First, an apology: We honestly thought we’d covered Back Seat Drivers (Tuesdays around 10pm, ABC2) back when it first started a few weeks ago. But then we realised we only thought we’d covered it because it was exactly the same as a dozen or more equally forgettable shows we’ve dozed off to over the years. Again, we apologise.
Of course, the real people who should be apologising here are the programmers at ABC2. Why does anyone ever think this kind of show is worth doing? No, seriously, c’mon: the basic idea is “let’s get a bunch of stand-up comedians – you know, that job where they’re constantly going on about how they hate it when the public tries to get involved in their performance – and have them go out and interact with the public! It’ll be hilarious!”
No, it won’t be. It won’t be because it never is. It never is because despite what a lot of tossbags and wankers will try to tell you about “reality” being funnier than anything you could make up, the fact of the matter is that almost all the time reality is boring and packed with dullards. Sure, occasionally reality is the funniest thing around, but you have to spend a massive amount of time getting rid of the boring bits first; there’s a reason why people don’t pay money to go sit in an office watching other people at work.
And yet we keep on getting these high concept shows that turn out on closer examination to have no concept at all. Think about it: what’s the point here? If it’s to get comedians to say funny stuff, there are hundreds of other formats that would do the job better. If it’s to get insights into how regular people feel about the issues of the day during unguarded conversations, why get comedians involved?
Obviously the real point is that it’s a format that does a lot of things while being cheap. Comedians are cheap and reliable on-air talent; using tiny cameras inside a taxi means you don’t need a set; getting regular people to talk means you don’t have to pay writers or cast members. Genius! Until you get to the part where it costs the home viewer exactly the same to watch this no budget effort as it does to watch something that’s actually had some time and money put into it – but it’s on the ABC so presumably that doesn’t really matter. How many people watched Please Like Me this week? Guess they’re not telling.
After all that, Back Seat Drivers isn’t exactly a dead loss. Everyone seems decent enough (host Veronica Milson really needs some better jokes though), they’re all having a chat, they’ve got interesting stuff to say, the comedians occasionally chip in a funny line, and suddenly you realise just how amazingly shithouse almost all of those Agony shows were. Seriously, these regular folk are way more interesting and insightful than the C-list celebrities they trotted out on Agony; if insight and not fame had been the metric used to judge these shows, this would be on prime time ABC and Agony would have gone straight into the bin.
Problem is, Back Seat Drivers is basically just talkback radio with pictures. And the pictures are of the inside of a taxi. And Dan Illic is driving the taxi. It’s the kind of show that worked back in the late 90s when television was pretty much the only home entertainment option going and something quirky and low-key could build an audience: these days, various local content guidelines aside, you really have to wonder why they bothered.