Amongst all those solid but firmly average comedies currently enjoying long runs is Foxtel sketch show Open Slather. Half its cast, some of its production team and the formula of the show are all very familiar from long-running weekly sketch shows of the 80’s and 90’s such as The Comedy Company, Fast Forward and Full Frontal, which is fine – those shows were popular at the time and are fondly remembered – but as the weeks of Open Slather fly past the show isn’t exactly developing…which isn’t exactly inspiring us to watch.
But we do, and just when we thought they’d got through all the Downton Abbey and Random Breath Test sketches…there’s a whole bunch more of them. Great. It’s not that we don’t kinda admire the way in which a relatively small team seems to have written and made seemingly hundreds of sketches on the same theme, it’s more that this isn’t our definition of comedy. What joke there was to start with has been done now. Many, many times. We’re bored now!
Amongst the parodies of well-known and long-running TV series like Masterchef, Mad Men, Real Housewives of… and Game of Thrones, and the “contemporary lifestyle” or “modern workplace” social satire sketches, we almost wish they’d thrown in something topical – a parody of The Killing Season, say, or a take on Zaky Mallah’s controversial Q&A appearance. Sketches about politics or ABC shows aren’t really done on Open Slather – and that’s a reasonable and fairly typical commercial television creative choice to make – but it feels odd to watch a local comedy in June 2015 and not see anything about some of the programs and issues that have fired up politicians, media pundits and social media junkies in June 2015.
Of course the real problem with Open Slather isn’t the decision to not parody ABC shows or to do political or topical comedy, it’s more the decision to do repeated sketches and lots of them. It’s partly one of finances – hire some stately home and a few early-1900’s costumes and wigs for the day, shoot a billion Downton sketches, et voila: 20 episodes worth of sketches in the can! – but it’s a cost cutting decision that severely effects the quality of the end product. Sketch shows on TV are about variety – different scenarios, different characters, different styles – and if every week your show features parodies of the same well-known shows, and a smattering of other stuff that isn’t that great, then it’s going to get a bit boring.
The initial buzz around Open Slather has definitely died down, largely because its predictability means there’s nothing more to say about it, and in today’s TV market that’s a huge problem. The reality shows and big budget dramas Open Slather is parodying understand that they need to keep things fresh and exciting to keep audiences watching, yet Open Slather itself seems to have settled in to a firm creative rut. Sure, there have only been six episodes so far, but if they want to keep people tuning in for the remaining 14 they’ll need to do something very, very soon.
Full Frontal could so easily have been a sold but average sequel to Fast Forward, but then along came Shaun Micallef and friends and suddenly it had spark. Open Slather needs to find its Shaun Micallef. In the days of The Comedy Company and Fast Forward the idea of repeated sketches and recurring characters was fine, but attention spans are shorter these days and thanks to the internet there are more comedy choices, from more parts of the world, delivered in more ways, than ever before…and of all of them, why would you pick Open Slather?