We all want to think of each television show that makes it to our screens as an individual work of art, generated by the creative people responsible as a response to the unknowable urges of their hearts. But let’s be honest: in much the same way as your local News Ltd newspaper is going to have at least one grumpy columnist who hates the Labor government, “political correctness” and any form of welfare not directed at people earning $60,000 or more, so too do television stations have various programming niches they want filled by anyone who happens to be handy.
This extends far beyond just news, sports and weather. Channel Ten, for example, has a regular “quality Australian drama” slot, hence in 2013 we get Offspring, Mr & Mrs Murder and Puberty Blues. Seven has had a “middlebrow Aussie drama” slot for well over a decade: remember Always Greener before Packed to the Rafters? And the ABC? Well, it seems they just can’t get enough of their semi-informative quasi-comedy current / consumer affairs shows.
All of which is a long-winded way of letting you know that The Checkout is basically Hungry Beast, but with consumer goods. Wait, or is it The Hamster Wheel, only with consumer goods? Maybe it’s The Gruen Transfer, only without smug advertising arseholes being condescending. Ah, you know what we mean.
It’s all here: flashy graphics, loads of general information you kind of already knew (what, computer printer companies make all their money from selling the ink cartridges and car companies rake it in big time by demanding you only use their garages to have your car serviced, AKA the “razor-and-blade” business model? SAY WHAAAAoh we knew that), specific takedowns of individual products, hosts trying to be earnest while winking at the camera to let you know that you shouldn’t get too worked up about all this outrageous capitalist activity, fake infomercials making fun of infomercials while being perfectly happy to use the infomercial format to get their message across, and clips from big names (providing yet more consumer advice. So yeah, Hungry Beast has risen from its grave and tattooed BRAND POWER across its knuckles.
But is it comedy? Well… kind of? In much the same way as Hungry Beast tried to reinvent news and current affair for a new generation only to realise that particular generation was busy getting all their news and current affairs from the internet, so does The Checkout try to reinvent consumer affairs – something that ACA and Today Tonight actually do moderately well – for the 21st Century. And by “reinvent” we mean “more ‘eye-catching’ flashy graphics, lots of short info-grabs, and jokes”. Consumer affairs is the kind of thing you’d image an ABC audience would be interested in, and appealing to “da yoof” is certainly something the ABC is interested in, so it’s win-win. Right?
Here we get “sketches” where people read out a letter about cat food being all the same (but with flashy graphics!); Julian Morrow asking people to create angry videoes about corporate bungling for “F-U-Tube”; fake ads about baby wipes pointing out that baby wipes are bad for babies; the repeated mentioning of the fact that advertising makes crazy, unlikely claims that we all swallow unthinkingly; the just as repeated mentioning of the fact that companies will re-brand identical products over and over to capture as wide (and as gullible) an audience as possible. Worthy? You bet. Informative? Sure. Funny? Well… kind of?
Jokes about talking to camera and pranks about trying to get a company to adopt a slightly more dodgy product than the ones they’re already selling are Chaser 101. And if you were to think that this fairly straight consumer affairs show feels like a show with around 30% Chaser, 70% Hungry Beast in its blood, we wouldn’t argue with you. Is that value for your entertainment dollar? If you really care about consumer affairs, it’s worth a look. If you’re just looking for a laugh, the numerous references to the wording of various legal statutes and regulations aren’t exactly the dictionary definition of “kak-tastic”. But you do get to hear Julian Morrow get all shouty; you didn’t get that on The Unbelievable Truth.