“Fuck You, Kevin.” And with Ed Kavalee’s joke about the title of Julia Gillard’s forthcoming memoir, we had pretty much the only reason why Have You Been Paying Attention? was airing at 9.30pm. Ok, there was also a rush of jokes about Mick Molloy’s scrotum at around 10.35pm which probably justified the late night timeslot, plus the occasional off-colour reference to Hey, Dad…! – not that there’s ever been any other kind of reference to Hey, Dad..!
Otherwise, while HYBPA? was a welcome alternative to the wall-to-wall crapfest that is Q&A – bet Working Dog were less than impressed they they debuted against a crowd-pleasing Q&A featuring Joe “History’s Greatest Monster” Hockey though – it largely took advantage of the extended late night timeslot to be basically more of the same. Not that we’re complaining: HYBPA? has rapidly (ok, this is the third series, but it’s hardly Spicks and Specks) proven itself to the be the cream of Australia’s panel shows. Which is a bar so low a snail would have zero difficulty passing over it, but still.
We’re a bit out of touch these days so we’re not sure if people are still complaining that HYBPA? is still “too scripted”, but if so… stop. Just stop. There was a long, dark period in our recent history where supposedly “realism” was the highest form of comedy but all that’s over now and we’re back in a sunlit world where the most important thing a comedy can do is make you laugh. And last time we checked, rapid-fire funny answers to dumb general knowledge questions was a much surer path to hilarity than a bunch of C-list celebrities umming and ahhing their way towards a not quite joke.
(Plus, in last night’s episode many of the joke answers were coming from Mick Molloy, who has close to 30 years experience being off-the-cuff funny on radio and television, so it seems reasonable to assume he could come up with snappy answers all on his own.)
It’s bog-standard stuff, the bare minimum that television should be in this country, and we doubt anyone would be making any serious claims for it beyond that. But unlike so many other panel shows of recent heritage, the decent pace and focus on actually answering questions means that everyone is on the same page: say something funny, then shut up. If a question or topic is dumb enough to allow multiple funny lines, we usually get a bunch of them; if someone answers a question correctly first off, anyone with a dumb joke will throw it in afterwards.
Much of the show’s success, creatively at least, comes down to the firm hand of the Working Dog team. By actually having people running the show who have to work with the people cast on the show they create a show that actually feels somewhat crafted rather than just thrown together; how often do you watch Spicks and Specks and think “yeah, no-one really stopped to think if these guests would work well together”. There’s been the occasional dud guest on HYBPA?, but on the whole they bring on board people with the same sensibilities and comic timing. The show that follows has a flow rarely seen in – you guessed it – Australian panel shows.
Now for the bad news: we’re still not convinced by the late night shift, nor by the extension to a full hour. Television has changed a lot since the days when you could bung on any old local crap and expect to do ok in the ratings: the internet and social media have meant that television has actually risen somewhat in the entertainment stakes. Surprisingly, audiences now have more options for their low-impact brain-dead time-wasting. If people are going to actually watch television instead of mindlessly clicking through Buzzfeed quizzes, the shows they’re watching have to actually offer something. People just sitting around cracking jokes? That’s basically twitter, right?
Which means that, as much as we’re enjoying HYBPA?, it’s the kind of television show that’s going to struggle, now and forever. And the more high-profile a position it’s given, the more it’s going to struggle. Television simply can’t get away with just being radio with pictures at a time when screens are bigger and high-end drama (or live talent competitions) are the big drawcards. We’ll keep watching, because we like to laugh. But in prime time on a commercial network – even one as struggling as Ten – we’re not sure that’s going to be enough.