’ve said about The War online, I was surprised at how resolutely positive I’d been about the show for the first few months of its run. And why wouldn’t I be? The team had proved their potential through a funny spoof newspaper and website, and their previous TV shows CNNNN, The Chaser Decides and Chaser News Alert.
The War looked like it would be a noughties take on The Late Show, a group comedy show with an open format and a satirical edge – and if there was a time to declare a “war on everything” it was in that part of the Howard era when some of us wondered if the Coalition would ever get voted out. Sure the first few episodes of The War weren’t that good, but it was a new show which was finding its feet, right?
As it turned out, the show didn’t improve and only featured a few genuine hits. Most of the time The Chaser couldn’t even reach the level of satire you’d see in The Glasshouse, which given what was going on politically at the time seems almost unbelievable. This was partly the fault of the show’s format, with its heavy reliance on pranks (there are only so many satirical or funny lines you can deliver if you’re following a politician down the street, and they’re accompanied by zealous security guards while you’re dressed in a zany costume or manipulating a giant prop) but it was also a result of the Chaser team coming up with some pretty poor comic concepts. Is there any point in hassling low-paid workers like receptionists, security guards and shop assistants when your actual beef is with their bosses? Michael Moore proved that time and time again, so why didn’t The Chaser try a different approach?
There were a few good sketches and segments along the way, like Chas’s Logies Bonehead Challenge and Craig’s recent cock-sucking mime behind Wilson Tuckey, which summed up Tuckey’s idiocy in a succinct – albeit purile – way. But for every good segment like What Have We Learnt from Current Affairs This Week?, there seemed to be about 15 outings for the Surprise Spruiker, Clive The Slightly Too Loud Commuter and the Crazy Rug Warehouse Guy, followed by a lame parody of Are You Being Served? or Compass.
There’s also the question of the material and concepts which appeared to have been borrowed from other shows, and the tiny amount of genuinely topical material in the show, as I documented in a previous post. Even What Have We Learnt from Current Affairs This Week? seemed to recycle the observations and attitudes of Frontline. Add to this The War’s seeming “one joke about the Coalition, one joke about Labor policy” (an attempt to be balanced at a time when the ABC was under constant fire, which effectively stopped the team from tackling important issues and powerful people in any meaningful way, to the extent that ABC hater Gerard Henderson declared his support for the show) and you had a series so dull, repetitive and lame that you wondered if Rove or Daryl Somers were the ones actually behind it all.
Yet despite the shows’ screamingly obvious flaws, no one in the mainstream media ever really criticised the quality of the comedy or the satirical content. Instead, you had the likes of Phillip Adams and Mike Carlton lining up to say how wonderful it was that the team were pricking pomposity (something no other comedy has ever, ever done), while Tony Martin glossed over the fact that the far superior work of himself and his former colleagues was effectively being recycled. In fact it was only after over-hyped scandals like the APEC stunt or the Make A Realistic Wish sketch that anyone would criticise the show. Add to this the numerous articles previewing the latest “shocking” stunt from The Chaser and you had a resolutely average pranks show and supposed satire being hyped to buggery so often that any affection you had for the team’s past work was washed away in the stinking deluge of their over-exposure.
So, Vale The Chaser’s War On Everything. Rest In Peace. May whatever your creators do next be better, funnier, more original and timely, and less hyped. Despite it all there’s still a small part of me that thinks The Chaser can deliver a great comedy. I hope I’m right this time.