A Not-Exactly Awesome Foursome

Comedy: the ABC’s got you covered! Actually, maybe a little too covered – with four new comedy series starting in the one week you’d think they were having a closing down sale or something. We’ll give each series the extended treatment in the coming weeks, but just to get the ball rolling here’s our initial impressions of the quartet.

*The Chaser’s Media Circus: The ABC has a long tradition of current affairs-based comedy game shows – or at least, that’s what we think Good News Week and The Glasshouse were meant to be – and we have an almost as long tradition of disliking them. Partly it’s because of pacing: unless you really work hard to make a gameshow fast-paced (see the recent Have You Been Paying Attention?), things tend to get bogged down. First you have to explain the current affair bit, then the joke: again, unless you really streamline it, the end result is only about 50% comedy. And with most current affairs jokes being smirk-worthy at best – what, politicians are stupid and the media exaggerates things? – that 50% can feel like a lot less. As it does here.

The other big problem here – apart from the fact that this kind of show always feels a bit cheap unless you’re the UK and have massive depth when it comes to razor-sharp comedy minds – is that The Chaser work best when they put a bit of work in. With the exception of Chaz – who barely got a look-in this time around, which counts as a major negative for us – and Hansen, the Chaser team largely come off as decent front men who work best with a strong backroom behind them. So an improv-heavy gameshow format wouldn’t have been our choice for a Chaser showcase even if they’d figured out a way to make the format work. And the non-core Chaser guests? Well, they didn’t accidentally set light the set on fire, so there’s that.

We’ve already had a decent comedy gameshow (HYBPA?) and a smart current affairs comedy (Mad as Hell) this year: this is going to have to get a lot better real fast if it’s going to challenge either.

*Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery: It’s easy to forget this largely forgettable show traces its lineage back to Enough Rope – until we start getting the tragic tales of schoolyard tramua, that is. We’re no fans of Dave “Hughsie” Hughes here, but as a seasoned stand-up he did a decent enough job of making wandering through his childhood haunts into watchable television (especially when he linked it to his drive to perform, which is really the only thing we’re interested about).

It’s all very lightweight and big on cheap sentiment (sad parental stories are gold for this show), and Zemiro’s only vague interest in using this history lesson to shed any real light on how Hughsie developed his comedy style – what, not even a “all this bullying made me really… angriiiiiiiiii” (though we did get a list of influences, so that’s something) – is pretty shit. But hey, we got to see his kids and his mum and Warnambool looks like a nice town, so… great.

*Upper Middle Bogan: Slip-n-Slide! It’s nice to occasionally see some physical comedy in our local sitcoms, and while it wasn’t up there with Shaun Micallef’s rotating room skits from Full Frontal, it did provide yet more variety in what is the front-runner for Australia’s best sitcom. With a cast in double figures – and with them all being at least moderately well defined (not the same as deep, mind you) comedy characters – Upper Middle Bogan is a show that doesn’t have a problem filling an episode to the brim. Abandonment issues, faulty cooling, a reconciliation, the aforementioned slip-n-slide, a giant fan… Individually none of these elements are classic comedy, but it’s all about the pacing.

Well, not totally: having a quality comedy cast doesn’t hurt in the slightest. And the dialogue contains a few decent zingers too.

“They weren’t proper lies, they were just climate based lies.”

“This is a marriage, not an election.”

We’ve said it before, but here goes again: unless you’re an A-grade comedy genius, your next best bet when it comes to getting laughs is to pick up the pace. If you can’t be great at one thing then being good at a bunch of smaller things is almost as good. Plus there’s some actual affection between the characters, which is hard to pull off when you’re dealing with broad stereotypes (it’s all about the balance – a dash of sentiment is nice, filling half the episode with it is dull). It’s solid lightweight fun, and we’re glad to have it back.

*It’s A Date: Tonight’s theme is “Do set-up dates work?” The trouble with this show is that while the dates (two an episode) usually start out strong – here they involve a young woman and a pastry delivery guy roped into a date by a breakfast radio show, plus a women expecting to date her friend’s brother-in-law only to get stuck with his dad – once people are actually on a date the storytelling options narrow down fairly fast. Awkward conversations do get stale eventually, despite what the last decade of Australian comedy would have you believe.

But then here comes the heartwarming romance as our wacky miss-matched couple learn to connect on a more human level (despite the comedy set-ups) and we’re looking at our watch because c’mon guys, you’ve only got less than fifteen minutes each here to bring the funny and the tinkly piano music isn’t cutting the mustard. Yes, we know that sustaining comedy over an extended period is hard and a bit of tonal variety is a great way to keep things interesting, but let’s say it again: IT’S ONLY FIFTEEN MINUTES JUST BE FUNNY. Really, even the breakfast radio one – which is prank heavy and so presumably going to be “the funny one” has to get in a bunch of sad moments (she’s crying because she’s physically incapable of having children! Ha!) and the relationship is doomed anyway because breakfast radio is evil. Well, we can’t argue with that.

We’ve got nothing against love – no, really – but one problem here that could have been easily solved is that both stories are taking roughly the same tone of “awwww lurv you guys.” There’s eight episodes of this, which means sixteen dates, and if they’re all hitting roughly the same note then boredom’s going to set in fast. And if they don’t – if in later weeks we get a bunch of hilariously mean people screwing each other over alongside the sweet tales of true love found – then why didn’t they pair each of the “nice” stories here with one of those ones for variety? Guess we’ll have to stay tuned…

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  • Rutegar says:

    Hmm …

    I know Waleed Aly isn’t white as hell, but I thought he was quite sharp and amusing on the MEDIA CIRCUS. In fact, he was probably the sharpest and funniest thing about what was a pretty patchy return to TV for the CHASER crew.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Yeah, he was best in show there, which isn’t really saying much. Somebody at the Chaser must be tired of making television, because this felt like five minutes worth of The Hamster Wheel padded out with a half-hearted panel show.