You’ve Got To Cover Your Arse Before You Sit On The Fence

Confession: I was quite enthusiastic about Randling when it started last year. I thought it looked like a show with potential that just needed a couple of tweaks; to bed down a little. Of course, having been recorded in one monster block earlier in the year, tweaking and bedding down were never an option

No, this isn’t Melinda Houston’s resignation note. It should be, because the fact that Randling was recorded in one monster block was a matter of public record. But of course it isn’t, because when it comes to writing about Australian television actually doing your job comes a distant second to making sure you “support the local industry”. Which is why we don’t trust this “review” for a second:

Now we have the national broadcaster’s latest foray into the panel game show and, once again, I’m quite enthusiastic but, once again, all eight episodes have already been recorded. What that means for how the show evolves, if at all, remains to be seen.

Seriously? You’ve just told us that the last panel / game show you liked turned out to be shithouse because it didn’t have the time to “bed down a little” then you jump straight into telling us you like this new game / panel show even though you have the exact same reservations and it was recorded in the exact same fashion? You know what this means for how the show evolves because you just told us that shows recorded in “one monster block” don’t evolve, correct? So you’re saying… umm…

Okay, let’s get this straight: this is exactly the same situation as Randling – a show you initially supported but now admit turned out to be crap – only this time you’re… doing the exact same thing? You’re telling us this is a good show but it needs to evolve only you’re saying it won’t evolve so… it’s not a good show? But you’re not saying that so… what are you saying here? Ouch.

[we pick things up after a Bex and a good lie-down]

The review that follows seems to say plenty of positive things about the show, only when you read closer it’s all “this seems like a more straightforward concept…” and “What I’m really waiting to see is…” and “I’d love to see more of that on display as the series progresses…”, all of which push the verdict of whether this is a good show off into the future. Tractor Monkeys only runs for eight weeks: it’d be nice to get some kind of firm ruling before winter.

The overwhelming impression here is of a glowing review – as you’d expect from the Australian media – but dig a little deeper and it’s all arse-covering pure and simple. Houston talked up Randling even though it was shit because that’s what she does with Australian shows. Unfortunately for her, Randling was so obviously shit – and more importantly, was on the air long enough for people to notice it was shit (most shit Australian shows vanish before the audience has time to notice) – that her support of it became, let’s say “problematic”. At least as far as her critical opinion being taken seriously goes.

Hence this new approach, in which she desperately tries to juggle “being supportive” with “not sticking her neck out in the slightest”. If it turns out to be great? Hey, she said it has a “free-wheeling vibe” and “really fires”! And if it’s shit? Don’t blame her, she was “waiting to see how Watts develops as a host”. But is the show any good? Who knows? In a review of a half hour of television that already exists and she has seen in full, Houston’s only willing to commit to “remains to be seen”. Gee, thanks for that.

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  • Tony Tea says:

    In other words: Houston is waiting to hear what opinion the “cool kids” tell her to have.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Watts isn’t exactly ‘new’ and with his experience be at ease in changing tack. I mean he followed a script in ‘Hollowmen’ didn’t he?

    Going by the brief and having a look at the demo below it seems like ‘Agony\Nice: The Gameshow’. But this is where the reviewer really didn’t do her research is that the major gimmick of the show is that ‘the audience can play along at home’ with an app which could be interesting if you’re particular type of person (I am not).

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    I think the “play along at home” angle doesn’t work with preview copies, which is what Huston would have been working from. Not exactly sure how it’s going to work with regular screenings either…

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Another example of what we’re talking about here:

    Is it really that hard to say “it’s kind of boring and predictable”? It seems so, as once again a reviewer best known for loving the pants off anything Australian no matter what the quality is brought up short by the fact that the extremely similar Randling was a confirmed stinker.

