Vale Mad as Hell (again)

Once again the internet was flooded with an outpouring of grief at the news that the current series of Shaun Micallef is Mad as Hell will be the last. Well, a few people mentioned it. To us at least. Fortunately this seemed based largely on Micallef ending the series pretty much the same way as he’s ended every other one – like he wouldn’t be back. What else is he going to do, say “see you next year” halfway through April? Even the ABC don’t know what they’re planning for 2016 yet.

That said, there are two fairly obvious scenarios that could play out: either The Weekly becomes a hit and is the ABC’s first choice for news-based satire, or it tanks and Mad as Hell is left as their first choice (the third option involves The Chaser wanting to do another news-based show, but that seems a little unlikely at this point). Sure, the ABC could keep both on – they had both Mad as Hell and The Hamster Wheel for a while there – but giving twenty weeks to The Weekly is a pretty firm sign that the ABC want it to step up to the lead role.

(as an aside, has anyone else noticed that that a): it’s always the shows that come from management rather than creative that get the massive episode runs on the ABC, and b): it’s always the shows that come from management rather than creative that are the long-running disasters on the ABC? Of course, the shows that come from creatives are often disasters too, but at least then there isn’t a massive stockpile of episodes to burn off)

Having the ABC position The Weekly as Mad as Hell‘s successor is a little bit irksome, because despite being easily the funniest news satire show the ABC’s had this century, Mad as Hell has never quite been the one in the spotlight. For most of Mad as Hell‘s run The Chaser were still seen as the ABC’s go-to guys for making fun of the news (with The Roast inexplicably kept in the mix there somewhere) ; now that they’ve finally stepped aside, here comes another show getting the big boost.

Some may say that this lower profile enables Micallef and company to get away with more. No doubt not being the ABC’s main political comedy was a help early on – The Hamster Wheel did all the “proper” news comedy while Micallef messed around releasing the Kraken and dropping pianos on guests and so forth. But as pretty much the only Australian comedy show this century to actually improve over the years, now really should have been its time to shine.

Then again, has anyone else noticed a small but growing number of people stepping forward to say that they “don’t get” Micallef? A lot of TV critics have started peppering their “Australian comedy is stronger than it’s ever been” bullshit with lines like “Micallef’s Mad as Hell has its fans”, which is critic-speak for KILL IT WITH FIRE. And didn’t Fairfax waffler supreme David Dale recently say Micallef was reaching his use-by date? Geez, if people in the media have use-by dates someone might want to tip Dale over and check the number stamped on his arse.

We’d see their comments as more than just a nasty whisper campaign if they actually backed it up with, you know, the occasional reference to the actual show. Is it so hard to write “Micallef’s increasing reliance on references to his own back catalogue – less of the Micallef Tonight sign, guys – worn-out running gags (the Kraken’s been unleashed one too many times) and Blade Runner jokes signals a show that’s increasingly insular.”? Look, we just did it then and we don’t even believe it.

Because the fact remains – and it is a fact, all that crap about how it’s impossible to critique comedy needs to go into the bin, to coin a phrase – that Mad as Hell is the funniest show on Australian television. Sure, it’s not funny at all if you don’t find Micallef and co’s kind of humour amusing, but that’s a pretty good sign your idea of a laff-riot is a double feature of chin-stroking during The Agony of Piles and The Gruen [subject to be confirmed]. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Mad as Hell features non-stop jokes that range from wordplay to political observations to silly character stuff to the kind of “hey, this SBS report about the Reserve Bank is illustrated entirely with slightly different shots of the outside of the bank” bits that used to make The Hamster Wheel worthwhile. There’s a live audience to keep the energy up, there’s Micallef gurning away to do the same, there’s material that actually has an impact on the wider nation – the focus on Bill Shorten’s amazingly poor zingers really has shaped the perception of him out in the community – and there’s a reference to The Baldy Man that we’re deeply ashamed we got.

It’ll be missed.


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  • Grogan says:

    So Fairfax, who pump the everloving f*^k out of whatever Chris Lilley barfs out and find Please Like Me amusing, think that Micallef has reached his used by date? Reminds me why I stopped buying The Age.

  • Tony Tea says:

    This was the first time I had ever watched Mad as Hell (have there been other MAHs?) and other SM shows. I found myself laughing out loud often during every episode, and I’m a 50+ grump, cynic and conservative.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    It was a slow start and seemed to end just when the show was hitting it’s stride again. Pickering showing up in the end could’ve done better i.e. self-deprecating himself in front of our Lord Micallef.

  • clickiplumperchoot says:

    I’ve been reading some of the stuff about the Weekly / interviews with pickering. I’m ready to hate the hell out of it–I can’t wait for it to come out. There was a good piece by John Safran recently that did a good neutral and non-sucking up piece on Pickering. What was oddly mentioned there, and in a number of other articles was, that Pickering has dealt with bullying in his life—but that’s also mixed with a smug consolation about his success which is kinda petty.

    This quote stood out to me as rather odd:

    “Ron spoke to his son after the last school reunion. “I think he quite likes going back there,” Ron says, “and seeing that some of them haven’t quite done as well as they might have. The ones who were the big rowers and the big footballers; they were bigger and stronger. As Charlie said, ‘There was one there who had a lot of hair 20 years ago, and now he doesn’t.’ ”

    I mean what the actual fuck? He enjoys going back to school reunions because he sees some people haven’t done as well as they might have? What an unhealthy guy. Hopefully this is just a PR narrative, because it is as if his entire comedy career is about building himself up to be ‘better’ than jocks in his school. Pretty much everyone has dealt with being bullied before, but when you look back you realise the jocks usually had bad home lives. You don’t revel in being more successful than them–especially when your comedy ‘career’ seems to be based on something really dodgy.

    “Ron remembers Charlie getting heat from other students at Brighton Grammar for winning the school’s public speaking prize. “He won that in year 10, 11 and 12, against the year 11s and 12s, even when he was in year 10. The teacher said to him at the time, ‘Well, you can have a prize named after you.’ I think some of the others probably thought, ‘Oh, that’s a bit rich.’ ” The Charlie Pickering trophy for public speaking is still awarded today.”

    There isn’t much more to say but wow, how fucking weird.

    The vibe I get from Pickering is the same vibe I got from the host of the roast. Out of touch with society, but totally in touch with the executives. People aren’t going to watch this show. Pickering is too reserved and boring–he lacks the inexplicable spark that Micallef and all other successful hosts have.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Well comedians usually have personal foibles, then again, is Pickering a comedian?

    The real problem with Pickering and Micallef (who doesn’t really get the ratings he deserves) is that they wear upper crusts on their sleeves. They’re not a knock around bloke like Hughesy, Lehmo or Hamish & Andy (even though they are from the same social sphere).

  • Richard says:

    “a): it’s always the shows that come from management rather than creative that get the massive episode runs on the ABC”


  • Stuart says:

    Perfectly put. I too thought David Dale was out of order suggesting Shaun was “over-exposed” – one weekly show and a couple of minor appearances? Kochie anyone?

    I think what is great about Micallef is that there’s jokes on all levels – word play jokes, self-referential, political, satire – you don’t have to get them all. To not “get him” really suggests you have no interest in laughing.

    I think the whole Charlie situation is the ABC trying to keep their eggs in multiple baskets, in case Shaun decides to move on. Sans the ink on the paper, I’m pretty certain there will be another 10 eps next year.

    But as a huge fan, I’m biased.