In some circles it’s become increasingly fashionable to suggest that The Chaser’s best years are behind them. Yes, we have boring friends. Also: say what now? When exactly was this golden age of The Chaser meant to have taken place exactly? Those two years when The Chaser’s War on Everything threw increasingly desperate and pointless pranks on screen week after week as it staggered towards a finish line that must have seemed a thousand years away? The controversy-marred third season, which succeeded only in whipping the tabloid press into a frenzy over a sketch that felt half-baked at best? The first season of The Hamster Wheel, which in hindsight was a show unsure of itself and best described as “mildly uneven”? Or those election specials where they snuggled up to various politicians and gave the vile turds who seek to run every aspect of our lives the opportunity to pretend they’re in on the joke? Run for the shadows, run for the shadows, run for the shadows in these golden years.
So let’s just say we reckon The Chaser of 2012 is at least as good as it’s ever been. While The Unbelievable Truth was yet another comedy panel show, it was at least a comedy panel show that didn’t stink up the joint. Seven showing back-to-back episodes was too much of a moderately good thing and we’re not going to pretend it didn’t have its fair share of dud segments (hey look it’s Scott Dooley) but unlike just about every other Australian comedy panel show in recent memory, laughs were had.
It was great to see The Umbilical Brothers on non-children’s television, Kitty Flanagan is always good value, the Chaser members who appeared as guests held their own, Sam Simmons’ style of comedy actually worked for us for once, and overall – due perhaps to coming out of Sydney, and thus being unable to fall back on the increasingly worn-out Melbourne comedy regulars – the show felt a little fresher than we expected going in to what was, after all, yet another comedy panel show.
Part of the credit has to go to host Craig Reucassel, surprisingly enough*. It’s taken The Chaser team a very long time indeed to actually get comfortable in front of the camera – and by comfortable we mean “comfortable enough to relax and have fun rather than just say the words and move on” – but here he actually seemed like a host willing to chip in and try and few jokes of his own to move things along. Sure, the whole thing could have been tightly scripted, but it looked a lot more relaxed than the usual Chaser deal, and that’s what we picked up on.
Over at The Hamster Wheel, our long held dream of a series that was nothing but the “What Have We Learnt From Current Affairs” segments from The Chaser’s War on Everything has finally come true. Frankly, the fewer traditional sketches they do the happier we are – for whatever reason, their sketches and fake news bits rarely fire, though they had a few winners – and this year they largely integrated that side of things into longer segments tackling one or another area of Australia’s rubbish media. And it worked! Largely because Australia’s media really is rubbish and making fun of them is both completely justified and a well that never runs dry, but generally they had good points to make and they made them well. Oh yeah, and it was funny sometimes too.
[something else that worked was their increasing use of bit players – we’re guessing they were their research team, as we recognised Lee Zachariah from The Bazura Project on camera every episode and he was listed in the credits as a researcher. Having non-core Chaser people turning up in the short one-joke cutaways that they increasingly peppered their segments with opened up the show and provided some much needed front-of-camera variety. And one of them was a woman!]
The other biggish change was they picked up the pace. A lot. How do we put this tactfully? For a variety of reasons (they’re not professional actors, for one) The Chaser are a team that works best when they’re putting a lot of material out there, not when they try to draw comedy out of a few jokes. Appearing in a year when Shaun Micallef – who can (together with his team) get 90 seconds of solid comedy out of one idea – this was more important than ever, and The Chaser really stepped up and fired those jokes out there at a rapid rate.
In previous years we’ve had our usual whinge about The Chaser doing the same thing over and over and over without ever stretching themselves or surprising us. After this year, if they wanted to do a ten week series of The Hamster Wheel (2012 version) for the next decade or so we’d be happy with that. They finally seem to have figured out what it is that they do best, and they’ve decided to do the best job of it that they can. We’re still waiting on that sitcom from them, mind you…
*As The Chaser’s frontmen, Chris Taylor and Craig Reucassel haven’t always brought the energy with them. Where Andrew Hansen has displayed flashes of dry wit, Chaz has felt like a tightly wound comedy machine and Julian Morrow has been “the brains” of the organisation, Chris and Craig have seemed a little too much like the guys who are there simply because it’s a solid gig. Maybe that decade of hosting has finally rubbed off, but Reucassel on The Unbelievable Truth and the duo (together with Morrow) on The Hamster Wheel finally came across as guys actually having fun in their jobs. Considering The Chaser has never really traded on its members personalities – they’ve always just been “themselves” in front of the character rather than playing larger-than-life comedy characters, so they’ve had nothing to hide behind – this newfound ease is a big leap forward.
