Two Times The Love!

While we’d like to thank everyone who sent in cards and letters over the last few hours congratulating us on taking over the role of Head of Comedy at the ABC, bad news: we didn’t get the gig. It’s an easy mistake to make though, considering this was one of the main planks of today’s announcement of the ABC’s line-up for 2013:

we welcome the return of Australia’s favourite music quiz show SPICKS AND SPECKS – but it will be no cover version

Remember when we said this back in March?

1): Bring back Spicks & Specks. Okay, the horse has pretty much bolted here. So why the hell didn’t they keep the show going and just change the host? It was extremely obvious from the second In Gordon Street wasn’t a massive car crash that Hills was going to bail on S&S. Fair enough too, he’d clearly had enough. But let’s be honest: unless you are a relative or close personal friend of Hills, he’s not exactly irreplaceable. He’s a moderately handsome host who can come out with ABC-level quips. Two words: Will Fucking Anderson. Or pretty much anyone else, including your local postie. Yes, he was good at his job. His job was hosting a musical quiz show. IT’S NOT THAT HARD. Just look at the UK, where they have loads of this kind of long-running show and think nothing of swapping out hosts when need be.

We’re not saying an idiot could do a better job of running comedy at the ABC at the moment. We’re saying that we’re idiots and even we could see the ABC had fucked up big time by kicking Spicks and Specks to the curb when they did. So we guess we might possibly be saying that idiots could maybe do a better job than the current crew. Ouch.

Then there’s this, which is a direct quote from the fancy big book proper TV journalists were sent today outlining the future of the national broadcaster:

“…drum roll… Chris Lilley is back… but if we told you any more, we’d have to kill you”

You don’t have to be a moron to recognise that line as the stock-standard “we don’t know either” cover-up. You also don’t have to be a moron to know that Chris Lilley has not made a show and brought it to air in under a year since 2005. So we’re going to call it: whatever Chris Lilley is working on will not be seen on Australian televisions in 2013. But thanks for keeping us posted.

Otherwise the comedy line-up is pretty much what you’d expect: all the high profile stuff looks crap, all the decent stuff has a blanket thrown over it. In the former pile we have The Agony Guide to Life – yes, Agony Uncles / Aunts is getting another go, which shows you just how disastrous this year was for the ABC – Joe Hildebrand is back with… something, they don’t even have a name for it because presumably RACE-BAITING was taken… the pointless “comedy” gameshow Tractor Monkeys looks set to follow firmly in the footsteps of every single other ABC comedy gameshow not called Spicks and Specks, It’s a Date is Peter Helliar’s chance to do for romantic comedy on television what he did for it on the big screen with I Love You Too (did we ever mention how that films co-star Peter “Game of Thrones” Dinklage had Helliar take out all the dwarf-tossing jokes before he agreed to do it?) and everything else is reality programming we’ll probably end up covering because there’s fuck-all else on for months at a time.

Oh, in Chaser news, there’s this:

The Chaser’s Julian Morrow and Craig Reucassel will give consumer affairs an extreme makeover in THE CHECK OUT

But we also think there’s a pretty good chance The Hamster Wheel or something like it will return in the second half of the year – after all, they didn’t announce its return at the 2012 launch either.

On the positive side, Gristmill’s Upper Middle Bogan looks promising and we’re pretty happy there’s going to be a second season of Twentysomething.  We’re also happy but also somewhat puzzled that there is no mention anywhere here of Josh Thomas’ long-promised sitcom Please Like Me, first announced at the ABC’s 2012 launch. Guess they’re keeping it under wraps for a surprise attack later in the year.

Shows that are coming back include Adam Hills’ talk show, at least two separate flavours of Gruen (Nation and Planet), Audrey’s Kitchen – which is a pleasant surprise, as it was one of the stronger efforts from Working Dog in recent years – and Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell. Which is as good a segue as any into the other big announcement in Australian television today…


A lot of people have asked us over the last year or two why we bother reporting on anything that appears in The Age‘s television supplement, The Green Guide. We do so because while in theory they’re part of a large and credible news outlet worthy of our attention and respect, in actuality they have no idea what the hell they’re doing. For example, this week they released their annual “Best and Worst of the Year in Television” issue and hooly dooly is it a five star shocker.

They didn’t have separate categories for drama and comedy* – their best show of the year is Homeland, which seems to suggest they have extremely short attention spans and / or realised they couldn’t not give the number one slot to a show airing on commercial television even though Australian commercial television in 2012 basically took out ads saying “we just don’t give a fuck about quality” – so oh ho ho ho what classic show do you think they reckon was the best Australian comedy in 2012? Coming in at number eight:

Agony Aunts / Uncles (ABC1). Superbly cast, terrifically edited local series that provided frank, funny answers from a diverse group of men and woman. Has made stars – and landed a heap of work – for it’s breakout participants.

