Okay, so we kinda sorta knew Aunty Donna’s pilot was going to be the pick of the Fresh Blood bunch. For one thing, their previous efforts have been funny; for another, they’re an actual comedy team who’ve been working together for years. How often do you see one of them these days?
So their pilot was a cut above the rest; in fact, it was pretty much the only one of the five that we reckon could go to series as is. BedHead and Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am need a lot of work; The Record was 50% gold, but that’s not really enough to get the thumbs up; Fancy Boy was a solid sketch show, but does anyone think they’re going to get all the big names back for minor roles if it goes to series?
So yep, it’s not a contest… but if it was, they win. The opening musical intro alone is a stand-out, the plot – the handsome, popular member of their sketch comedy team has bailed, leaving the remaining three with no chance of actually becoming funny before the big gig that night – is a solid framework for a bunch of sketch-like events leading to a big climax, and unlike a lot of people trying the “manic” school of comedy they stick enough funny moments in there to stay on the right side of annoying. Like we said up front, it’s the pick of the Fresh Blood bunch. We all knew that going in. So wait, why are they even part of this talent quest?
What Aunty Donna’s presence here tells us is that something is not quite right in the ABC’s commissioning process when it comes to scripted comedy. These guys shouldn’t be jumping through these very public hoops: they’ve done enough good work to be on the ABC’s radar as part of their regular program-making process.
But of course, there is now a very, very big gap between the people who can get shows on the air and the people who should be getting a shot at getting shows on the air. The days when the ABC was a breeding ground for comedy talent that would then go on to the commercial networks are long gone; now commercial no-talents are welcomed at the ABC with open arms in the desperate hope that some of their audience will follow (Charlie Pickering, Josh Thomas).
With nowhere for even the quality ABC acts to go and ABC2 no longer running new programming, we now have a comedy logjam. We may not have been fans of a lot of the ABC’s scripted comedy output in recent years – we’re not calling for the return of The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife-Fighting, fuck that – but the guys behind The Moodys probably should have got another shot at a sitcom. Where’s the next series from Gristmill? The Twentysomething team? Where’s John Safran? Where’s Tony Martin? Oh wait, we’re back on the old guys again.
It’s a year ago this month that the Bondi Hipster’s TV series Soul Mates aired. It wasn’t perfect, but it showed promise. So where’s their follow-up? Okay, those guys scored a Screen Australia grant and so don’t need to work – uh, are “developing ideas” – for the time being. But the list of equally mildly promising Australian comedies from the last few years is reasonably long (no, not The Strange Calls); why is the ABC even holding public pilots when they aren’t giving the people who’ve already made a series for them another shot?
Could it be that they have no real interest in encouraging new comedy? Could these pilots really be as good as it’s going to get? Are guys like Aunty Donna going to be stuck waiting for a rope ladder that’s never going to be thrown down? Is the real joke behind all this the idea that these pilots are ever going to lead anywhere?