Well, don’t we look like dickheads. There we were just a few weeks back boldly claiming that it was plain to all and sundry that Charlie Pickering’s The Weekly was going to:
…make a much more concerted effort to rip off The Daily Show. You know the drill: wacky opening monologue, slightly more in depth report on something (presumably from Kitty Flanagan and / or Tom Gleeson – you know, the cast members not featured in that clip – which will in no way prompt comparisons with John Oliver), a guest from the real world, then roll credits. Remember all those times you got Charlie Pickering and Jon Stewart mixed up? No? Better not tell the ABC that.
Of course, now that we’ve seen the show it’s obvious that… oh, right.
Word is that around at least a few ABC corridors The Weekly is being described as “A John Oliver type show”. You know, in much the same way that Tonight Live with Steve Vizard was “A David Letterman type show”. But hey, it’s a perfectly good format that no-one in this country is using, so clearly it’s fair game. Especially when the media around here kept running stories like:
“never underestimate the power of ridicule to keep the powerful under control. If someone in a position of power, whether it’s a politician or a very wealthy businessman or a sports star, if they’re just one step away from the entire country laughing at them, then they tend to behave themselves a little better… It actually means I think, to some degree, that power stays with, you know, the people.”
“It will be the funniest take on the week’s news that we can muster with the resources of the national broadcaster behind us: a high speed internet connection and a room full of comedians,”
(oh dear, The Vine.com seem to have realised the error of their ways with their link-based praise-fest and taken it down. Jump on the google cache while you can)
While he denies wanting to compare The Weekly to shows like The Daily Show in the US, the demographic is essentially the same. And for a generation who trust comedians more than traditional journalists to tell them about what’s going on in the world, Pickering’s integrity tour is exactly what he needs to capture the audience.
With a now slightly embarassing headline, here’s The Guardian with: Charlie Pickering on The Weekly: ‘There is plenty to joke about in the news’: ABC’s new host on the ‘complicated calculus’ of satire, Aunty’s creative freedoms (and tough standards) and why he’s not remaking The Daily Show (presumably because Last Week Tonight was a slightly less obvious show to rip off):
“The fodder is the news and there is plenty to joke about in the news. But our fodder is also issues … Everyone is stuck in the 24 hour news cycle so they have to talk about the news straight away and we’ve got a bit of time to sit with it maybe. We can connect a few stories.”
And our personal favourite, from John Safran himself, Chasing Charlie Pickering:
“Someone asked me about my old job, The Project, and asked why I left,” he ranted into the microphone. “I just couldn’t watch the news any more. It never changes: bad theatre by poor actors every night in perpetuity, it’s always the same.”
Guess he must have got over that.
As The Weekly wore on it became obvious that this was a show aimed at an Australian audience desperate for something like The Daily Show yet completely unaware that The Daily Show is a thing that actually already exists. Which seems fairly cynical, even for Australian television. When Pickering told TV Tonight “I want a format that I’m allowed to throw out”, maybe he should have considered exercising that option before the first show went to air.
But format aside, did the show work? Well, there was an opening swoop over a cheering audience. Really? Isn’t it enough that we just hear them cheering? Oh wait, this is the nation where a legion of dickheads spent half a year claiming that Mad as Hell used a laugh track. Let’s move on.
And here comes Charlie, cheerfully informing us that “We’ve got a big show tonight”. And right there our dreams of seeing anything even remotely original died a death. No, you don’t have a big show tonight: you have your first show tonight. And maybe you should have started it without using the oldest cliche in the book. Yes, the thanks you gave to Micallef and to us for tuning in were nice. But not as nice as starting with a joke. And then we got fan reactions to the Star Wars trailer. Isn’t showing YouTube clips The Footy Show‘s thing now?
All of this no doubt seems kind of petty to you; it did to us too. And then we remembered that this is the most important part of the most important episode of The Weekly ever. Sure, it might improve in the weeks ahead. But with the way television works in this country in 2015, there’s a very good chance it will never have a bigger audience than it does for the first few minutes of this first episode. Star Wars fan reactions, people. And then a “Margaret & David” joke. And then a “Walt Disney on ice” joke followed by “yes, I know that’s an urban legend”. Is it such a great idea to make a joke and then tell us the joke is based on something that’s not true? Does it make for a funnier joke, or does it make you wonder “why tell that joke”?
