Calling Occupants of Distant Interplanetary Craft

Making good comedy isn’t entirely about intangibles such as talent and a good sense of humour: there are things comedians can actively to do make their television programmes funnier. For one thing, some formats lend themselves to comedy more readily than others. A quasi-drama that largely involves a variety of twenty-somethings standing around in a share house trading quips can be funny, but it can also be a big steaming turd. A bogus current-affairs style show, simply by virtue of its information-heavy format, has a much greater potential to bring the funny. Which brings us to The Arecibo Message.

A 2012 SBS pilot that was never picked up, The Arecibo Message was overlooked by us – and everyone else it seems – when it first aired… whenever that was (we just told you, we missed it). But SBS’s new, relaunched, more yoof & comedy orientated SBS2 repeated it this week and this time (thanks to a timely tweet our way from show booster Daniel G) we managed to check it out. Whether it’ll be repeated again we don’t know: you can check out teaser clips here.

Created by Brian Moses and Jame De Leo, the extremely thin premise for what is basically a knock-off of Chris Morris’ legendary Brasseye (Arecibo using someone doing bloody surgery to illustrate a metaphorical point is pure Morris) is that the original Arecibo Message (which was on one of the Voyager spacecraft sent out of the solar system in the 1970s) was crap, and aliens coming to Earth need an updated guide to what’s what on the third rock from the Sun. Episode one (and only) looks at “Discrimination”, with mixed results.

The format – hey, lets take a look at a topic in all its forms and from a variety of angles – is sound, and across the half hour they do a solid job of mixing it up to keep it from getting stale. Kids discriminate against brussel sprouts, hipsters discriminate against topless barmaids, Australia discriminates against tall poppies, especially Peter Andre. All well and good.

For what seems to be basically a two man show (there are a number of contributing writers) it’s not surprising the actual jokes are a little hit and miss, but the format keeps things moving along quickly enough to prevent the stench from the failures lingering too long. The graphics are well done, it actually has sight gags and they occasionally even work, and if the host is kind of annoying, well, it’s probably not his fault really.

This kind of thing has been done a fair bit over the years – Brasseye was mid 1990s, and John Safran’s television series (which were basically a slightly more serious version of this) aren’t exactly fresh in anyone’s minds – and this doesn’t do it any better. It’s decent enough, but there’s nothing here to make it memorable – for a network with a tiny comedy budget like SBS, being memorable is pretty important – and it’s not so amazingly funny that you’d tell your mates to check it out.

…except, that is, for one moment that was news to us: Craig McLachlan’s stand up comedy on the NRL Footy Show in 2005. Bringing this nightmare to our horrified attention is reason enough for us to stand up and cheer The Arecibo Message, as for what seems like eternity but is only 20-odd seconds we get to see McLachlan making jokes about a Neighbours wedding involving Harold and Bouncer (yes, Bouncer dry-humps Harold’s leg); McLachlan telling us in a lisping voice that the tabloids suggested he was “secretly gay” and sodomised his friends pets; and McLachlan doing an Aboriginal version of “Hey Mona” that leads to someone shouting into the stunned silence “get ‘im off!”

Judging by the intro to this clip, we may have been late to this particular party as well. While it on its own is hilariously jaw-dropping, let’s give credit where credit’s due; The Arechibo Message not only spins a couple of good jokes out of the clip, it successfully ties it into the show’s broader message. If only McLachlan had done a televised tour of Australia, they might have had enough material to go to a full series.

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  • Tony Tea says:

    Dr Blake is comedy. Accidentally.

  • Billy C says:

    The McLachlan thing was well known at the time in the industry. I believe this was during the competing Sydney Comedy Festival era when there were two festivals. Somebody thought it would be great for him to do an hour long show about his career. I believe the footy show gig was to promote it. I’ve never had the courage to watch it as I’ve heard it’s so bad. Not sure if he did his show but the Ricky Nixon stories about him giving stand-up a shot reminded me of it.