The only interesting thing about ABC chief Mark Scott’s admission last week – that part of the reason why Randling stunk was because they filmed it all in one batch to save money – was the “save money” part. Fun fact: nobody running a television network these days has any money and they all have hours and hours of airtime to fill that they can’t just clog up with cheap overseas imports because everyone’s already downloaded those. If you’re running a commercial network, the solution seems to be a whole bunch of reality shows: they’re cheap, they’re local so they can’t be pre-empted by downloads, and advertisers will pay for the whole thing for you so long as you slap their logo over everything on the show.
But if you’re the ABC that particular light entertainment door is closed to you (no ads on the ABC, thanks very much) so your cheap time-filler programming has to come from somewhere else. Hello Adam Zwar. Yes, we’re talking about The Agony Guide to Life, but why? In much – okay, exactly – the same way that the Gruen brand regularly changes its name to disguise the fact that nothing else about it is different, so to do we have an “all new” series of Agony Aunts / Uncles that to all intents and purposes is made up of deleted scenes from the last batch. Only with more talk about dead pets.
Yeah, okay, there are some tiny minor differences here. There’s a slightly greater chance you’ll already know the various faces because host / creator Zwar and the ABC have somehow found a way to drive this concept even more lowbrow: more famous faces! Who aren’t that famous because the show is still just Zwar turning up to people’s kitchens and asking them a bunch of generic interview questions lifted from a weekend newspaper supplement, but at least the threat of someone non-famous saying something interesting because they don’t have an image to protect has been defused.
Supposedly the subject matter has been broadened out here too, but seriously? We couldn’t tell. It’s the exact same globule of cod-wisdom spat out from the gaping maws of people famous entirely for being on television – so here they are on television again, which is the only reason why you should be listening to them. Some of them are actual comedians, but fortunately the good ones have their own shows so just watch them on those shows and forget this one exists.
Here’s just how utterly pointless the Agony series of shows are: the only people talking them up are the Fairfax press (oh, and would-be Fairfax blogger Molks), which is odd because the Fairfax press is entirely in the business of promoting itself as a guide to what’s “cool” and “really going on” in today’s middlebrow Australia. They don’t talk about things people actually like – unless it’s to sneer at it why hi there My Kitchen Rules recaps – because their job is to tell you what you should be liking. Which sort of works when something is brand new, but Agony ran for sixteen weeks last year so it’s neither exciting or new so if they’re talking it up now (and they are), what’s their motive? At a guess, it’s because Zwar has brought to the ABC the kind of lightweight puffery Fairfax largely deals in these days, and the greater the acceptance of the “Five Questions For Sydney’s Top Tweeters” school of story, the greater the chance people might confuse The Age with something worth spending $2 on. Put another way: PAPER BUILT ON B-LIST CELEBRITY WORSHIP HAILS TV SERIES THAT WORSHIPS B-LIST CELEBRITIES.
Even cheaper is Shock Horror Auntie, a clip show hosted by Craig Reucassel in which a bunch of supposedly “shocking” clips from the ABC’s vaults are dusted off to remind us all how much more grown up and mature we are these days. Great – so it’ll be Elle McFeast’s interview with Chopper Read, The Chaser’s “Make a Realistic Wish Foundation” sketch and that joke on The Micallef P(r)ogram(me) about Weary Dunlop where the punchline was the ABC switchboard basically exploding thus making it clear that the whole joke was that the sketch was MEANT to be “shocking”, right?
Of course not, though the Make a Wish sketch at least rates a mention. But there are a lot of clips from the Doug Anthony All Stars (if you drink every time Craig says “but this sketch from the Doug Anthony All Stars…”, you’ll be dead by the fifteen minute mark) and oh look, they’ve got a DVD coming out in a month or so, what a happy coincidence. No ads on the ABC, remember?
Elle McFeast talking about challenging politicians on “their character, their content and their credibility” might be a bit much to take, but on the whole there’s nothing wrong with a clip show like this when it’s digging out rarely seen stuff from The Dingo Principle and The Big Gig, because… well, it’s rarely seen comedy stuff. Two thumbs up from us. The commentary isn’t completely useless either: Denton talking about how today outrage has become a “spectator sport” is actually insightful, and Reucassel’s overview of the confusion between comedians making fun of bad behaviour and the actual behaviour itself makes sense.
As for the stuff that’s already available on DVD – John Safran’s various work for one – well, that’s already out there. Review with Myles Barlow isn’t exactly a long-forgotten gem, and the Chaser stuff is hardly missing in action (“The Eulogy Song”). Still, for the most part they’re at least illustrating a point: sketches about hurting animals always generate outrage, DAAS threatened their audience a lot, blasphemy still riles up the viewers, and so on. Which puts this a notch above the usual clip show hijinks – or the average episode of Gruen – and makes it slightly more than the sum of its parts.
You know what we’d like? If the ABC would put the entire episodes of the offending shows up on the internet so we could see the whole thing. Of course, that would defeat the entire purpose of having a clip show – you can’t get people to watch snippets of shows when they can easily check out the whole entire thing, which is why the sitcom clip show episode largely died out once they started selling DVDs of entire seasons – but it’s not like the ABC is running clip shows seven nights a week. Not yet at least…