The Hamster Dance

The Chaser are back – as a proper team this time, not just various members hosting one-off arts specials and short-lived attempts to make public speaking thrilling – and it’s like they never went away. No, we don’t mean they’re such an important and vital part of our national consciousness that they never left our thoughts even when they weren’t on the air – we mean their latest show is basically the same thing as every other show they’ve ever done*.

In fact, if we had to compare it to one specific Chaser product, it’d probably be their first (and still to our eyes, best) series, CNNNN. Chris Taylor, Julian Morrow and Craig Reucassel might have loosened their ties and be sitting behind a desk shaped like a giant hamster, but the back-and-forth news joke banter between them (and the news scroll… uh, we mean, the fake tweets running across the bottom of the screen) harked back a good decade or more.

Like we said, no bad thing, even if a lot of the jokes were a): kinda old for a show that’s made hay of being recorded an hour before going to air (AFL Grand Final jokes?) and b): occasionally more like a random collection of “then this happened” references than actual jokes. Stephen Conroy is a shit singer, sure, but unless you have something more to add we’ve all seen the clip by now.

The bad things started with the various sketches that followed. The laughs for a show titled Go Back To Where Tony Abbot Came From were pretty much over once the title was mentioned (we tend to think of these gags as UnderKelly gags, after the only funny joke on Double Take – the entire joke is in the title) and a special episode of Q&A where everyone only asked about the carbon tax might have been funnier if the carbon tax hadn’t been a massive news item for the last year or so – of course people are going to be asking questions about it. A Q&A episode where everyone was demanding Peter Garrett re-form Midnight Oil… that might have been at least surprising.

Things picked up once Andrew Hansen and Chas Licciardello started doing their old “What Have We Learnt from Current Affairs” act, this time talking about how the political coverage of a supposed leadership challenge works when there’s absolutely no evidence for it whatsoever. This stuff is pretty much the high water mark of any Chaser project, and in good news there seems to be slightly more of it this time around: we also got a sketch about how surveys blatantly promoting some product or another become “news”, plus a look at the intrusive way that television news covers murder stories. Not exactly up there with the pouring water MasterChef parody on The Joy of Sets last week, but fun nonetheless.

They also trotted out that old favourite, the awards sketch – this time focusing on dodgy on-line journalism. This particular award is called “the Schembri”, which may be a puzzle for those unaware that Melbourne film critic and oft-time Tumbleweed Award nominee Jim Schembri last year wrote a review of Scream 4 for The Age website that gave away the ending. He then edited out the spoilers on-line after a wave of complaints, pretended it never happened, and eventually claimed that the whole thing was a set-up and by giving away the end of a mystery movie he’d somehow been “punking the twitter-verse”. Records leaked later seemed to reveal that a): his version of events may not have been 100% accurate, and b): someone at The Age really doesn’t like him very much.

Anyway, the Schembri’s are just an excuse for more snark directed at on-line news stories that talk about how bad Hooters is then link to 80 pictures of busty Hooters waitresses. Again, we heartily endorse this effort. At this stage it’s increasingly clear that the Chaser are never going to be grade-A comedy writers (“the running of the serial killers”? “The new internet craze of standing”? These are jokes high school students would toss away), but they do seem to be more than adequate when it comes to tracking down and making fun of the media’s many and various foibles.

Unfortunately, so are another half-dozen shows that keep on popping up on the ABC over the course of the year. Maybe the ABC should combine The Chaser with The Gruen Whatever, John Safran’s various ideas, Lawrence Leung, The Bazura Project, Judith Lucy, At Home With Julia, Hungry Beast and whoever else wants to do a comedy take on any aspect of public life and create an hour-long, 40 week a year series.

Then anyone who wants to go wander around a motor show laughing at cars or make a comedy sketch explaining how The National Electricity Grid works or humourously point out that a politician has said something stupid would have a place to do it without having to pad it out into a six-part series. That way this kind of comedy – let’s call it “satire” – would build up some kind of consistent identity and ratings presence while the ABC could actually point to it as something they did on a regular basis. As a selling point for the network, if you will.

But until then, The Chaser will no doubt keep on coming back to do what they do best, then combine it with a bunch of stuff they only do moderately well and hope everyone’s forgotten entirely about the various other projects they talked about doing between returning to do basically the same show yet again. We’re still waiting for that sitcom…


*what was missing: PRANKS. For this blessing alone, The Hamster Wheel goes up a full star in our non-existent rating system.

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