Putting aside the fact that the Green Guide staff thought that in 2012 there were only seven shows better than Agony Uncles / Aunts on Australian television – which is not exactly a decision designed to engender trust in their mental facilities- every single point they make is provably wrong just by watching five minutes of the actual show. Here, we’ve made a list:

* “Superbly cast”… with a whole bunch of creator / host Adam’s Zwar’s comedy mates up to and including his own wife. If you weren’t passably attractive and under 40 you’d better be a big name or talk a lot of crazy sex stuff or you were nowhere to be seen.

*”Terrifically edited”… actually, the rapid-fire editing and constant cutting between talking heads did a really good job of making the whole show feel like a shallow bowl of plain mush. It was a collection of soundbites, not a narrative.

*”Diverse group of men and woman”… see “superbly cast”, only while you could argue about the quality of the cast (such things being subjective), calling the B-list comedians and Sunday paper talking heads here “diverse” is a bigger joke than any of the ones the guests cracked.

*”Has made stars – and landed a heap of work”… for Lawrence Mooney.

(not that their love of the show was really all that surprising – it was basically the same soft opinion / relationship material The Age runs all weekend every weekend)

After that, we pretty much gave up on the rest of the list (even if The Hamster Wheel came in at number nine because “Nobody comes close to doing what the Chaser lads do on Australian TV”… apart from Media Watch, the Gruen shows and Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, of course), but we did keep on skimming just to see whether our current front runner for fave comedy of the year Mad as Hell placed, just so we knew where we stood with this list. Surprise! Turns out our position regarding this list wasn’t so much standing as sitting on the toilet looking for something to wipe our backsides with:

20. Why we’re torn about Shaun Micallef Is Mad As Hell (ABC1)

For: Federal politics has been certifiably bonkers this year – bleak, joyless farce. But for 10 weeks, at the apex of the carbon tax battle, Shaun Micallef’s wilfully perverse news satire provided a weekly dose of pleasurably silly mockery. There were always incidental pleasures in the characters’ names (especially Veronica Milsom as reporter Xanthe Kalamazoo), but highlights played on headlines: Francis Greenslade’s softly menacing union official; Tony Abbott’s ”national hairnet tour”; the dance choreographed to Craig Emerson’s ”Whyalla Wipeout”. I loved best the jokes at the expense of Fairfax and the future of print – especially the skit where the fish-and-chip shop wraps the flake in an iPad.

Against: The people spoke and the ABC listened, which is how Shaun Micallef was given a chance to flex his muscles as a writer, performer and avowed news junkie in this eponymous current-affairs satire. But anyone who saw his earlier go-around on SBS, the inventive, cheap and cheerful Newstopia, quickly realised that a polished production and overplayed gesturing didn’t value-add. There were some bright spots – enough, evidently, for a return season next year.

That was 20 in their Worst Shows of 2012 list. Seriously. And the worst thing they seem to be able to say about it is that it’s kind of like Newstopia, which they seem to have enjoyed. No-one tell them The Footy Show is the same old shit year in year out, their heads might explode.

Now, we know full well these lists are largely about shit-stirring – or “trolling”, as the people on Today Tonight like to call it. We know the point is to say controversial things to get people paying attention to you. And we have no problem with that when it’s done online, or when it’s a columnist speaking their mind. But when a supposedly reputable source of television coverage – a place people are meant to be able to go to for reviews of television shows that will give them a serious idea of what the writer thinks is worthwhile viewing – tries to pull off the kind of wacked-out shit that this list does (AGONY UNCLES / AUNTS WAS THE BEST AUSTRALIAN COMEDY SHOW OF 2012 EVERYONE!!), all we hear is the sounds of them flushing the shredded remains of their credibility down the toilet.

If the Green Guide wants to start basing its approach around saying controversial / bizarre / hilarious shit to get attention, it’s going to have to become a lot more entertaining. Because as it stands, it’s not smart or funny enough to stand as a decent read on its merits and it sure as shit can’t be taken seriously as a source of quality reviewing. Who would have guessed the days when Marieke “I made a completely superfluous second series of Laid and it didn’t make the worst shows of the year even though it rated worse than Randling” Hardy would give glowing reviews of shows on the ABC while actually working for the ABC would seem like a golden age?




*they did have a sidebar complaining about the overall lack of Australian comedy on television this year, seemingly unaware that it was actually one of the better years for Australian television comedy – in quantity if not quality. Guess what they meant to say was “Any year without a series by Chris Lilley doesn’t count”.