    (For example “Tractor Monkeys treads a very fine line between being funny/entertaining and Merrick Watts hosting his own TV show “. No, you walk a fine line between something good and something bad, not something good and a general fact about the show. Molks might as well have said “Tractor Monkeys treads a very fine line between being funny/entertaining and being filmed on colour in a studio”)

    These kind of shows have worked exactly twice in the last decade: Spicks & Specks and Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation. All the others have been forgettable duds apart from Randling, which was an unforgettable dud. And yet these critics can’t bring themselves to just say Tractor Monkeys looks missable because that wouldn’t be “supporting the local industry”. What about supporting their readership with some actual reviews?

  • Urinal Cake says:

    It seems she should’ve mentioned it since most of the advertising material is based on this gimmick.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I think, ‘ Merrick Watts hosting his own TV show’ is cypher for ‘bad’ going by the other comments about Watts in the review but he couldn’t actually say ‘Watts is pretty bad as a host’. That would be unAustralian.

    This debate reminds me of when I think Bolt chastised those ABC\SBS movie reviewers for always giving shit Australian movies good reviews. Then the reviewers admitted later on that Bolt was sort of right and that they were letting down the Australian public. Or I may have imagined it.

    Have you tried writing and submitting something 13?

  • simbo says:

    The thing is, evolution can happen whehter it’s shooting while airing, or whether it’s shooting beforehand – as long as they’re taking the in-studio audience feedback and actually paying attention to what’s going on in front of them and being a decent audience for their own material.

    So in that sense, yes, a show CAN bed down and develop even when being shot in a pre-airing block.

    That didn’t happen much with Randling, partially because the biggest problems with the show (the host, the actual nature of the game, taking the scores seriously and only progressing people if they did) were locked into the show – if they were going to keep what worked, you’d basically have “David Marr and Jonathan Biggins bitch at each other and younger people for 30 minutes”.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    It seems the problem with filming in a block beforehand is that the shows are filmed in such a rush that there really isn’t much time for those involved to take stock of what works and what doesn’t. Reportedly one of the reasons why Hills and everyone else quit Spicks & Specks is because the filming process was so brutal – they just ground through as many episodes as possible as quickly as possible. And it’s not like S&S really changed much over its lifespan.

    Under those conditions, if you don’t get it right first off chances are you’re not going to be able to make many (or any) changes once the ball starts rolling.

  • simbo says:

    Spicks and Specks did change a certain chunk over its lifespan – games that didn’t work were dropped, guests that did work were invited back repeatedly (building the Cult of Hamish Blake, proof positive that getting the questions right is the least important skill on a panel-gameshow format), the set was upgraded from the triangular monstrosity of the early seasons into the separate desks…

    I suspect the panel-gameshow is here to stay – it’s cheaper and quicker to develop than the sketchshow or the sitcom, and seems to rate about the same, or slightly better (though the ABC may just import more of them, given QI and “Would I lie to you” appear to be continually rating pretty impressively).

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We didn’t follow S&S all that closely over the years, but we’d be willing to bet most of those changes took place between seasons. The panel / gameshow format is clearly going to be around for a while, but presumably what’ll happen is that they’ll give each version a short run then it’ll fail to catch on and be dumped, rather than sticking with one and working on it to make it work.

    When S&S started it was just a minor bit of fluff that happened to hit big – these days the expectations are a lot higher now that the ABC know what a hit version can achieve.

  • Pete Hill says:

    So Melinda Houston thought that Randling was ‘promising’? Yet in 2011, writing in WHO magazine, she put The Joy of Sets in her list of 10 worst TV shows of the year. Obviously it’s more fashionable to put down Tony Martin than it is to offend Andrew Denton.
    Reminds me of when the movie ‘The Piano’ came out in 1993 and how nearly every Australian film critic fawned and grovelled at the feet of director Jane Campion and they all forgot to actually admit what a pretentious, self-indulgent art-movie it was.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Less ‘fashionable’ and more down to ‘business sense’.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Dammit I thought Denton didn’t produce it. So yes ‘fashionable’.