The final episode – possibly ever – of Hungry Beast goes to air later tonight and, while we’ve sort of pointed this out before, we think it’s worth remembering that when it started out Hungry Beast was supposed to be at least as much about comedy as it was about current affairs. Which makes our number one question at this slightly pre-emptive wake for the programme: What happened?
The team exercised some quality control, perhaps? Kinda. Veronica Milsom’s appalling character Veronica Dynamite seems to have been retired, and while that’s definitely a victory for comedy, it was a victory which took at least two series of the show to achieve. And as the ever diminishing number of sketches which have appeared in the show haven’t exactly been funnier (a recent episode featured a series of parodies of board game ads where the games were existing board games reworked to reference something happening in the news, i.e. the kind of waste material which littered the poorer episodes of The Chaser’s War on Everything) it’s pretty much the worst kind of victory over bad comedy that there is: a victory for giving up rather than spending a little time working out why the bad sketches didn’t work and then NEVER MAKING THOSE MISTAKES AGAIN.
Which begs another question, why don’t the senior people in charge of shows like Hungry Beast (or for that matter Angry Boys, a show which on Chris Lilley’s past form was never going to be anything more than the same self-indulgent crap) ever take poorly-performing comedic talent aside and point out some home truths? Andrew Denton the co-creator and one of the executive producers of Hungry Beast has spent large parts of his career getting the mix between serious issues and comedy right, so where was he when If Lady Gaga Wasn’t A Popstar – a sketch literally anyone could have come up with – was being filmed? Or Liberals on Fire, which drags one not particularly interesting satirical observation out for more than 40 seconds. Any decent executive producer would have taken one look at sketches like these and demanded an instant re-write.
And indeed whatever happened to Hungry Beast‘s original intention of reviving the This Day Tonight concept, of a current affairs show which mixed serious stories with irreverence? Well, it tried, but Hungry Beast just never managed to do it smoothly, meaning that the comedic aspects of the show became almost entirely separated from the serious, and the serious has become far more dominant than the comedic. Given the quality of the comedy it’s probably better they started to focus less on that area, but the failure to effectively combine the two still counts as a failure.
It’s perhaps worth remembering that The 7PM Project went on a similar journey, which has seen it become an increasingly serious programme. Perhaps the news/comedy combo is one which is never going to work easily, unless you’re making a straight-out satire like the Clarke & Dawe sketches or The Chaser’s War on Everything. Even then good writing is the key to this, and Hungry Beast‘s satirical sketches could have been a lot better if they’d been as clever, fast and gag-packed as Clarke & Dawe.
But perhaps the central flaw in the whole Hungry Beast premise was that irreverence thing. It’s all very well when the presenter makes an off-the-cuff gags in a news or current affairs programme, but it’s an entirely different thing for it to be planned and deliberate. What you get are forced attempts at humour from someone who’s not a comedian. In the real world it’s like a Best Man speech where all the gags have been downloaded from the internet and awkwardly adapted, rather than been inspired by the context and crafted by a skilled professional comedian.
As people born after This Day Tonight ended, we can’t say for sure to what extent Hungry Beast managed to be a This Day Tonight for the 21st Century, or whether This Day Tonight was a decent enough concept to revive in the first place. What we can say is that Hungry Beast failed to produce decent news-based comedy, and that it’s right that the serious aspects of the programme came to dominate it. As a showcase for emerging production talent it’s been a success, but when the list of the show’s comedic highlights includes this Avatar parody, well, that’ a fail.