Week three and the deck chairs are starting to be shuffled around. Gone is Kitty Flanagan’s segment; gone too the interview. In their place we get a UK correspondent fulfilling exactly the same role international comedy correspondents have been filling since satellite links became feasible, and Pickering hitting the road as a roving correspondent himself to check out the controversy surrounding a proposed mosque in Bendigo. Was any of this funny? It’s The Weekly – do you have to ask?
After last week’s failure to provide any kind of depth, this week they’ve doubled down and bet the farm on the concept of “breadth”. Well, not entirely: once again The Weekly tackled a big-ish issue – our pitifully low level of foreign aid – and managed to tell us a few things we almost certainly already knew. “Governments can cut foreign aid because foreigners don’t vote” and “most people think we spend way more overseas than we actually do”. There you go, we just saved you five minutes.
No matter how much they tinker with the format, it’s become reasonably clear that the real problems with this show – the ones that are going to hold it back week in week out – are fundamental. The jokes here are good; they’re just not as good as the ones on The Hamster Wheel or Mad as Hell. Pickering, Gleeson and Flanagan can be funny; they’re just not funny enough to have a show all to themselves.
It might be too early to call it, but we’re going to do it anyway: Pickering is screwed. Not because he’s a terrible host, but because he’s an average host stuck in a format that is 80% a showcase for the host. Around half the show is just him being a comedy newsreader, and even Pickering’s biggest supporters would have to admit that he doesn’t have the comedy persona to carry that off.
Not that many other TV Australians could manage it either: even Adam “much-loved” Hill’s talk show struggled. Shaun Micallef rarely does the kind of long, explanatory stories Pickering is trying to pull off here, and his interviews are with comedy characters a lot more interesting than Tom Gleeson. And when you get down to it, Pickering is kind of bland – the only edge he has on television is the kind of vaguely sneery arrogance that makes him come off like a NQR version of Wil Anderson. And even Anderson lets the panel do most of the talking on Gruen.
The Weekly has a format that needs two things to work: a strong host and a smart writers room. So far it’s displayed neither. Seriously guys, “The Insider’s Insider” isn’t a sketch for week three. It’s a sketch for week seventeen when you’re really struggling, and even then the only way it’s going to work is if the real joke is that our much-loved Weekly team are just piss-farting about. Which is never going to happen because even in a scripted sketch it seems the writers automatically give Pickering the role of “bossy arsehole”.
(Micallef has often talked about the way he’ll play an arrogant sod as the host of his various shows then make sure in the sketches he plays the low status character to balance things out. Guess Pickering was too busy laughing at every single thing Micallef ever said on Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation to actually learn anything from him.)
Maybe in the next few weeks they’ll figure out that going deeper – much deeper – into the issues is the only way to make this show worthwhile. Having Pickering go to Bendigo, bung on a Chris Morris voice (hey, it made a change from his Jon Stewart) and mock idiots to their face is only ever going to be more than just a smart-arse making fun of idiots if there’s some actual point behind it beyond “some people are dumb”. You don’t say? We kinda figured that one out when the audience laughed at the intro to “This Is What You Think”.
It’s a weekly show with a smallish staff so no doubt there are limits to what they can do. So do an interview. Do a few bits that are meant to be lightweight and silly. And then when you tackle a topic in-depth, actually have something deep to say. It’s nice that you can make the point that foreign aid helps Australia as much as it helps others; if that’s all you’ve got to say, say it in half the time and move on.
(sure, it’s easier for us to say this stuff than it is for them to go and do it – that’s why they get paid full-time wages to make the show and we’re spotting the reasons why the show is struggling for free.)
At this stage it really does feel like The Weekly isn’t going to improve any time soon. They must know something’s not quite right, but all the changes this week were superficial. Unless there’s a willingness and an ability to go deeper – to make the truly insightful joke, to present the surprising fact, to serve up the unpopular truth instead of saving any mention of the executions of the Bali Nine until a week after they happened and then only mention them just to poke fun at people saying they’re going to boycott Bali* – The Weekly is going to be as worthwhile as a week-old newspaper.
*which in it’s “ha ha, some people care enough about an issue to make an empty gesture” attitude reminded us of way too many previous ABC comedies where the big laughs were always meant to be at the idea that anyone would care about an issue or think that one side of politics was any different from the other. You really think that opposing capital punishment (even half-heartedly) makes someone a loser? Or that as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard are basically the same? Then why are you even doing political comedy? Oh right, Hey Hey it’s Saturday isn’t hiring.