Vale Print Media

You may not have noticed, what with that whole “death of print media” thing going on even though we still seem to be getting loads of junk mail in our letterbox every day and what is print media but a couple of news stories stuck on the front of a Target catalogue anyway? We digress: This weekend just gone saw both The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald re-size their weekend editions down to the tabloid format, and they took this opportunity to do some minor house-keeping on their arts pages. Long story short: Age TV critics Ben Pobjie and Melinda Houston have been dumped! Awww.

That’s not to say they’re gone from the Fairfax stables forever. Writers have a habit of being recycled over there and look – Pobjie’s latest online column is dated Feb 28th so who knows? Maybe he’s just moved to online-only, or he’s now writing their weekday TV column along with at least half a dozen other people*. Or editorial didn’t have the guts to tell him he’s was fired and when he sent in his latest column they thought they’d better put it up before he went on another long twitter rant about his depression.

(Houston’s most recent column is dated Feb 23rd, so we’re guessing she really is outta here**)

To get the serious stuff out of the way, it’s never a good thing when media outlets consolidate their voices. Both writers are replaced by SHM regulars; Houston’s replacement is David Knox from TV Tonight, which isn’t exactly a blow for diversity when it comes to variety in reviewing. And losing a job is tough, especially in the current media climate, so to gloat or rejoice in such a situation would be both unseemly and uncouth.

On the other hand, screw those guys. Whatever talents and abilities they might have had in other areas, as television reviewers – fuck, they weren’t even reviewers really. They were people who waffled on somewhat adjacent to television groping blindly for points that the television show supposedly under discussion occasionally seemed to support. Unless you had actually watched the show in question, in which case you were almost always left scratching your head so hard you’d need corrective surgery to fill in the grooves.

We don’t ask much from TV critics. We don’t even ask that they know much about television. All we want is critics who can write coherently, review shows purely on their merits – no matter where the shows in question are produced – and who take seriously their responsibility to give the public their opinion. So, uh, yeah. These guys. Yeah.

Who could forget this classic review by Houston of Angry Boys:

that familiar, inspired collision of irreverence, LOL moments and tenderness that define this series at its best.

You might think you know what she’s trying to say there, but read it again: is she saying the show is inspired in the way it mashes elements together? Is “familiar” meant to be a good thing? Aren’t “irreverence” and “LOL moments” the same thing? And why say “LOL moments” when “jokes” or even “laughs” would be more accurate? Oh wait, she’s writing about Angry Boys, none of this makes any fucking sense because the the “tenderness” she’s talking about was actually clumsy mawkishness, the “irreverence” was someone taking a shit on a police car and the “LOL moments”… well, good luck finding any of those.

Other classics from the Houston song book include: the time she felt the need to tell us that in Australia sitcoms go for 30 minutes; the time she loved Randling before even seeing the first episode; the time she said Randling was getting better every week: and of course, the time she said that Randling was the worst show in the history of Australian television.

But while Houston’s steadfast commitment to never saying a bad word about an Australian production no matter how kak-handed it was earned her our ire over the years, it was Pobjie’s refusal to consider that television was even worth caring about that raised an eyebrow or two:

none of that actually means I’m ”right” and anyone else is ”wrong”. When you’re judging comedy, there’s no such thing as right or wrong – there’s just ”I laughed” or ”I didn’t”. Nothing is objectively good or bad, and anyone trying to convince you otherwise is kidding you and themselves.

That’s right: anyone telling you a show is “good” or “bad” is, according to Pobjie, kidding themselves. Hey, let’s make that guy our TV critic!

You could argue – and a few people have over the years – that what he’s really saying here is that strident views do more harm than good and we should all realise that there is room for differing opinions when it comes to discussing a subjective area such as comedy. WRONG.

Everyone reading a television review column – or any kind of review anywhere – already knows it’s just one person’s opinion. Trust us on this: the lamest possible response to a bad review is “that’s just your opinion”. To write in a major daily newspaper that “hey, it’s just one person’s opinion” is to insult your readership: they know it’s just your opinion, that’s why they’re reading it – TO GET YOUR OPINION.

But not in Pobjie’s book. No, time and time again he let us know that having a firmly held opinion and the desire to express it decisively were not attributes he felt were an advantage for a working television critic. Instead, he stood up for the Australian television industry at a time when it only has around fifteen television channels, a variety of glossy weekly magazines and an army of skilled PR operatives telling us all how great it is day in day out. He gushed constantly about Marieke Hardy’s Laid while forgetting to tell his readers he was buddies with her. And he wrote this line while being employed, as we’ve already mentioned, as a television columnist for a major metropolitan daily newspaper:

It’s only TV, after all – it’s important but it doesn’t matter.

We’re not going to miss him.


*[edit]: turns out Pobjie is going to do the daily TV column (thanks to Urinal Cake for the heads up) at Fairfax. This is actually good news for both us and him, because that column – unless it’s undergone a radical transformation – requires the writer to talk specifically about the shows that are on that night, not burble on with some half-baked theory about television in general. As our major problem with Pobjie has been the burbling and not the writing (or his opinions when he’s had them – remember when he didn’t like Ja’mie: Private School Girl? ), this is, as we said, good news. Kind of.

**[edit 2]: nope, turns out she’s just on a couple weeks break. That’s right: this entire post was a complete waste of your time and ours as both these critics are still employed in the same or better jobs than they were a week ago. Oh the irony that a post berating people for being bad at their jobs should clearly be the product of people no good at theirs either! Still, at least we come to you, cap in hand, begging your forgiveness for our mistakes secure in the knowledge that our blundering means you’ll now think less of us: these guys don’t give a fuck what you think otherwise they wouldn’t be so quick to talk up complete crap week in week out.

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  • Urinal Cake says:

    I thought making light of Pobjie’s depression was worse than his ‘firing’ but then I saw the name and poster of his new show and yeah he’s an idiot.

    Anyway here he does seem to be happy and employed (though still fat)

    Australian (press) reviews don’t really matter anymore. Online is alright but people tend to watch the program first and then defend their position. The only case where reviews do seem important is when they’re from an overseas and prestigious publication so PLM can justify though it rated poorly. Ah to be stuck in the provinces.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We really, really hope he didn’t burn any serious bridges once he got that daily job, because that daily TV column has had at least half a dozen people doing it at The Age over the last year. Including at least one guy who left due to a death in the family. Cursed!

  • saucy gibbon says:

    I’m assuming those 6 comments are from members of his family.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I need an editor.

    Yeah he doesn’t seem to be really gracious about his previous job. Luckily he can fall back on his stand up comedy.

  • The thing to keep in mind when reading Pobjie about Australian TV, is that he desperately wants a job in Australian TV. Therefore he will always write stuff that is thinly-veiled sucking up to local producers, writers, and Hardy-types who seem to get a blank cheque to do shows each year.

    Clearly he felt he didn’t have a hope with Lilley, so he wrote a slightly critical piece about him, maybe to curry favour with other producers who think Lilley got too much of a run.

  • BIlly C says:

    Well Gordon Farrer in the SMH called This is Littleton: “undercooked and misdirected” and

    Melinda Houston in the Sunday Age :

    It’s an awful thing to have to bag a new Australian production, especially one that’s clearly been made with so much love. But this sort of Housos-meets-Elegant Gentleman (via Portlandia) just isn’t funny. Great cast and production values, but they aren’t enough.

    So that’s some actual criticism for you. I’m glad someone else called out the directing because I really thought it let the show down. Second ep was not as bad as the first but still borderline unwatchable.