… except for When TV Was Awesome, which is pretty much shit.
But you already knew that, right? We don’t get a whole lot of mail here at Tumbleweeds HQ, and we get even fewer requests because everyone pretty much knows we hate everything (except for when we don’t), but we’ve already had two separate requests to cover (meaning beat up on) this series and trust us, for us that’s a flood.
So we’re kind of torn. We don’t really want to be bullies beating up on the playground loser, but on the other hand – which just happens to be clenched into a fist and is currently pounding away on some loser – When TV Was Awesome is just no damn good at all. Eh, why fight it? At least we can try to explain exactly why we’ve pushed this show to the ground and are now stomping on its genitals.
Since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of television, comedians have dreamt of a television show where they haven’t had to go out and film stuff. After all, there’s a heck of a lot of hilarious radio comedy out there and that doesn’t even have pictures. Sometimes these dreamers go down the “limited animation” path, as seen in the original Beavis & Butthead episodes or those staring competition clips on Big Train. And other times they try to re-voice films or old television shows. It’s a practice that has resulted in a lot of classic comedy, from Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lilly? to Hercules Returns to those Kevin Rudd clips on Rove to Bargearse and The Olden Days, which presumably you’re already familiar with.
Sometimes these dubbed versions work because the people dubbing them have crazy footage to work with. Sometimes they work because the people doing the dubbing put in the effort to re-edit the original footage to find and create new jokes. And sometimes the people doing the re-dubbing just ramble on with any old shit that comes into their head and you’re stuck watching an old quiz show from 1982 only now it’s about how a contestant says his skill is saying “Jack the Ripper” ten times in a row. Then he screws it up. Then the host lectures him on how he got it wrong and it’s not even a skill and fuck When TV Was Awesome is shit.
Ok, yes, the “Australia’s Got Talent 82” episode is pretty much a low point. At least “Man Boat” is a passable knockoff of one of the weaker installments of The Olden Days if you find lines like “up… your… bums!” hilarious and think much of the comedy in re-dubs comes from adding in annoyed sighs and grunts. Still, the rave joke was decent enough, and these days one decent joke in a six minute clip is a pretty strong result for an Australian comedy. Especially when the rest of the jokes are dubbing new dance music over old dance scenes and someone vomiting.
What this series does really hammer home is just how much thought went into The Late Show‘s redub clips. That classic gag from Bargearse where the train just keeps on going and going at a crossing is a really funny bit that’s also the kind of thing that you could do with any show featuring similar footage. It’s a joke that requires thought and editing to come up with – it’s not just “ha, that clip could look like something else with a new voiceover”, which is about as sophisticated as When TV Was Awesome ever gets.
So what happens here is that the show falls between two stools. There’s clearly been some thought put into it, but nowhere near enough thought – or time and effort – to turn this old footage into comedy that stands on its own. Clips are mostly just re-voiced rather than re-edited, and what edits there are seem largely to either be cutting out moments to jump ahead or repeating the same footage to lengthen a scene – it definitely doesn’t often feel like they’ve watched and rewatched the clips to find parts where two separate scenes can be edited together to get a laugh.
All that’s fine, mind you: it seems unlikely that this kind of project would have had the budget for a massive re-editing job. But if you’re going to base your comedy largely around people just saying dumb shit over old footage, then you really need to double down on the dumb shit. It’s just not enough to have the people on-screen say things they normally wouldn’t (well, after the first minute or so of cheap laughs it isn’t) – the lines have to be funny in their own right.
(and by that we also mean “lines that are funny because they work with the old footage in surprising or skillful new ways”)
What’s left is a show where much of the humour is meant to be coming from the idea of “hey look, old footage with new dumb stuff dubbed in!” Only the old footage is dull and the new dumb stuff isn’t all that funny. It’s just more utterly disposable comedy that was never going to work without a lot more resources put in – and at today’s ABC, resources and comedy are two things that definitely don’t go together.