This was the week where The Weekly finally decided it was time to stop carving out that rut it’s been so proud of and just settle back into it. No more tinkering with the format: everything we saw this week was old news. More importantly, the tone of the show – which is probably the biggest problem – seems set. If you like Charlie Pickering being astonished, that’s a pit that doesn’t have a bottom.
The trouble with lifting your act wholesale from John Stewart is that John Stewart actually has a point of view. Pickering… not so much. Ending a report on gay marriage with “When an Englishmen, and Irishman and an Aussie walk into a bar, it turns out we’re the punchline” is not just a dumb line – it’s basically the safest possible thing you can say on the topic. You just did a story on how three quarters of Australians support gay marriage: you can afford to go harder on the guys who don’t.
But then there’s Tom Gleeson’s utterly shithouse “Hard Chat” segment, in which he gets the people who run this country and asks them “what would a dick xylophone sound like?” Ouch, sick burn. Looks like once again, the ABC has served up a comedy segment where the point seems to be to make politicians look good. Of course, even a segment where you sat politicians down then smacked them across the back of the head with a chair leg would still make them look good. SO DON’T HAVE THEM ON.
This is the last week we’re going to bother with The Weekly (hurrah!). It seems to be happy with what it’s doing: acting like it’s smarter than it really is and funnier than it really is. And that’s not its fault. Being on the ABC (a network that has to appeal to everyone from old farts and grumpy right-wing nutters to smart-arses who think they know a lot about comedy) trying to do a show designed for US pay TV (where the whole idea is to do something really well that will only appeal to a narrow audience) meant this was never going to work. And lo, it doesn’t.
Yes, it could be a lot better than it is. Maybe try giving Tom Gleeson no air time. Maybe get in another comedian or two to do short self-contained bits so the show doesn’t leave you thinking “how the fuck did that drag on for half an hour?” Maybe either actually make the big “hard-hitting” story actually hard hitting (that is to say, take a swing at some actually controversial issues – and maybe even take a stand on them too), or make it a lot sillier and cut it in half.
But then you’ve still got Charlie Pickering. Others have pointed out that his entire career arc has been from fake television news reader to real television news reader and back to fake, which gives you a pretty solid idea of why he got the job and why he’s not very good at it. The default setting for a host on a “John Oliver-like” show should be righteous indignation: who-gives-a-fuck-smarm is not the same thing.
The Weekly is bland, safe, largely pointless and a constant reminder that the ABC’s favourite kind of satire is the kind that doesn’t actually rock the boat. Fourteen more weeks to go, everyone: hope you brought a pillow.
Exactly as you said, shows like this are meant to exist for a niche, passionate audience (unless, like Oliver and Stewart they are just so goddamned good that they can set their own agenda), or need to be willing to explore a subject in such a pointed, satiric way that it ignites on social media, shared by people excited to see someone finally saying what they themselves might not have known they were feeling.
But no one has ever said (or I’d wager, ever will say), ‘Honey! You have to get in here and watch this! A smug fuck in a suit is half-smiling at his own lightweight observational pulled punches! …And oh good! Tom Gleeson’s up next!’
Genius is viral. Mediocrity is death.
If all Pickering wanted to do was serve up mediocre gear like this he should have just re-skinned ‘The Project’ or (gods help us) ‘The Glasshouse’ and continued pretending to himself that he was a comedian with something to say trapped in the wrong format.
The hubris of invoking (or rather: blatantly ripping off) real social satirists like Oliver and Stewart – and all those self-righteous interviews he gave in the lead up to the premiere about how he was FINALLY going to speak his mind – just meant that the vacuum at the center of this show now is even more apparent.
(And it’s pretty telling when one of the recent Australian news stories most ripe for mockery, Barnaby Joyce’s beef with Johnny Depp’s dogs, was best handled by ‘Last Week Tonight’, from the other side of the world.)
Re. the Depp dog story – they didn’t mention it did they? But what could you expect, it happened late week and we’d be attacking them for doing it 3 days after John Oliver.