The big problem here wasn’t the format, or a bunch of jokes that seemed weirdly stale (a Tony Abbott VB ad? Do they even still use that “matter of fact, I’ve got it now” jingle?). It’s that the show just wasn’t as smart as it needed to be. Take the extended segment on piracy, which bought out and bought into this somewhat dubious argument trotted out by the big corporations: every time someone illegally downloads a movie (in this case the small Australian horror films 100 Bloody Acres and Wyrmwood) that directly equals one ticket to those movies that wasn’t sold.
Hang on a sec: do you know anyone who happily downloads stuff that they’d never actually pay money for? Those guys kind of throw the whole “every illegal download is a lost ticket sale” argument out of wack. And do you know of any cinema near you that was even screening either 100 Bloody Acres or Wyrmwood so you could pay to see them if you wanted to? Wow, this whole piracy thing is a bit more complicated than it first seemed. Maybe just focus on the jokes next time.
It was the same problem with Kitty Flanagan and Tom Gleeson. Their bits were good as far as they went – they just didn’t go far enough. If you’re really going to do news-based comedy – even in Australia, where Mad as Hell and The Hamster Wheel made a decent fist of it in living memory – you have to be smart. Not smug, smart. Not “hey, we made a joke based on an urban legend and now we just pointed out that we know it’s an urban legend,” not “hey look, I’m making dumb jokes about something smart and complicated, the joke is that I’m too dumb to realise this is more complicated than the simplistic approach I’m taking”. Actually smart. And based on the first episode of The Weekly, it just isn’t smart enough.
Watching The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight, you’re never going to die wondering about the issues that those involved with those shows feel passionate about. Even watching Mad as Hell, there are enough moments where clearly someone was mad as hell about something (even if it’s the way giant supermarket chains treat their produce suppliers) to give the show some bite.
The Weekly felt like a toothless operation complied by a bunch of cosily comfortable comedy professionals (head writer: Tom Gleeson – hey look, Pickering’s old co-host from The Mansion days, Michael “Chambo” Chamberlin’s got a gig here too) who are perfectly happy to wave at issues with an ornate feather-laden novelty comedy fan rather than let us know how they really feel. Because they feel nothing beyond paying their bills? These days, who does?
Gleeson’s vaccination rant towards the end of the show was a perfectly decent piece of comedy business that even managed to raise a chuckle or two at Tumbleweeds HQ. But we never got the impression for a single solitary second that Gleeson gave a shit either way about the issue. Sure, we’ve never got the impression Gleeson really gives a shit about much of anything; like Kitty Flanagan, he’s just not that kind of comedian. So what is he doing on this kind of show?
Maybe this’ll improve in coming weeks. We doubt it. The ABC have put together a team of safe hands to do what they’re best known for doing; so far they’re doing that just fine. And if the result is a largely insipid, dumbed-down take on an all-encompassing media environment where everything else – commercials, politicians’ gag writers, our corporate masters, tumblr activists, the guy sitting behind you on the bus – is so much smarter than this aspires to be… well, guess we’re the idiots for expecting a Daily Show rip-off to rip-off what really makes The Daily Show work.
Dammit Fairfax, we called it a rip-off too!
Charlie Pickering says he wants to create TV similar to that made by veteran presenter Clive James, but some viewers think he’s trying to be like US host, John Oliver.
Pickering’s new ABC show The Weekly aired for the first time on Wednesday night, during which Pickering and co-presenters Kitty Flanagan and Tom Gleeson took a satirical look on the issues of the week, including internet piracy and vaccinations.
Before the show aired, Pickering revealed he had been re-watching old episodes of Australian presenter Clive James’s TV show on YouTube.
“As a kid I used to watch the TV that Clive James made and think it was the best in the world,” Pickering said.
However, Pickering has been criticised on Twitter for trying to emulate US satirical host, John Oliver who presents Last Week Tonight.
(at least one of those positive tweets comes from a media comrade of Pickering’s, by the way)