Over the years, there have been less surprising media revelations than the one that Lee Lin Chin doesn’t write her own tweets and that her hilarious media persona is, to be blunt, fiction. According to Benjamin Law’s article published last year on The Monthly, her tweets are written for her by Chris Leben, one of the writers of The Feed, the show which has done much to establish the cult of Chin through having her on to make regular cameo appearances.
…the official Twitter account that bears her name and is written in her Feed character’s voice. It has amassed more than 42,000 followers on the back of such tweets as “There’s no point in acting your age. If I did I wouldn’t be at the pub right now with two 25 year old models” and “I’m going to the Logies for the first time tonight, which one of the @HomeandAwayTV boys is most likely to put out?”
Or, at the height of the Bronwyn Bishop expenses scandal: “Seems like parliament needs a new fashionable lady. Guess my time has come #LeeLinforSpeaker”.
In real life, Chin doesn’t even have a mobile phone (“I see it no less than the potential destroyer of human civilisation,” she tells me) let alone use Twitter. Instead, Leben manages the account and composes most of the tweets – some of which are based on things Chin has told him. He says Chin approves everything he writes. Later, when I ask her to confirm this, she widens her eyes at him.
Now with more than double the 42,000 followers she had six months ago when the above article was published, Chin, or Chin’s online persona, is now the star of The Weekend Shift, a sitcom pilot available on SBS On Demand. And if you’re already raising a sceptical eyebrow at the idea that you can base a sitcom on some tweets, then read on to have your scepticism confirmed.
Set in the SBS newsroom, The Weekend Shift centres on producer Nick and his team, and their trials and tribulations in getting a bulletin to air. When one of the show’s reporters annoys the government with a badly-phrased tweet, Nick pulls a potentially Walkley Award-winning exclusive story because it might annoy the government, then orders social media manager and office arsehole Craven to take over everyone’s Twitter accounts, and has to convince the difficult Ms Chin to apologise for the tweet on air. Oh, and the building’s security guards are on some kind of OH&S drive, and there are some new recycling bins.
All of the above sounds potentially quite funny – a satire on government interfering with the freedom of the media, parody of social media, hyper-real media bigwig behaving badly and getting what she wants, office bullshit about bins and health and safety – except it isn’t. There aren’t many laughs to be had with “government leans on the media” unless you’re John Clarke it seems, plus the whole Lee Lin Chin persona thing when you boil it down, is basically “LOLZ a serious newsreader type actually spends all day in the pub and is obsessed with weird clothes”. A comic conceit that may fire in 140 characters, but in this sitcom at least, doesn’t even getting going before it’s become tiresome.
As for the bins and OH&S stuff, Utopia does that so much better. Largely because it threads those types of plots throughout the show, making them increasingly ridiculous and hilarious as the episode progresses, rather than abandoning them after a couple of scenes.
Which just leaves the social media parody plot as the bit where The Weekend Shift gets its time to shine. But wait, that plot is basically an office bully tweeting out offensive things from his colleagues’ accounts against their wishes, i.e. making it look like they’re quoting from Hitler. And then…the Hitler quote gets re-tweeted by Cory Bernardi! A joke which lands with such a thud that a BOOM TISH might as well have been overlaid.
Oh, and speaking of comedy sound editing, the show ends with some harrowing news footage which has been overlaid with “Yakety Sax” (the song which accompanied Benny Hill’s chase sequences) accidentally going to air. OH NOS!!! And yet, that too isn’t funny. It just left us wondering if anyone under 30, presumably the target audience for this nonsense, has ever seen a Benny Hill chase sequence.
Except that, wait, there’s a chance to redeem this show comically! As the credits roll, we see Charlie Pickering and Tom Gleeson dissecting the Yakety Sax incident on The Weekly, followed by Lee Lin Chin’s reaction to their commentary. It’s probably the funniest thing in the show, but it doesn’t save it. It’s more that it’s what many of us have been thinking for ages.
Conclusion: despite a small number of good things, this is a sloppy and wrong-headed idea for a sitcom. And largely feels like a kind of branding exercise for The Feed or the Lee Lin Chin Twitter account or SBS, or some combination of the three, gone way too long. We could maybe overlook the bad scripting and the crap gags if Lee Lin Chin herself was a brilliant, hilarious comedic performer, but she can’t act and has next to no comic timing. Something that doesn’t matter in the context of the parody Twitter account she’s lent her name to, and can be overlooked in her cameo appearances on The Feed (it could even be argued it makes them funnier) but does absolutely matter if she’s the lead performer. Great lead performers can take a mediocre script and make it great, but mediocre performers? No hope. You can’t base a 25-minute sitcom around one of them.