Mad as Hell in a Cell

Mad as Hell is back! And, uh, yeah… ok, it’s taken us a couple of days to get around to mentioning it because we don’t really have all that much new to say. Shaun Micallef and his skilled team have created a finely honed satirical machine and by now they’re capable of hitting any target they take aim at. Two thumbs up from us.

Oh sure, if we wanted to get super nit-picky we could quibble here and there. But having only seen the first episode, and considering that the Liberal party were doing their level best to sink themselves right up until the day before filming, the one thing we’d probably say – there was perhaps a bit too much of just Micallef talking to camera going on – is actually a plus. With so much political uncertainty (do we need more Abbott jokes? Less Abbott jokes? Any Abbott jokes at all?) during the writing period, you’d expect the first episode to be largely generic pre-recorded bits, so going topical was kind of impressive. At least the return of Shorten’s zingers was always on the cards.

Thing is, while Micallef’s bits to camera are always smart, funny, and sharply written, they’re not actually a strength of the show. It’s the character stuff and the various fake promos and ads that lift Mad as Hell above… well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

It’s generally accepted in drama that you should “show, not tell” – audiences will be more engaged in a situation they see unfolding in front of them rather than one simply described to them – and it’s the same in comedy. Saying “wow, our politicians really don’t care about large swathes of the population” might get a laugh: a decent sketch (even if it’s just a conversation) saying the same thing will often get a lot more. Maybe we direct your attention once again to the fine work of Clarke & Dawe in this area.

Mad as Hell works in (large) part because it’s largely written by writers who can (also) write sketches and performed by actors who can create comedy characters. It has a fake news format and it uses clips taken from the real news to great effect, but if that was all it did then… oh look, a press release:

CHARLIE PICKERING’S NEW ABC SHOW HAS A NAME… AND A CAST!

Not only does Charlie Pickering have a new show launching on ABC in April, it now has a name: The Weekly with Charlie Pickering.

A decade and a half after he began his broadcast career at Triple J, Charlie Pickering – political junkie, former lawyer, elegant gentleman and seriously funny stand-up comedian – returns to the ABC for a new show, The Weekly.

The Weekly with Charlie Pickering is a news comedy show, tonight show and chat show all in one, allowing Charlie to return to his comedy roots while being a general nuisance to newsmakers, politicians and other charlatans.

Charlie won’t be launching The Weekly alone. Joining him every week will be two of Australia’s funniest – Tom Gleeson and Kitty Flanagan.

Charlie Pickering says: “I couldn’t be more excited to work with two of my best friends who just happen to also be my favourite comedians. Together we can’t wait for The Weekly to help everyone calm down and buy into our revolutionary ‘7-Day News Cycle’. The 24-hour version just doesn’t seem to be working out. Nobody has time to think!”

Tom Gleeson is one of Australia’s most successful stand-up comedians and has appeared at all of the world’s major comedy festivals. He has been nominated three times for the Helpmann Award for Best Comedy. He is a TV regular having appeared on Good News Week, The Project and This Week Live.

Kitty Flanagan is one of Australia’s best known comedians and was nominated for a 2010 Helpmann Award for her hit show Charming & Alarming. For the last five years Kitty was a regular on The Project and often appeared as a guest on Good News Week and Spicks and Specks. She has also performed around the world at various comedy festivals.

Adrian Swift, ABC TV Head of Content said: “The news whizzes past us every day but Charlie and his team will catch the absurd, the ridiculous and the under-examined, fillet it and serve it back to us in a way that will make you laugh, occasionally make you angry and always make you think.”

“It’s a thrill to have Charlie back at the ABC where he belongs,” says Head of Entertainment Jon Casimir. “He’s a rare talent, a genuine quadruple threat: smart, funny, caring and handsome … hang on, make that triple threat.”

Proudly and hilariously outspoken, and with three of our finest comedians on board, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering will take the world’s idiocies and hypocrisies and mould them into half an hour of pure light entertainment gold.

And now you know as much as we do about what’s going to replace Mad as Hell for a goodly chunk of 2015. Get those “more like weakly, amirite?” jokes ready folks.

That said, with this kind of casting news it’s pretty easy to make a few wild guesses: Pickering’s going to sit behind a desk and have an opening monologue, then Gleeson’s going to come out and they’ll have some banter (“what’s got you angry this week, Tom?”), Flanagan’s going to come out and they’ll have some more banter (“what’s got you angry this week, Kitty?”), loads of news clips will be sprinkled all over the place, there’ll be a guest – probably a comedian – there might be a musical number because they did mention “chat show” in there, and everyone will have given up on it by week six.

Panel shows look cheap and these days television audiences get their cheap entertainment elsewhere, which is why no panel show has worked in the last decade. Shows where comedians riff on the weeks events are – and pay close attention, this is important – just as cheap.

Mad as Hell dodges this bullet by throwing in sketches and actors playing comedy characters. It doesn’t hurt that at least some of Micallef’s bits to camera are more like surreal rambles than “ha ha, this policy makes no sense”. It’s also a big, big plus that Micallef and company are really, really good at their jobs: Wednesday Night Fever was a news comedy with plenty of sketches, but it was held back by the fact that all the sketches were complete shit.

Pickering doesn’t completely suck and both Gleeson and (especially) Flanagan are good at what they do. The problem is they all do basically the same thing – talk about the issues of the day in a moderately amusing fashion that gets old after the first couple of minutes. Which just leaves nineteen and a bit half-hour episodes to fill.

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