The Circus is Back in Town

So The Chaser’s Media Circus returned last week, and we had nothing to say about it. Well, actually we did: compared to the stodgy, plodding panel show we recalled from last year it was a snappy, pacy – even, dare we say, funny – slice of political comedy that used the game show angle to (mostly) move things forward and pile on the jokes. So of course, we decided to wait a week in case it all fell apart.

That’s not (entirely) bastardly behaviour on our part: this kind of political comedy is slightly more reliant on the week’s news than, say, The Weekly, and with nine months or so of news to work with for the first episode it wasn’t surprising at all that the first episode was serving up gold. But could they maintain that level of quality? Why not wait a week and find out?

Of course, a week in which a serving Prime Minister was dumped isn’t exactly going to be short of material, but we’ll be buggered if we’re going to wait around for a third week. So we squinted hard, tried to filter out the way 99% of the jokes were about the spill (the other 1% were fat jokes about Kim Beasley), and focused on the substance of the show. Kinda.

The big problem with Media Circus last year was that – like every other panel show ever – it was labouring under the impression that we actually wanted to hear from the panellists. So we’re pleased to report that the couch waffle has been cut back to the occasional quip or one-sentence insight. And extended segments on media guff – Manufactured Outrage was this week’s topic – was a return to the golden days of The Hamster Wheel’s worthy attempts to educate as well as amuse. As for using old news clips… well, fine, so long as they’re interesting. Having Chris Bath talk about burping on live television… well, not so much.

The game show bits remain the weak point, which is a problem as they’re the core rationale for the show. All the usual problems apply: the results don’t matter so the games have to be funny, but telling the same joke twice doesn’t work so having both teams do the same game is a dud 50% of the time. Fortunately they seem to have upped the number of games that directly pit the teams against each other, so those segments aren’t always lethal.

Generally speaking, this year’s Media Circus feels like there’s been a bit more work put into each episode than last year’s model. But while it doesn’t have last year’s air of exhaustion, it still feels like a bit of a mess. The scripted segments – again, a firm highlight – riff on various aspects of the local media, but the games are just the usual comedy game show stuff poking fun at the news. They sort of fit together in that they both involve “the news”, but one has real insights to offer; the other is just “guess which news stories we cut up to make this funny sentence”.

We’ve said it before, but the big problem facing television – and especially comedy – is that the internet is now the go-to place for lightweight crap. Making fun of the week in politics? Unless you’re able to go smarter or deeper than twitter, you’re wasting everybody’s time. So while the scripted parts of Media Circus remain strong, the game show part?

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