Considering our recent griping about Tractor Monkeys, it seems only right to start our review of Dirty Laundry Live with this: the ABC have taken exactly the right approach with this show. It’s on at 9.30pm on a Thursday night on ABC2, which is pretty much the textbook definition of “out of the way”, it’s shown live which means they can make changes week to week depending on what works and what doesn’t, and they’ve given it a reasonably long run (16 episodes), so it’ll have plenty of time to bed down.
On the other hand, this kind of thing rarely bodes well:
The public broadcaster confirmed it had engaged classifiers, editorial policy advisers and lawyers to make sure the hosts don’t get too litigious in their accusations.
Dirty Laundry has been granted an MA classification and it has to meet that rating. That means there needs to be a certain level of coarse language and naughtiness or they will get into trouble for being too prudish.
Or, you know, they could just try to be funny. And anyway, considering that outside of news programs the ABC doesn’t exactly “do” live television any more, presumably those extra lawyers have just been hired to bring the staffing levels up to, say, what Nine has for The Footy Show. And we all know how edgy that is these days.
The obvious snarkiness about having Sophie Monk on as a “celebrity guest” aside, things got off to a solid start – oh right, the show itself: Host Lawrence Mooney and a cast of semi-famous faces and comedians sit around a big desk to talk about the celebrity gossip of the week. It’s a solid comedy topic, and more importantly, it’s not one that’s currently being mined to death on the ABC *cough Daily Show knock-offs cough*. On the other hand yes, it’s another panel show. One that initially gave off strong Glasshouse vibes, which… yeah, we’ve got nothing good to say about that.
With two introductions to the panel and two introductions to the show either side of Mooney’s opening monologue (yeah, those Kristen Stewart vampire facial gags worked a treat) we’re four minutes into the show before the show actually starts. Chalk it up to first week nerves, alongside the “can I say FUCK?” “You can say fuck as much as you like, but you can’t talk about suicide.” bits. Oh, and then there’s a quiz. Joy. Fortunately they seem to just be using the quiz to kickstart discussions, which is exactly the right way to use a quiz on a comedy panel show.
Further on the plus side, these aren’t the usual TV panelists. It’s amazing just how refreshing it is to see some different comedians on television (especially when they turn out to be funny), and even though there were a few garbled moments here – there wasn’t a whole lot of chemistry between the panelists, who occasionally seemed to be shouting into the void rather than interacting with each other – the fact that we don’t already know every word that’s going to come out of their mouths is a big big plus for a television show in 2013. Even Sophie Monk, about whom we’ve previously had zero interest, came off here as someone moderately interesting. Or at least human, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of our more popular comedy panel show regulars.
It’s hard to underestimate just how far you can get on television by being entertainingly shambolic. Lord knows Australian television has underestimated it over the last decade or so – though after Live From Planet Earth, some of that reluctance is understandable. Sure, watching panelists passing around a porn movie called ‘Back Door Teen Mom’ may not be the kind of thing you’d plan to tune in to watch, but watching it happen on a live show is at least as interesting as anything else you may have seen on ABC after 8.30pm this year.
There were plenty of rough edges on this opening episode, but Mooney is a rock-solid comedy performer who’ll settle in as host and Brooke Satchwell (who’ll be a regular panelist over the sixteen episodes) came off as pretty sharp as well. Luke McGregor’s comedy interview was a highlight, and not just because it made Josh Thomas seem kind of likable; is it too soon to say “breakout star”? Probably. We’ll stick with “love your work” for now.
We’re grading on a curve here because it’s the first episode of a show that’s doing its growing up in public. So while there’s plenty of room for improvement, we’re going to assume they’re at least going to try and address the show’s problems (which are mostly to do with structure anyway; they just need to find more elegant ways to move between topics). Otherwise we’re going to give Dirty Laundry Live our highest possible rating for an Australian comedy panel show: it’s worth a look.