Look, It’s A Comedy Series Claiming To Be Topical Yet Its Title References A Movie Made in 1977

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – we feel a twinge of sympathy for those ‘real’ journalists who have to cover the world (okay, small planetoid) of Australian television comedy. Because when the best you can do for an opener to your story is this, you know you’ve been given a tough row to hoe:

No politician is safe from comedian Paul McCarthy, who has sharpened up his Tony Abbott impersonation for the ABC’s new satirical comedy show Wednesday Night Fever.

Personally, we would have gone with this as being more representative of the required tone:

Darkness falls across the land / The midnight hour is close at hand / Creatures crawl in search of blood / To terrorize y’all’s neighbourhood / And whosoever shall be found / Without the soul for getting down / Must stand and face the hounds of hell / And rot inside a corpse’s shell.

Because seriously, much as we don’t like to judge without seeing, this does not look promising. Oh sure, this sounds fine:

Wednesday Night Fever combines political impersonations, satirical characters and musical comedy, based on the week’s political and cultural events, both nationally and internationally.The half-hour program is filmed before a live studio audience and is hosted by Sammy J.

But this does not:

”This show is delightfully, unashamedly, balls-out old-school in its approach, in that it’s a studio-based sketch show with pre-recorded skits as well and some musical comedy thrown in,” McMillan says.

”There’s not one element that will be particularly unfamiliar to audiences, but the hope is [that] as an ensemble, it’s going to kick some ass.”

Joining McMillan is a selection of carefully chosen comic performers including McCarthy, Dave Eastgate, Heath Franklin, Anne Edmonds, Robin Goldsworthy, Lisa Adam and Amanda Bishop, aka ”Jooooolia”, the star of Rick’s previous comedy hit.

What was the last show that took a similar “balls-out old-school” approach? Oh right, Live From Planet Earth. And whereas Ben Elton had once upon a time been involved in classic comedy such as The Young Ones and Blackadder, producer Rick Kalowski is best known –

[Oh, okay, quick sidebar: we have zero problem with this article saying that Kalowski is “the man behind the controversial cult comedy At Home with Julia“, because clearly that’s both true and his most recent project. But it does seem a little misleading to only mention that part of his resume when, as a sitcom, it’s not as relevant to the sketch approach this show is taking as some of the other shows he’s worked on. You know, he was the head writer on both Comedy Inc. and Double Take, and as sketch shows they’re probably worth a mention here.]

– for a bunch of sketch shows that were a): very similar and b): weren’t very good. And rather than “carefully chosen comic performers”, we’d go with “the same old faces you’ve never really enjoyed in anything previously”. Sammy J is a great choice for host, especially as he was the only one to escape the wreck of the sketch version of Good News Week with his dignity intact, and filming semi-live weekly means you’re going to need proven, reliable performers. But that’s pretty much the only positives from this line up that we can see here.

Look at Mad as Hell, which was basically the same show as this only, you know, made for people whose lips don’t move when they read. Ooh, burn. Deal with it: this show has Paul McCarthy on board as an impersonator, and no-one’s ever felt the need to describe his performances as anything other than, uh, broad. Not that being broad is bad if you have the writing to back it up. We eagerly look forward to the day when he gets that level of support.

Mad as Hell – and Newstopia before it – had largely the same requirements for casting as Wednesday Night Fever: solid performers, able to be funny, can work fast in a near-live situation. But instead of rummaging through the bins for a collection of faces recognisable for their sterling work in shows rejected by God and man, Micallef and company hired new faces (or faces new to comedy), with a handful of known comedy performers mixed in.

For example, Newstopia featured Kat Stewart and Nicolas Bell: Wednesday Night Live features almost half the cast (McCarthy, Bishop, Goldsworthy) of Double Take, that largely forgotten and short-lived commercial sketch series produced by – stop the press – Rick Kalowski. Aside from them we have Dave Eastgate, who’s been in pretty much every single Jungleboys comedy effort (you know, he’s that guy who does the thing), and Heath Franklin, AKA the guy who told Chopper Read he wouldn’t cut his lunch by doing live performances pretending to be him then started touring his “hilarious” “Chopper” character around Australia for years. Will he bring back Chopper once ratings start to flag? Can’t wait to find out! Oh wait, we mean the exact opposite of that.

This is exactly the kind of show that hasn’t worked in Australia for as long as we can remember. Remember, oh, let’s say The Sideshow? Let Loose Live? The Hamish & Andy Show? The final series of Good News Week? Live From Planet Earth? That’s not to say the format can’t work – it’s also exactly the same as the much-loved-around-here Late Show: it’s just that for it to work, it needs to be creatively driven by the on-air talent, who also have to be a well-honed team with real on-air chemistry together.

