Premiering tonight is Can of Worms, a new comedy panel show from Zapruder’s Other Films. In recent years Zapruder’s has earned a reputation for making intelligent, edgy television – The Gruen Transfer, one of their best known productions, is often talked of in reverential tones – so unsurprisingly, Gruen fans are positively panting with excitement about Can of Worms, which was described in a press release (issued by Channel 10 in November) as “an original and controversial concept”, in which a panel of famous faces will tackle some of life’s curliest questions, throwing political correctness to the winds and giving topical issues a good old shit-stir.
It already sounds ten times more intelligent and interesting than any locally-made comedy panel show out there, right? Well, sorry to pre-emptively rain on the parade but, we suspect not. Not when Dicko’s been doing the rounds, talking up the show by stressing that “unlike Q&A, you don’t have to be an expert or read the broadsheets” to enjoy it, and that politics will be off the menu entirely, leaving the show free to take on the real issues, like “Is it racist to assume that black men have big penises?” or “Is it wrong to come to a fancy dress party dressed as Hitler?” (The Hot Breakfast, Triple M Melbourne, 30th June 2011).
The subtext here is: “Don’t be put off proles, this isn’t the sort of hoity toity, intellectual affair you get on the ABC”, something which should annoy all the Q&A fans on Twitter who’ve been talking up Can of Worms as the next great, intelligent Australian comedy, although it probably won’t be (looks like you can shit on what will probably turn out to be one of your key demographics after all!).
Anyway, the pseudo-edginess that will no doubt characterise this show is somewhat confirmed by the panel, who in the first episode are comedian, broadcaster and panel show veteran George McEncroe, and supposedly controversial media figures Jason Akermanis and Craig Reucassel. OK, Akermanis genuinely is controversial, but hardly in a good way: isn’t advising gay footballers to stay in the closet so they don’t upset team harmony the equivalent of suggesting that African immigrants should stay off the streets so they don’t upset white racists? It’s hard to see how his insights into black men’s penises and dressing as Hitler are going to take the debate forward, or be funny, when he seems to think that the victims of prejudice are the ones who need to change their behaviour.
Oh well, at least the Murdoch press will love him. In a recent article on News.com.au Can of Worms was talked-up as “bringing healthy debate back to public discussion”, because “the whole English language has become a complete minefield because of political correctness”. “Dickson blames the slide on everything from the legal system to HR in the workplace and the currency of outrage in the media”, the article continues, stoking its reader’s prejudices about how political correctness and so-called human rights have destroyed everything ever with robotic precision.
Not that the Sydney Morning Herald didn’t have a bloody good crack at pandering to their audience’s ideology too: “Out in the world, the discourse is non-existent,” he [Dickson] says. “It’s all froth and spittle from the AM shock jocks and morning guys who try to fire up battlers on issues they think they should be offended about. But you can have a more calm, reasoned approach to stuff”, the article continues.
So something for everyone in Can of Worms, and an almost complete guarantee that at least one side of the media are going to whip up some pointless outrage about something said in the show, when the real issue is likely to be that serious, interesting and potentially amusing issues, like people’s attitudes to race, are being debated through the prism of crap jokes and patronising topics involving party costumes.
Oh, and if that doesn’t make you think that the hype surrounding this show is a little unjustified, Dicko’s sidekick will be loud-mouth “comedian” Meshel Laurie, Friend of the Tumblies Dan Ilic will be a Reporter on the show (according to rumour he’s making some sketches), and the writing team includes Michael Chamberlin, best known for The Mansion. Strap yourselves in folks, this looks set to be yet another comedy that doesn’t deliver.
The problem with all these “tell it like it is / cut through the crap” shows (and columns, and talkback segments) is that they’re just operating from a slightly different group of assumptions. For example, (mild, non-specific) racism is just “good for a laugh” while making fun of sick kiddies is a disgrace.
If they put forward views that are genuinely outside the usual debate – for example, that making fun of everything is fair game, so long as you know what you’re doing – then this could be worthwhile. But that’d just alienate both “sides” of the “debate”, and for all the praise he’s gathered for his supposedly-highbrow programming Denton always knows which side his bread’s buttered.
I also kinda doubt they’ll do something which would really open a can worms – take on the media coverage of their own show.