Dirty Laundry Live is a show that came up the old-fashioned way: a panel show focusing on celebrity gossip on the ABC’s second network, it was basically a low-key time-filler until it turned out to be surprisingly watchable and so swiftly – well, swiftly by the standards of the ABC – moved up to the big time. The system works!
Unfortunately, last season this move to the big time also involved a move to a longer format, which (in our opinion at least) was less successful. When your show involves people sitting around talking crap, often more doesn’t equal better: there’s such a thing as wearing out your welcome, you know. So with season three, our big question – as we already know Lawrence Mooney, Marty Sheargold and Brooke Satchwell can be both smart and funny – was this: is the show going to tighten up?
After three weeks, we can finally provide an answer: nuh. Despite the many and varied attempts to mix things up, fifty minutes of this show is at least ten minutes too long. Still, considering pretty much every Australian panel show of the last decade has worn out its welcome at the five minute mark of episode one, that’s pretty impressive stuff.
If we knew exactly why this show works when so many others have failed, this blog would be a ghost town and we’d be off raking in mad cash from the commercial networks. But at a guess, it doesn’t hurt that it has a fairly specific remit. Panel shows that are too broad are usually shit because what’s the point? You can talk about general stuff with your mates. You want a topic that’s specific enough that you might learn something yet general enough that you won’t get lost. That’s usually sport or music, only sport has its own programs and music equals Spicks & Specks and the ABC shat the bed there.
Having a decent panel composed of various slightly different funny people would also seem like an obvious starting point but then you turn on your television and Peter Helliar’s still getting work so clearly we need to point it out yet again. Lawrence Mooney is the perfect host for this kind of show – a happy-go-lucky type with no worries about going sleazy yet able to look just a little embarrassed at how sleazy he’s going – Brooke Satchwell is the insider happy to be in on the joke, and Marty Sheargold is a sure-fire laugh getter presumably only hampered in his seemingly inevitable rise to the top by the occasional moment where he seems just a little bit creepy.
But that’s another strength of the show: unlike most panel efforts where it’s a flat out battle to get the funniest lines out there and so the shoutiest person – hello to Kate Langbroek if you’re reading – wins, Dirty Laundry Live has a core trio with different strengths. Marty will take it too far, Brooke will rein it back in, and Lawrence gets to deliver the capper that signals it’s time to move on. It’s pretty much the formula that’s made the various Gruen shows work; why it hasn’t been applied more often remains a mystery.
Hang on, no it isn’t, because it clearly comes off here as something they stumbled across by accident. The main factor in what makes Dirty Laundry Live work seems to be that they were largely left alone to figure out the show on their own. It’s a panel show about celebrity gossip: does anyone seriously think the ABC bigwigs are taking pride in it at dinner parties?
Not every Australian comedy show needs to be a massive break-out success, though fuck knows we could do with at least one a decade. Dirty Laundry Live isn’t that success, but it does deliver what it promises on the side of the box: a show that revels in mindless celebrity gossip while occasionally wondering why we give a shit about mindless celebrity gossip. The quiz show aspect isn’t great but it keeps things moving, the cutaways to other panel members laughing at jokes is annoying but we get that some people need to be told they’ve just heard a joke, and it’s all at least ten minutes too long (the sketches with John Wood scrape by largely because oh look, it’s John Wood).
But hey, we laughed. Which is more than we ever said about Tractor Monkeys.