[Agree that The Chaser had a good year? Think we’ve lost the plot and the “Chaser Lads” should be put out to pasture? The nominations for the 2012 Australian Tumbleweeds Awards are now open – our online nominations form can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/tumblies2012noms]
The Chaser’s golden period was the CNNNN years. Retroactive undermining of the legacy of that show based on the subsequent patchiness of The Chaser’s work would be absurbly unfair (not that I’m suggested you would do that – although I don’t even know how highly you rated CNNNN – I just think people forget how great that show was). It was a tightly scripted, highly sophisicated satire of news/infotainment and the 24 hour news cycle. The performances were spot on, the jokes came thick and fast and there was a sense of tonal cohesiveness that most comedies find difficult to achieve. If Australian Tumbleweeds was around in 2002-2003, there would not have been a justifiably pretext for the praise-so-qualified-you-can-barely-detect-the-praise Chaser articles you guys have propensity of running on this blog.
I will NEVER understand why the Chaser are not regarded more highly. Their work is nearly always hit and miss, and thus critics have a (not unreasonable) predilection for using that exact phrase – “hit and miss” – or versions of it, in reviews of Chaser shows. But as weak as components of War on Everything, the Election Specials and so forth were, it mystifies me the extent to which their genuinely great sketches and segments seem to be immediately forgotten. Weird how there’s a consensus that they are hit and miss, but the hits seem to be ignored more quickly than the misses. They’ve been so prolific over the years, that while anyone wanting to claim they have produced a lot of crap is completely accurate, it is equally true to say that since the early 2000s they have produced a LOT of not just good, but fantastic, material. Put another way, the Chaser’s not infrequent misses miss the mark by a long way, but when they hit, they hit better than 90% of other Australian comedy shows. I’d like to see you guys do a comparison/analysis piece on the Best of the Chaser vs. the Worst of the Chaser because they seem to really go through some really extreme fluctuations in quality, often within the course of the same half hour show. I could list dozens of superb bits they’ve done that are the match of anything done in Australian comedy over the last decade.
Also, I’m sorry, but I can’t just let this go one go without comment:
“Or those election specials where they snuggled up to various politicians and gave the vile turds who seek to run every aspect of our lives the opportunity to pretend they’re in on the joke?”
What? This is possibly the worst line I’ve ever read on Australian Tumbleweeds. Generic anti-politics, and more specificially, anti-politician sentiment, check. Vague, demagogic, oversimplistic distate of authority – referring to policians as “vile turds who seek to run every aspect of our lives” couldn’t possibly be more cliched if it tried – check. Complete misrepresentation of both the satirical intention and the satirical achievements of the Chaser’s election specials, check. If you consider those election specials to be an exercise in snuggling up to politicians, I sincerely wonder what criteria would have to be satisfied in order for you to consider their political satire sufficiently scathing and unconflicted. Approaching politicians with a gag does not, as far as I’m concerned, compromise the purity of satire. If you can give me one example of an example where the involvement of a politician compromised the overall satirical point of a Chaser sketch, I’ll be very impressed.
“Over at The Hamster Wheel, our long held dream of a series that was nothing but the “What Have We Learnt From Current Affairs” segments from The Chaser’s War on Everything has finally come true.”
“What Have We Learnt From Current Affairs” was always a strength of War on Everything; indeed, it was probably the glue that held it all together. It’s remarkable how much The Hamster Wheel improved this year. We have very few details regarding Morrow and Reucassel’s upcoming consumer affairs project, scheduled for 2013, but I’m cautiously optimistic…a narrower focus suits the Chaser sensibility.
“Approaching politicians with a gag does not, as far as I’m concerned, compromise the purity of satire. If you can give me one example of an example where the involvement of a politician compromised the overall satirical point of a Chaser sketch, I’ll be very impressed.”
