The funniest thing about watching Randling at this stage isn’t just the grim suspicion that you might be the only person on Earth doing so; it’s the knowledge that all the people you’re seeing on-screen have no idea of the train wreck this series has turned out to be. In case you’ve spent the last three months – fuck, has it really only been three months, it feels like a decade since the ABC came out and said they were no longer in the “entertainment” business – frantically rubbing a magnet over your head trying to erase all memory of this square window onto a world choked by smug, let us remind you that so convinced were the ABC of Randling‘s success they recorded all 27 episodes before a single one had gone to air. Audience feedback? Not at your ABC.
The black comedy seeps out in all manner of ways. Hearing host Andrew Denton utter the line “The show that’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys and only half as cruel” is the kind of leaden doubleplusunjoke that Denton’s other ABC mainstay The Gruen FapFapFap delivers on a slightly-better-rating basis, but “two teams attempt to step over each other for the glory of being named the 2012 Randling premiers” is flat-out hilarious. Yeah, you’d better make sure we know they’re the 2012 premiers, Mr Denton. This is a series that’s going to run and run and run and runnnnn.
But wait – didn’t Randling rate 519,000 last week? Isn’t that’s a lot better than many of the other disasters the ABC’s programmed on a Wednesday night in 2012 – a once-proud comedy night they’ve so convincingly shat all over that the second series of Adam Zwar’s Lowdown is now going to air 9.30pm Thursdays? Well yes, and well done spotting the shift in Lowdown‘s timeslot (it’ll be paired with series two of Rake, which actually makes sense). But to put it into perspective, Randling‘s lead-in at 8.30pm Gruen Sweat – which ran for 45 minutes – rated 918,000. There is nothing to watch on Australian television that starts at 9.15pm on a Wednesday: 400,000 people would rather turn their televisions off than watch a second of Randling.
Here’s why: the first game is called “Either Or” – Denton gives each team three names, and they have to say whether each name belongs to a Shakespearean Character or a Car. The fuck? On what planet does this make for entertaining viewing? Or, to be slightly less snarky about it, what about this game is either going to provide the home audience with interesting information or provide the comedians on screen with solid comedy material? Because when the first name is “Fairlady” even solid laugh-getters like Anthony Morgan and Dave O’Neil flail around something savage. Don’t worry though: after six odd-minutes we go over to the other team and DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN. This is at best a rapid-fire 90 second bit; when it takes up a third of your show, you have got yourself one dull show.
We’ve gone on plenty of times about just how insanely boring the very concept -“WORD! BASED! GAME! SHOW!” – of Randling is, but the fact is that it’s the kind of idea that could have worked if – like QI, a show this so desperately wants to be – it was put together by a tight-knit team of highly talented comedy professionals. Instead, Denton’s asked the Gruen gag writers to stay back over lunch to come up with some half-baked questions and just assumed the professional panel guests he was roping in could pick up the slack. But there is no slack. They have nothing to work with. “I reckon Tiburon is a late model Dodge” says the usually very funny Morgan*. Great. Is someone naked on Puberty Blues? Let’s go look.
There’s twenty minutes more of this and it never gets any better. When a question as to which word is older; Google, online or hypertext – and we swear we’re not making this up, this really did go to air on a national broadcaster in prime time – is answered by Dave O’Neil with “I don’t even know what hypertext is, what is it”, you can really feel a part of yourself die inside. No-one cares about this show. It was not made with love, or a dedication to quality, or a desire to entertain. It was made, like Pollyfilla, to fill a gap. Only the people who make Pollyfilla are funnier. Pollyfilla itself is funnier.
It’s hard to isolate individual elements in this depressing dirge of a wake for the very concept of laughter, but let’s give it a shot: when Morgan makes an okay joke about a fake plastic fist so “only children” (as in “only child”) can do his team’s patented two person fist-bump, cutting to Denton shitting himself with hilarity pushes the audience out of the show.
Whether you like it or not, the idea of having a live audience is to create the feel of being there for the viewers at home, and when handled correctly it can work. Cutting away from the cast to show home viewers the actual live audience – as every show Denton’s ever done does as often as possible – doesn’t achieve the same thing: when you’re in the audience, how often do you stop to look at everyone else around you? It’s more like a clip around the ear – these guys are laughing, therefore that joke was FUNNY. And fuck you for not laughing.
Showing the actual host laughing is even worse than that, because it doesn’t involve the audience at all: we’re all having a great time here, it says, and we don’t need you. How often did you see Shaun Micallef doubled up with laughter in Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation? We’re going to go with zero – which is the same amount of audience shots we saw across that show’s entire run – because he knew his job was to do things that actually make people at home laugh, not amuse himself and assume that the audience was so desperate for his approval they’d laugh along.
That’s the real turn-off with Randling, above and beyond the leaden pace, dull games and fumbling attempts by the comedians to try and make the whole thing work: it’s a show too concerned with entertaining itself to bother trying to entertain the viewer. The constant cuts to shots of the audience or Denton or the contestants laughing away aren’t trying to make us laugh: they’re there to try and make us think that we’re watching something that’s funny. Randling isn’t a show, it’s a commercial for how charming and funny Andrew Denton and the cast are. An old adage about the difficulty of polishing a turd comes to mind.
*Seeing Morgan make his television comeback on this show is perhaps the most painful thing about it. He’s a great comedian who’s been much missed since he moved to Tasmania, and hearing he’d be on Randling was a guarantee we’d be tuning in, for his episodes at least. It’s a sign of just how limp the show as a whole is that someone as naturally funny and charming as he is can’t make more than the barest impact here.