As Black Comedy vanishes in the rear vision mirror it’s increasingly clear – well, it was pretty obvious from the start, but sometimes it takes a while for these things to sink in – that of the two words in the title, only one is surprising to see on the ABC. Okay, we’re exaggerating for effect, but only slightly: is there anything else on the current ABC “comedy” line-up that remotely resembles a comedy?
Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery is an interview show; The Weekly is watered-down current affairs (does anyone really think it’s a show where comedy comes first?). And presumably while the “Black” part of the title is what put the show on the air, it’s the “Comedy” that makes it stand out. Because over the last few years “comedy” has come to mean “all forms of light entertainment” on the national broadcaster. So to have an actual old-fashioned sketch show on the ABC in prime time? That’s ground-breaking stuff for 2016.
That said, Black Comedy is a solid sketch show that’s entertaining without being overly memorable. The extended “Wandaroorah” sketch in last week’s episode (in which a creepy outback town – shot to look like a 70s horror movie – decides to kidnap some Aborigines for NADOC week) was more interesting than hilarious, but we did finally get the “why do UFOs only kidnap white people?” “Because they’re easier to see in the dark” joke the trailers have been promising.
But simply being a solid sketch show is a pretty big deal these days. Yes, it’s yet to really find a way to turn its insights into race relations in this country into classic comedy – you may have noticed none of the usual online clearing houses have been running many Black Comedy sketches under the headline “Nailed It!” – but a sketch show that focuses on being funny is definitely doing something right.
Like we seem to say way, way too often, Black Comedy is a show that did the bare minimum to belong on our television screens. It was funny and insightful: it just wasn’t hilariously funny or deeply insightful. Yes, it’s great to have a show on television from a non-Anglo perspective, and it’s even better that it shows off a whole range of characters and behaviours rather than just a handful of cliches. But isn’t that the bare minimum we should expect from our television?
It’s great that a show like Black Comedy has been on the air for two seasons, but just because it’s better than pretty much all of the Anglo sketch shows of the last few years doesn’t mean we can’t demand something better.