If you believe this is such a team, feel free to try and back up your reasoning. We’re really hoping half the show is going to feature most of the cast laughing at how crap McCarthy’s impressions are, a la Rob Sitch’s efforts on The Late Show. Has anyone ever laughed at an Australian impression since then? Again, answers on a postcard.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Seems Wednesday Night Live will not only feature a regular sketch titled “Downton Abbott”, but a house band:

the hilariously named metal outfit Boner Contention.

Fuck it, we give up.

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  • Jimbo says:

    C’mon, this looks good. I predict it will be the best comedy on TV in a long time. It might even be as good as The Big Gig.

    I have a lot of faith in Rick Kalowski. He can actually write jokes. At Home With Julia did have proper laugh-out-loud jokes in it, unlike everything else on ABC over the last few years. Anything he’s involved in is not going to be as laugh-free as Liad, Librarians, Lowdown, Strage Calls, Please Like Me, etc, etc.

    Personally I don’t find Shaun Micallef or Mad As Hell to be particularly funny. The jokes are lame and predictable, and I can’t stand any of his hammy sidekicks who overegg their roles to such an extent they are embarrassing rather than funny. The opening title of The Daily Show is more funny than Mad As Hell.

  • billy c says:

    The problem is that the people who will like it will not be watching the ABC to see it. Heath Franklin sells tons of tickets to bogans wanting to see Chopper. They would watch this but the problem with broad political satire is that people who like broad comedy are not the people who like political satire. At Home With Julia was a bit different as it was about the Prime Minister. I think if it had run 6 eps it would have dropped off. Hopefully Sammy J and Anne Edmonds can rescue it by doing their own thing. Their audience will be on NCIS or Criminal Minds.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Glad to see no-one’s yet pointed out the title of this post would have been just as relevant to Mad as Hell.

    The problem with a lot of the shows Rick Kalowski’s been involved in is that they’ve had a solid base of mediocrity. They have jokes but often they come off as lazy, first draft jokes and the performers he tends to work with aren’t good enough to make them better. He has the right approach but pretty much everything he’s been involved with – aside from Julia, which was good but was really just a trad sitcom that probably would have struggled to keep the quality up for six episodes – has been fairly uninspired.

    Billy C is right on the money. Like it or not, the ABC audience tends to see itself as a cut above broad commercial material, which is what this seems to be. Of course, the ABC clearly couldn’t give two fucks about ratings – remember, even Tractor Monkeys is coming back – and the producer is set to be ABC Head of Comedy so this show will run and run even if no-one’s watching it.

  • billy c says:

    Also obviously those previous shows existed because sketch is drama under the local content rules. They were cheaper than drama and kept the points ticking over. Particularly as Nine did not have a soap. I am surprised Tractor Monkeys is coming back but it is hard to fill up that much space that cheaply and light entertainment is a tricky genre.

    I actually think Wednesday night fever this will die after this run. If it doesn’t set the world on fire he can’t really recommission it and it still needs to get the channel controller to sign off on it. Perhaps they will surprise us but I doubt they can afford enough writers to get 30 minutes of quality a week and live sketch has never been done well in this country. It comes across as too try hard and juvenile.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Well, both The Late Show and The Chaser’s War on Everything made this kind of live / recorded-as-live sketch thing work. But in both cases you had a long-running team that had a lot of experience behind them.

    The big worry is that once this gets established it’ll become the ABC’s default “satire” even if it stinks. Luckily both Mad as Hell and The Chaser’s various stuff fall under Light Entertainment rather than Comedy at the ABC, but even so, this could crowd out shows with the potential the shine for a few years.

  • billy c says:

    I don’t think the comparison is entirely correct. The Late Show had very few live sketches that did not impersonated television formats. So they had Graham and the Colonel as sports reporters talking to camera, people being interviewed on a couch or during the news etc. The actual sketches were usually recorded (Shitscared). The Chaser were largely the same. Actual sketches performed live like Girltalk on Ben Elton’s show or Saturday Night Live are a different beast. Obviously it depends on how you define sketch. I mean two actors in character pretending they are not in a television studio.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Well, we’d define sketches as pretty much anything in a studio where people are pretending to be someone else. The Late Show certainly did a number of non-television live sketches – the dinner party ones and the UN one come to mind – and they also went out properly live, not recorded-as-live. But it’s largely a matter of degree. And we’d guess that most of Wednesday Night Fever’s “live sketches” will be fake interviews, considering it’s meant to have a tonight show format.