Paying attention to the simple things

We’re going to come straight out and say this: the only Australian TV comedy we really look forward to each week, at this moment in time, is Have You Been Paying Attention?. In a different era it’s the kind of program that would have been one of a number of good shows on each week, but in early June 2014 what else do we have? Dirty Laundry Live, an above average panel show that’s never quite as funny as it should be, The Roast, which never seems to improve no matter how long it stays on air, Jonah From Tonga, oh God (see our many previous blogs), Spicks & Specks, which we’ve never liked much and anyway it’s on its way out, and Bogan Hunters, which isn’t really comedy at all.

This is not to say that we’ve latched on to Have You Been Paying Attention? just because it’s the best of a bunch ranging in quality from average to bad. At any time in Australian TV history it’s an excellent example of how funny a simple panel game can be: take the bog-standard quick-fire quiz show concept, make all the questions topical, add a bunch of funny people (from a stable of regulars) as contestants, let them give a few funny answers and muck about a bit before the real answer is revealed, move on.

On that level there’s not much to this show, but as with a lot of Working Dog shows the devil’s in the detail:

  • All the questions are ones the audience can play along with at home – and there are lots of them if that’s all you want to do
  • There’s minimal pointless chit-chat but the panellists are given a lot of freedom to crack gags, improvise and muck around – and because the show’s edited we only see the best funny stuff
  • Host Tom Gleisner and most of the panellists are pretty good at cracking gags, improvising and mucking around – which is helpful if that’s a big part of your show
  • There are frequent (and usually pretty funny) digs at politicians, celebrities and the network the show’s airing on, all of which feels gleefully dangerous in the media climate of 2014, one in which many well-known people seem to frequently self-censor (and that’s always disastrous for comedy because shouldn’t comedians be saying the unsayable?)
  • The makers have taken the opportunity to crow-bar in some low-key scripted moments, such as the Channel 10 prize basket – and while that’s not exactly cutting edge stuff, it is funny

You could argue that Have You Been Paying Attention? is just The Panel in quiz show form, or that it’s Working Dog recycling the same concepts they’ve been filling their projects with for years – and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong – but as it’s recycling that works…we don’t mind. And there’s a lot to be said for a show which plays to the strengths of its makers, and doesn’t over promise and under deliver.

When you take a look at what some of those other shows we mentioned above are promising – The Roast: political satire, Jonah From Tonga: a moving, intelligent and real comedy about a troubled schoolboy from an immigrant background – and compare those promises to what those shows are actually delivering…well, you probably see our point now. It’s great when people challenge themselves to do something they haven’t been very good at in the past, but Have You Been Paying Attention? promises nothing more than some comedians piss-farting about in between questions about the news. And as those behind it are doing a damn good job of it, we’ll be watching it.

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5 Comments

  • saucy gibbon says:

    It is a consistently entertaining show just get rid of Kate Langbroek.

  • Yeps says:

    Agreed.

    Extraordinarily, even more than she was on The Panel, she’s like that middle-aged relative you see at Christmas who talks over everyone else, convinced she’s the most sparkling, loveable wit in the room, despite sucking the oxygen out of any conversation not solely about herself.

    Okay, maybe that was harsh.

    I’m sure she has some funny moments (I literally can’t think of any, but she must have), I’ve just never understood how exactly she’s meant to fit into the Working Dog formula. Theirs is about maintaining a shambolically rollicking momentum. Gags on gags on gags. Plenty hitting the mark, those that don’t getting happily swallowed by the fray, usually with Tommy G wincing a smile in faux alarm.

    Langbroek’s shtick, in contrast, seems to be about stopping that momentum dead – often actually raising her hands to go, ‘Whoa. Hey. Look at me as I say this manufactured “controversial” thing,’ leaving whatever the original joke was lying flapping and gasping like a fish at her feet.

    Again, I’m sure in the right context that’s probably great (I can still think of no evidence to support that statement), but in the playful, silly-buggers romp of Working Dog’s variety entertainment offerings, it’s a jarring fit.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    It probably boils down to loyalty. Back when WD started with The Panel they were basically just used to working on-screen with each other, and when Jane Kennedy didn’t want to appear on-camera they went through a *lot* of female panellists that couldn’t keep up before they found Langbroek. While she wasn’t exactly funny, she did make sure she got a word in, and after what had gone before that was enough to get her a regular gig.

    There was also the whole “who the hell is Kate Langbroek” thing, which if nothing else demonstrated the loyality WD shows towards their inner circle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Panel_%28Australian_TV_series%29

  • er says:

    Oh wow, The Roast is very poor. ‘The Dolt Report’ –

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkDDpzWOrU8

    As this blog has discussed, how can it possibly not get any better? How could you think this script is worthy of being produced? How are repeating quotes and stating information jokes?

  • Urinal Cake says:

    I think it operates as a news & curre’nt affairs show for the ‘youf’ first and as a comedy second.

    In his defence the Bolt impression starts out well with the stoccato, emphasis and corny jokes etc but yeah the actual content is woeful.