It’s taken us a little while to get around to farewelling Agony Aunts because… well, to be honest, we thought we’d already done it. Turns out we just thought we had – in fact it was Agony Uncles we’d given a good kicking to on the way out. Easy mistake to make really, seeing as they were basically the same show. Yes, in 2012 the ABC is happy to spend 12 episodes on the kind of shithouse relationship “advice” even the Sunday tabloids generally shy away from. What’s next, a 27-part series on the breakfast habits of b-list sportspeople? Hang on, that just might – back in a sec, we’ve got to make a call to the ABC…
Aunts proved to be a slightly better take on the material than Uncles though, thanks almost entirely to the presence of Denise Scott and Judith Lucy. Not just because they’d actually made relationships part of their comedy work for the last twenty years or so, but because they were slightly older than the norm and so actually had some wisdom and insight to impart.
Yes, both Aunts and Uncles had the token old person, but they were there either to shock with sexy tales (Aunts) or shock with unreconstructed sexism (Uncles). Otherwise the casting seemed to be almost entirely based around the concept of “how many semi-famous good looking youngish people can we get to talk about their relationships in such a way that viewers might think they could cop off with them if ever they met up”.
These two series weren’t funny enough to be comedies, insightful enough to be useful as advice, interesting enough to be worth watching purely on their limited merits or even sleazy enough to be sleazy. Let’s say it again: we got twelve full weeks of edited-to-buggery sound bites from people not really famous enough to be talking about anything that wasn’t their day job. And what did we learn? Relationships require work, breaking up is painful, some people stalk their ex’s and others don’t, some people like men to make the first move and some people don’t, lesbians share clothes and old people have had lots of sex. Twelve weeks, six hours of television.
It’s understandable that the ABC needs cheap programming. Isn’t that what imported comedies are for? After all, the ABC now only has three dedicated half-hour comedy timeslots a week to fill – Wednesday’s from 8.30pm to 9.30pm, with options for 8pm and now Friday’s at 8pm – surely there’s some decent* UK or US comedy they could be showing while saving their local budgets for shows with expensive elements like scripts and sets?
Ideally the Agony series would have been a 90 minute special. No, strike that: ideally the Agony series would have been good. The cast was weak and the topics repetitive, sure – but it was a steadfast refusal to provide any kind of depth, any kind of exploration of relationships beyond the utterly superficial that made it a waste of time. Like we said earlier, Aunts managed to burrow a little deeper into the guts of the topic, but only a little. There’s only so much you can do when you’re not allowed to say more than two sentences in a row.
For example – and yes, everyone hates it when critics think they can do better, but in this case this really is pretty basic stuff – why not give a more rounded portrait of the people speaking so we could at least get to know where their advice was coming from? Denise Scott’s talked about having an affair in her stand-up: we didn’t see her go into that on Aunts (though to be fair, we may have missed it).
Wait, why be fair: why not build the show around the individuals so each episode had, say, three people going into their situations in some depth? Arrange it so they contrast with each other so it’s not the same thing over and over, give them enough time to dig at least a little into their past – or just explain themselves and their situation better – and you might have something actually informative and fun.
Instead we just got sound-bites that never added up to anything, glued together with ye olde stock footage and host Adam Zwar’s voice-over. The gimmick with that was that he needed help understanding relationships… wait, isn’t that his actual no-fooling wife on the show? Why is a married man asking about going on first dates, or what to do after you’ve been dumped? This is either one long cry for help or it’s so sloppy it can’t even be bothered pretending its hook matters in the slightest. And either way, who cares? No-one making it did, and now it’s over.
*Life’s Too Short? Decent? You are fucking joking. Which is more than anyone’s said about Ricky Gervais in the last two years.