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  • Baudolino says:

    The Green Guide adheres to the old model of television reviewing which has been almost totally usurped in America by the style of online episodic recaps pioneered (or at least popularised) by Alan Sepinwall and now almost ubiquitous across all the best tv criticism websites like The AV Club, Hitflix, Huffington Post, etc, etc. Television criticism has evolved to the point where it has appropriated elements of the blog world (indeed, many of the websites that employ the American model ARE blogs). Where professional online reviewing is concerned, there’s much more informal language and a more highly developed interrelationship between reader and writer than there used to be, in America at least. I suspect you may harbour a dislike for The Age based on their seeming ignorance of this paradigm shift.

    They also focus primarily on 200-500 word reviews and analysis in their “previews” section, which leaves less room for the expansive thesis pieces you guys indulge in.

    GG’s contributers often spout plattitudes as if they are offering profound insights, and they do have a propensity, I will happily admit, of speaking in bland generalities. But while the sophisication of the criticism may be sorely lacking – though GG’s bread and butter, less-than-conceptually-ambitious, critically shallow previews usually contain the odd observation that piques my interest – the quality of the prose itself is actually quite good. The GG writers are talented people stuck in a format which does not demand much from them (that being said, I don’t necessarily see the approach GG uses as inferior, just less in-depth, less inclined to examine minutae and more inclined to take a macro perspective).

    On your piece, I think you’re desperately overreaching when you attempt to portray the Best and Worst issue as a contrived attempt at controversiality. Perusing their lists, I honestly think you’ve cherry-picked the only really egregious paragraphs in a GG feature which ran 9 pages overall. For the most part I would actually contend that their choices were pretty predictable. Best of: mainly comprised of all the American network and cable series which have become cultural touchstones (Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, etc), plus the compulsary inclusion of literally every Australian drama which met with a modicum of popular approval (Kerry Packer’s War, Offspring, Puberty Blues and so on). Worst of: a lot of reality television and trashy pseudo-current affairs shows, both genres that offer very easy, highly predictable targets. Randling was the highest rankest show (coming in at 6th worst) not to fall in to either of those categories -surely a sentiment you can agree with.

    While I concur that some of their stuff was a bit embarassing, like the Agony Aunts bit you alluded to, to assert that the issue was some kind of horrible clusterfuck is manifestly over the top given that 95% of their selections were pretty much par for the course.

    I’m confident the Mad as Hell placement was more a matter of poor page design/sub-editing than anything else. Their sub-title – “Why we’re torn about Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell” was the only show which was listed with a mini-blog heading rather than just the show title – said to me that they simply structured the layout terribly and did not leave enough space for a for/against section for shows which polarised opinions in their offices. It made no sense in the context of a 20 Worst Shows of 2012 list.

  • Monster says:

    Josh Thomas’ show “Please Like Me” is featured in the ABC’s 2013 launch video, at about eight minutes in:

    However, there’s neither clips nor mention of Chris Lilley’s supposed new show… which would further suggest that (if they’ve even filmed anything) they don’t want to commit to it. I seriously doubt it will air next year.

  • Andrew says:

    I do agree mostly with your comments re: the Green Guide “list”, most of their list was woeful… and have you noticed lately that we seem to be getting a lot of these “list” special issues of the GG lately… almost like the GG has given up on the written word and resigned itself to becoming some sort of print-based “20 To 1”.

    But re: Spicks And Specks. I am of the “the horse has bolted, let it go, move on” brigade. Bringing it back a year later with new faces up front will only bring the inevitable comparison with the original and you can bet it won’t be favourable no matter how good it may turn out to be. Although I suppose it can’t do any worse than Randling.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Oh yeah, bringing back S&S now after a clear break instead of just adding new cast members and keeping it going pretty much ensured it’s going to fail. But it’s not like the ABC has any better ideas.

  • Billy C says:

    What does Please Like Me moving to ABC2 mean? I thought they had channel controllers now. That things were commissioned for specific stations. Did ABC1 refuse to air it?
    Is it bad? Not appropriate? Are they too scared of the gays post Outland?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    As far as we know, you’re correct: shows are commissioned for specific ABC channels. Supposedly the reason it took so long for Outland to get to air was because it was an ABC1 show and they had to find a slot on ABC1 for it. The real difference between ABC1 and ABC2 programming seems to be that ABC1 shows will often be repeated on ABC2 in prime time, whereas ABC2 comedies only rarely are repeated on ABC1 and even then usually only late at night.

    Please Like Me has taken so long to get to air it wouldn’t surprise us if the person at ABC1 who commissioned it was no longer there and the person who now is there wants nothing to do with it. But that’s just a guess.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    While you’re almost certainly right about us cherry-picking the worst examples from this list – you’re definitely right that pretty much everyone at the GG is competent when it comes to nuts-and-bolts prose – that is hardly good news. For this kind of list there are really only two options: either you buckle down and come up with a serious, well thought out, down-the-line judgment on the television of the year (the kind of thing that wouldn’t place Agony Aunts / Uncles anywhere in the top thirty), or you go crazy and throw everything in and have a lot of fun arguing crap is good and great shows are massively over-rated.

