There are a lot of reasons to like the work of Shaun Micallef, but the one that stands out to us today is that he’s his own man. When Shaun Micallef shows up, you get The Shaun Micallef Show: he has his own style of comedy, he knows what works for him, and that’s the kind of comedy he does. Which might sound a little obvious but as fans of, say, Tony Martin and Mick Molloy (to name two comedians of roughly similar vintage) know, it doesn’t take much for someone formerly known for being their own performer to have a setback or two and become just another interchangeable cog in the Australian comedy machine. A machine that isn’t really all that interested in comedy these days.
So in one sense there’s not a whole lot to say about Shaun Micallef’s new show Mad As Hell. It’s a Shaun Micallef show: you know the deal by now. In fact, if you saw his SBS news comedy series Newstopia – which many haven’t; even we have to admit that Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation (Micallef’s least impressive work) has brought him a lot of new fans – you might know the deal better than you expected.
It’s not quite a straight do-over – there’s a live audience and Micallef spends a bit more time chatting away – but otherwise it ticks all the Newstopia boxes: jokes about news footage, sketches involving fake political advisors, fake ads, wacky vox pops (both fake and real), Veronica Milson (from Hungry Beast and Live From Planet Earth) doing a spot-on Kat Stewart impersonation… pretty much all it’s missing is Inspektor Herring and the Bunning’s Warehouse gags. Though hopefully fake “comedy” Back Benched will be a regular feature because yes, taking swipes at lame political comedy is a sure-fire way to win us over.
What does make Mad As Hell slightly different from Newstopia is the way that the live audience / in-studio stuff makes the Newstopia ingredients feel more like a traditional ABC political comedy. And by “traditional”, we’re reaching back to the days of The Gillies Report and Australia, You’re Standing In It (and okay, the somewhat more recent and less impressive BackBerner). It’s a blessed relief to see that live (on tape) sketches can still work on Australian television if they’re done by people who know what they’re doing; if we’re lucky, this might even start a trend.
Not every joke here worked and there really should have been more Francis Greenslade, but unlike your average Australian television comedy this one actually had jokes – so many, in fact, that it could afford to have some fail. Some of the political sketches fizzled out (the one about the Liberal and Labor parties stealing each others ideas for things to stick politicians in front of comes to mind), and the online Al Qaeda underwear joke was a serious clunker, but the ghost of Kerry O’Brien was brilliant stuff and the entire ten-episodes are going to be worth it just for asking “is Peter Slipper a vampire?”
Mad As Hell is exactly the kind of thing the ABC should be doing first and foremost: hiring a seasoned comedy professional to do something they’ve already proven to be good at. It’s the ABC’s first artistic hit of the year comedy-wise, and while 8pm on a Friday doesn’t hold out a lot of hope for it to be a ratings hit as well, here’s hoping Micallef and company figure out a way to keep this on the air for as long as they want. Smart and silly in equal measure and hilarious across the board, Mad As Hell deserves to run and run.