Every Day I’m Juggling

It’s taken us a few days to figure out exactly what there is to say about the returns of Have You Been Paying Attention? and Mad as Hell this week because… look, they’re not exactly reinventing the wheel this many series in, you know? There’s a few minor tweaks here and there – more segment graphics on Mad as Hell, more segment graphics on HYBPA? – but for the most part they both know they’re getting the job done so they’re happy to get on with it.

This is, to put it bluntly, not a situation we’re all that used to in Australian television. For most of the 21st century, long-running comedy hits have been few and far between (unless you count Spicks & Specks, which we probably won’t). The Chaser have been around for ages but they usually do a (somewhat) different show every couple of years; Gruen wanders around aimlessly trying to find new topics for its crack team of smug rich people to pontificate on. And for scripted shows, it’s two series and you’re done, the upcoming revival of Upper Middle Bogan aside; we’re guessing the fact that Mad as Hell falls under “live entertainment” and not “comedy” at the ABC has played some small role there.

Not every show should have a long run, of course. You could argue that we’ve had such a high turnover of comedies in Australia over the last decade because most of them have been shithouse and you wouldn’t find much argument here. But the fact that pretty much all the long-running shows – the work of Chris Lilley excepted, because c’mon, he’s been making the exact same show under different names now since We Can Be Heroes – have been shows that most reasonable people would accept deserved their long runs, suggests that there’s probably been a few short-running shows that deserved another series or two.

Lilley’s also been the only long-running creator to actively wear out his welcome: both Micallef and creators of HYBPA? Working Dog have been in the business for decades and are still doing well, while The Chaser and (this pains us to say it) Gruen have been at the very least consistent in achieving the goals they’ve set out for themselves with their various projects. In Lilley’s case, as we’ve been saying since Summer Heights High, the problem was always that he could only do a very small number of things well; once audiences got sick of that, he had nothing left to offer.

In contrast, one of the secrets of the success of all these long-running shows has been their variety. For Gruen and The Chaser, that’s been obvious: they’ve shifted formats and topics every year or so. But while Mad as Hell and HYBPA? have kept the same formats over the years – Mad as Hell is a news comedy with Micallef the same patrician newsreader he’s been since Newstopia; HYBPA? is a news game show – they’ve still found ways to mix things up.

In comparison with a show like The Weekly, which contains only the “news satire” ingredients you’d expect going in and nothing more, Mad as Hell is full to bursting with all manner of comedy, from Micallef’s expressions to wordplay to fake ads to character material to a swipe at The Project which (for at least one of us) was the funniest thing all week. The container is standardised: what’s inside varies from minute to minute.

Likewise, HYBPA? is a news quiz first and foremost, but – thanks in large part to coming from Working Dog, a group of producers who seem to really value working with people they get along with – it’s also managed to build up a decent sub-level of character comedy. Sam Pang is never going to win (unless he does); Mick Molloy is a sleazy drunk (in a family-friendly timeslot); Ed Kavalee is… well, it’s always fun to have him around. Unlike the endless series of failed ABC panel shows, there’s a sense of people who get along with each other having fun that operates above and beyond the (scripted?) gag answers, which helps the show stay entertaining when other elements flag.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Neither show would have stayed on air this long if they weren’t working on more than one level. But when you see how many shows make it to air here that barely even work on the one level they’re advertised as having, it’s not hard to be impressed by shows that make juggling multiple balls look this easy.

[no, we will not be ending on a “juggling balls” joke about Please Like Me – ed]

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  • yeps says:

    Sorry, this is unrelated, but:

    Rebel Wilson is suing the media for ruining her career opportunities by suggesting that she has lied about her name and age.

    So for those running a tally: She’s now lost jobs because the film industry is dominated by a ‘boys club’;

    Because executives just want her to do slut shaming cameos (even though that is the entirely self-made character with which she kick-started her career and refused to evolve);

    Because she’s so brave and REAL that she uses the ‘N’ word in her stage act and people just can’t handle it;

    Because she’s too funny, and her co-workers can’t handle it;

    Because Standards and Practice kept cutting all her best comedy bits from her own television show;

    Because the tall poppy syndrome;

    And now, because the media lied about her age.

    Being a feckless, thin-skinned, bragging, one-trick pony who is still inexplicably invited to star in massive franchises despite her lack of range or observable talent is still up for grabs, however.