    By being largely bland and forgettable with the only surprises being crap bumped up for God-knows-why (oh look, Adam Zwar is one of Melbourne’s 100 most influential people according to The Age’s (Melbourne) Magazine out today, what a coincidence), this list is pretty much the worst of all possible worlds. It sticks to the obvious, it fails to highlight the overlooked, it almost fully commits to the predictable and it completely shuns the entertaining.

    Put another way, if it had been worse, it would have been better.

  • The Doogster says:

    Deep down we all know Please Like Me is going to suck bigtime. It’s going to make Outland look like Emmy-winning material. Admit it. It’s a horrorshow just waiting to happen.

    If Please Like Me is anything like Josh Thomas’s standup routines, then it’s going to be devoid of plot and jokes (which is par for the course for ABC comedy), and is going to rely on a handful of low-key, wry observations from the perspective of a guy who goes out of his way to look like his grandmother dresses him. There will probably be several obligatory gay fisting jokes too.

  • Billy C says:

    Well who knows what Please Like Me Will Be Like. Usually when the ABC holds over a series for months and it has happened before it’s because they are waiting for a good time to air it or an appropriate show to air it with. I think this is the first time they’ve announced a show for one station and then shifted it to the secondary channel. I thought ABC2 was supposed to be a separate entity with it’s own identity for original content and repeats of ABC1.
    Not a dumping ground for stuff ABC1 doesn’t want to air. I’d love to see their answer if a journalist asked the question. There’s nothing wrong with getting an ABC2 series, it means your doing something that’s not aimed at the general ABC1 audience but to get bumped is unprecedented and surely pretty embarrassing for Thomas.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Yes, there’s nothing at all wrong with making a comedy that’s even less for everybody than the usual ABC fare, but being bumped down – and ABC2 has to be seen as a demotion – must be a little embarrassing, even if you can already script the “we’re happy with the move, it’s just a much better fit for what we were trying to do” lines when Thomas is eventually asked about it.

    The ABC really needs someone who can say “this show is ABC1, this one is ABC2” – Outland should have been ABC2 material, and Twentysomething (well, a show like Twentysomething – a fairly trad sitcom with a mainstream-ish cast) should have been more ABC1 material. Though to be fair, for the most part they seem to get that right…

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We couldn’t possibly comment. But given his level of television experience, giving him a sitcom did seem one of the stranger decisions the ABC’s made in recent years.

  • simbo says:

    Wouldn’t mind your thoughts on who you think should host the new Spicks and Specks (and, indeed, be the regular panelists)?

    I don’t necessarily agree that it’ll be a turkey – the British model, “Never Mind the Buzzcocks”, has changed hosts and panelists regularly since the beginning and still is going strong – and the fact ABC2 has been showing old episodes regularly at 7pm suggests there’s a strong residual affection for the show (it’s our standard fallback for “something to put on TV while cooking dinner that isn’t going to annoy me”).

    It will require careful producing, and, yes, ratings are probably going to slip a little bit (among other things, it’s doubtful Channel 9 will allow them the regular ratings boosts they used to get from sticking Hamish Blake in every other week…) but if nurtured properly it can be an ABC staple and return to anchoring the Wednesday nights again.

  • Billy c says:

    Spices and Specks like almost every show except the Chaser will have talent sourced from Token Management or their sister agency creative representation. The ABC only really have one phone number. There are comics who are DJs or who have done shows about music who would be perfect but the ABC would have no idea who anyone is.

  • Baudolino says:

    Going to be quite the accomplishment if Thomas can manage to write a show that is both completely devoid of jokes and littered with jokes about gay fisting.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    While we haven’t really thought much on who should host, our concern – because much as we weren’t really fans of the original S&S, we did think its strong ratings performance helped out a bunch of shows we were fans of – is that the break has damaged, for wont of a better word, “the brand”.

    If they’d kept it going with new cast members they could have kept the feel of the show intact and kept the audience tuning in: now they have to win them back with a show that almost everyone is going to think is “not as good as the original”, even if they somehow find people as good at their jobs as the original cast. But does anyone think the ABC is going to try unknowns in what is now the much-riding-upon revival of a big time ratings hope? Even though the original cast were unknowns, and much of their success came from the fact that they a): clearly loved music and b): weren’t the same old ABC faces.

    Sad to say, there’s a very good chance that the magic is gone even if they manage to put together a competent replacement. Fingers crossed the demand out there for it to return is enough to give it time to settle in.