The Julie Bishop staring contest sketch.
We said more on this subject here: http://blog.australiantumbleweeds.com/?p=739
Your idea about comparing the very best and the very worst of The Chaser isn’t a bad one, though we’d probably just end up saying CNNNN and The Hamster Wheel for best, most of The Chaser’s War on Everything for worst. It is interesting that CNNNN and The Hamster Wheel are the two shows they’ve done with the highest rate of jokes-per-minute – with their high hit-and-miss rate, quantity not quality is clearly the way to go.
Ah ok, interesting response. I can see where you’re coming from, but as far as I’m concerned your whole argument rests on the false premise that somehow involving a politician in your material means that, ipso facto, your satire has been compromised. There is also the continuing problem I alluded to in my first post, wherein you have undermined your comedy analysis with a running thread of generic, over-simplistic, somewhat obligatory anti-political fist-shaking. From the link you posted, for instance:
“But when The Chaser are out there doing vox pops getting knee-jerk responses from a manipulated and lied-to general public, then getting Julie Bishop – one of the leaders of a party that’s repeatedly proven itself eager to whip up and manipulate racist feelings through blatant lies (two words: Children Overboard) for cheap political gain – on to outstare a garden gnome and look like a good sort simply for turning up… well, maybe they’ve forgotten who the real bad guys are.”
I’ll run through this point by point.
Firstly, your political biases and ideological perspectives are irrelevant to comedy analysis. Secondly, the sketch had no satirical agenda whatsoever and was in fact a fairly simple gag about Julie Bishop’s famed “death stare”. Thirdly, the point of political satire is to – hopefully with at least a small measure of intelligence and wit – mock and deconstruct the political landscape, ridiculing and analysing in equal measure. You seem to be under the misapprehension that political satire is about blithely treating the entire political process and industry with unequivocal contempt, as if satirists should start from the position that everyone associated with politics is evil, or as you put it, a “bad guy”. Stewart and Colbert, among others, would STRONGLY disagree with that notion. Fourthly, I struggle to understand how Julie Bishop’s appearance, in and of itself, amounted to a tacit endorsement of her policies, if indeed that is what you were suggesting (I wasn’t sure on this). The way they gave her a tonight show-like introduction was decidedly strange and probably not something they should have done, but the staring contest itself was basically a live sketch and I don’t see anything wrong with her participating in a non-satirical sketch.
As for the Best/Worst concept I was pitching, what I meant was more along the lines of comparing their best individual sketches/segments/set pieces/pranks/whatever to their worst, with embedded YouTube clips or similar, and some comments on the respective strengths and weaknesses of each bit. You guys cover pretty much everything there is to cover about comedy, but that kind of micro-analysis of individual clips would be fun to read as a brief departure from your usual style of review.
What you call a “misapprehension” is, in fact, merely a difference of opinion as to what the aims of political comedy should be. We believe that comedy should mock the powerful, not support them. Inviting them to be in on the fun – especially on a Chaser-style show which is (unlike Colbert or Stewart’s shows) entirely joke based with no space for even quasi-serious interviews – is, in our view, supporting them by humanising them.
As for “your political biases and ideological perspectives are irrelevant to comedy analysis”, you’ve come to the wrong blog. When the strong make a hilarious joke about the weak, it’s not comedy – it’s bullying.
I just reject the premise that political satire should start from the basic assumption that politics is evil and politicians are all demonic hellspawn in one way or another.
True, it’s a difference of opinion. However, it would be a bit redundant to prefix everything I said with “in my opinion”; just take it as a given that when I say you are under a misapprehension in this context, I really mean “in my opinion you are under a misapprehension about the purpose of political comedy”.
Humanising politicians does not preclude mockery of their policies or ideology from occuring, so – again, in my opinion only – that is not a form of support, unless you assume viewers cannot separate personality from policy. The Chaser used Tony Abbott in a pre-recorded sketch once on War on Everything, but that has not prevented them from skewering him on numerous occasions since then.
The Chaser boys are not political satirists. They are court jesters. Same goes with Stewart and Colbert. If they were their comedy would undermine the neoconservative world order which it never does.