The Natter That Doesn’t Matter

So Room 101 finally made its long-awaited debut – yes, we know we’re stretching the definition of ‘long-awaited” to breaking point there – on SBS over the weekend, in one of those “special double episode” launches that tend to smell just a little of “let’s get this over with”. Especially after those lengthy delays in bringing it to air. And the Saturday night timeslot, though to be fair SBS has done a reasonable job of training their viewers to expect comedy-esque material there thanks to Rockwiz. Basically, we went in expecting a shocker. And what did we find?

Well, presumably SBS coughed up the money to licence the format from the UK because it’s the cheapest format in living memory: two people chatting for 20-odd minutes. Remember when Tony Martin had that interview show? It’s like that, only way less informative BUT WITH A WACKY SET.  We’re going to assume host Paul McDermott has a “wacky set” clause in his contract these days, lord knows he’s never seen without one.

The idea of the show is that the various “celebrity” guests being along a list of peeves and dislikes that they hope to persuade the host are actual peeves, and therefore worthy of being locked away in ah who cares it’s just more comedy chit-chat. McDermott is not the worst person in Australia to be hosting this kind of thing, which immediately puts it ahead of pretty much all the ABC’s efforts at this kind of thing, and the guests – Julia Zemiro and H.G. Nelson – are people who can speak, so there’s that.

But it’s still a show that opens with five minutes of talk about hi-fives. In fact, it’s still a show that’s basically just a variation on Grumpy Old Men which yes we know wasn’t invented until a full decade after the original UK radio version of Room 101, let alone the television one but the only other example we could use for this sort of thing was The Agony of Life and we’ll be buggered if we’re going to get dragged down that mineshaft again.

So Zemiro doesn’t like people eating in the theatre, or buffets, or life coaches, or tamper-proof packaging. H.G. Nelson doesn’t like paper cuts and pre-match entertainment. They chat away, time passes, McDermott doesn’t really press them on the subject, and we’d be looking at our watches if it wasn’t easier just to check the clock on the front of the PVR under the TV set.

“Bland” has never been a word used much by TV critics in this country, mostly because if they said it once they’d never stop. But this… this fits the bill. There’s nothing here to make this worth your time, and unless things go seriously wrong in future episodes – McDermott starts getting really aggressive and probing, a guest or two reveals some grim horrifying secret – that’s not going to change.

And even if that did happen, it wouldn’t make the show funny. The kind of people who can make 20-something minutes of chat about their fears (well, dislikes really) funny are stand-up comedians or other comedy professionals… you know, the kind of people who don’t become famous enough in this country to be a guest on this kind of one-on-one show. Especially when McDermott gave up his edge and became a professional television host a good decade or more ago.

What’s left is a show where two television hosts natter to each other about niggles. Wake us when Rockwiz is back on.

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