Remember Open Slather? The show that was going to revitalise Australian sketch comedy by harking back to the golden age of the late 80s and… well, that was pretty much it. But the late 80s! When comedy was funny! Not all the quasi-racist material mind you, and a lot of the stuff about women looks a bit iffy now, and the celebrity parodies can be a little basic and a lot of the really successful characters you probably couldn’t get away with today, but yeah… Open Slather.
It’s a sign of just how compelling this particular Foxtel sketch comedy show has been that we didn’t even realise it had gone on a break after its tenth episode. But the good news is, it’s back! Having sacked most of its writers during the course of the first series, we were pretty interested to see if narrowing down the staff to the ever-reliable core of Dave O’Neil and his buddies would lead to any noticeable uptick in quality on-screen.
Of course that didn’t happen, but it is fair to say that Open Slather 2.0 comes across as a far more solid effort than their first stab at it. Not funny, we have to stress – “solid”. Gone for the most part are the bizarrely unfunny sketches (remember “Rack”) that left us scratching our heads; gone also are a lot of the more blatant attempts to create “sure-fire” comedy characters. The TV show parodies have been scaled back a bit too, though you’re never going to kill off that Liz Hayes 60 Minutes one.
What’s left – aside from more jokes involving guys in suits of armour because they rented them for a Game of Thrones parody way back in ep one and they might as well get their money’s worth – is the kind of blandly competent sketches that have put Australian sketch comedy in its grave. A sketch about a hip restaurant’s overly complicated ordering system! A sketch about a guy at a job interview who doesn’t want to get hired! A sketch about separated parents who use their child as a weapon! Actually, that’s a series of sketches. That idea does not get funnier with repetition.
Occasionally things move out of a comfort zone firmly established in 1991. A sketch where a man is murdered in fairly gruesome fashion for writing on a whiteboard with a permanent marker is slightly unpleasant; Guru Steve’s surf karate course opens episode 12 because it’s almost kind of funny. And an extended sketch where Marg Downey is a daggy loser on Dancing With the Stars is the kind of thing she was doing 30 years ago with the D-Generation.
But for the most part this feels firmly like the thrill has gone. All that’s left is a bunch of professionals getting the job done. They’re still doing those Glenn Robbins roadside drug testing sketches, only now Robbins literally walks out of the sketch halfway through and lets the new guys finish things off.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere.