Australian comedy hit a new low in 2016, though if you’re anything like us you probably didn’t realise it at the time. Why would you? On the surface it seemed business as usual: a handful of standout shows, one or two duds and a whole lot of stuff forgotten before the end credits finished. In fact, compared to previous years you might have been forgiven for thinking things were improving. The days of obvious turds like Randling and Wednesday Night Fever seem firmly behind us. Blandly competent is now the order of the day.
And that’s the problem right there. 2016 was a shit year for Australian comedy not because of a handful of high profile flops stinking up the outhouse, but because the general standard across the board continues to sink just that much lower. It used to be that our comedy failures failed because they didn’t make us laugh; now making us laugh is something most comedies don’t even attempt. Sitcoms are just dramas without the drama; news satire is just news with a sneer. Sketch shows aren’t even allowed on broadcast television – which is probably a good thing as they all feel like promo reels for the directors’ advertising career.
It doesn’t take much to figure out why we’re stuck in a place where the last thing Australian comedy wants to do is make people laugh. In a Golden Age that we’re probably imagining, television was set up to serve the audience: make a funny show, usually it rates well, everyone wins. Now the audience is the last thing on anyone’s mind. The ABC is so cash-starved the only way a show can get made is if it attracts outside funding, which is why half their comedy output is suddenly coming from parts of the country willing to fund infomercials. As for the other half, that’s made with an eye to selling the format overseas and cashing in that way. Coming up with something Australians might want to watch? Why would you even bother?
The resulting thin but steady flow of mediocrity is slowly digging a trench that will become Australian comedy’s grave. Being funny gets in the way of the business of keeping the clients happy anyway (what if they don’t get the jokes?) – putting out show after show seemingly designed to erase the very idea that Australians can get laughs just seems like a side benefit. And who even wants funny comedy? The people commissioning comedy seem actively opposed to the idea going by what they’re putting on air (and what they’re not: do a comparison between the comedy the ABC funds and the comedy that only makes it to series once overseas money comes on board – the results may surprise you). TV reviewers openly mock the idea that “getting laughs” is a thing comedy should do, which seems odd until you read their own attempts at comedy. And everyone else realized there’s no money in it years ago and moved to LA.
Faced with all this, it’s tempting to simply shrug and accept the current state of play. It’s not the ABC’s fault they don’t have the money to fund anything more complex than a show where a man in a suit sits behind a desk and makes news jokes; it’s not the commercial networks’ fault that they can get better ratings making cheap drama than not-so-cheap comedy. But fuck that. The networks – all the networks – still find money for quality drama. Overseas networks are throwing money at our comedy because they think what we’re doing here can work around the world. And yet time and time again our local networks give the thumbs up to watered-down half-arse so-called “comedy”. Time and time again local “talent”, given the rare opportunity to make their own show, display all the comedic skill of a sagging retaining wall. Time and time again we’re asked to accept shit as the way of the world.
Just because 90% of Australian comedy is reasonably competent on a technical level doesn’t mean we should accept competent as the high water mark. Too often in 2016 we gave a pass mark to a firmly average show because we thought that at least it wasn’t a total waste of time. But each average show drags the level of quality just that little bit further down. Judging by the number of press releases we see trying to sell some upcoming show on the basis of it being hilarious, Australian comedy is still considered to be something people actually want to watch.
A few more years like 2016, though, and that’s just not going to be the case.
Political comedy: how’s that working out for you? After a year that seemed largely designed to remind us all of the Peter Cook line about how well 1930s Germany’s flourishing Wiemar arts scene prevented the rise of Adolf Hitler, the idea of someone using their YouTube comedy to push a left-wing agenda seems delightfully quaint. Fortunately, Friendlyjordies backed his political views up with a lot of spot-on comedy… oh wait, no he didn’t.
The concept of a comedic “Year in Review” show is a pretty good one. The idea of doing an end-of-year version of The Weekly, not so much. At least with the regular weekly Weekly, they have the excuse of only having a few days to put the show together; considering they had all year to plan for this one, the results were even more embarrassing than usual.
While 2016 was, all things considered, a pretty grim year, there was one blindingly bright silver lining: the idea of left-leaning news satires making a difference by “nailing” the big issues was brutally curb-stomped, dragged through the streets and strung up from a lamppost. Yeah, The Weekly never actually threatened to change anyone’s mind about anything, what with its firm commitment to only ever serving up platitudes so mild they were certified infant-safe, but still: now that the paper-thin justification for its refusal to make even the slightest gesture towards actual comedy is gone, what’s left? A smug-as-fuck host with nothing to be smug about, a comedian with an arsehole persona that’s starting to seem like less of a persona with every passing day, and Kitty Flanagan, who deserves better. If the rumours are true and the only reason this is still on the air is because it costs half as much per episode as Mad as Hell, we’d still rather have five more episodes a year of Mad as Hell.
If I was interested in smug condescension from a smirking idiot I’d watch The Bolt Report.
Pulling punches, calling out only the most predictable of incontrovertible evils, episode after episode. The Weekly did the impossible: it excelled in mediocrity.
Seeing as the ABC wants The Weekly to go viral so badly, would it help to rename it Friendlycharlies?
This is about as close to a sitcom as the commercial networks get these days, which is to say it wasn’t a sitcom and was only very rarely funny. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of anything else either, aside from an opportunity for Channel Ten to try and boost real estate prices in the Melbourne suburb of Yarraville. You know, if you walk literally half a block in any direction from the shopping strip where they filmed this show, it looks just like every other suburb in Australia: there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
Pacific Heat took almost three years to make, so why is the animation barely a step up from Scooby Doo and why does the script seem like something someone discarded 40 years ago? A stylistic choice, perhaps, but one that works far less well than when Working Dog did it in Funky Squad. It’s hard to get away with sexist and racist gags when you’re not parodying the 70s, even ones that are (hopefully) intended to be tongue-in-cheek.
Clearly, Please Like Me is no longer trying to be a sitcom. Yet at the same time, it’s doing something even more disappointing: it’s not trying to progress in any meaningful way. It’s just more of the same characters experiencing mental illness and how awkward life is these days, with the occasional death or suicide thrown in towards the end of the series as a focal point for the last episode. Occasionally it’ll try a change of pace, like that dancing teddy bear on the bus thing, but even that was little more than an excuse to enlarge the twee rut this series has dug itself into. Not to mention try to go viral.
There have been hints in the media that a further series is far from guaranteed, with producer Todd Abbott saying:
If there’s a story left to tell, then it’s worth doing.
If only that were actually true! Series 5 is a dead cert.
I was surprised at first that we still made sitcoms, then I was shocked that Josh Thomas’ pile of crap got yet another season.
At this point, it’s the ‘worst’ just by virtue of having no interest at all in being a sitcom. An obnoxiously twee fantasy of millennial insularity peppered with dreary angst? Sure. A sitcom? Hell no.
I thought Please Like Me was the letter sent to the daisy-chained centrists who write in the Fairfax media.
The Chaser just seem tired these days. Tired and out of decent ideas. Anyone who thought about it slightly would have realised that the long desk gag would stop being funny after about 10 seconds, yet they built the show around it, and persisted with it for the full five weeks. If the sketches had been largely good we could maybe have forgiven them for it, but they were only just slightly better than what Charlie Pickering and chums might have offered instead. And none the better for being pretty much what we’ve been seeing from Chaser election specials since 2001. Like Please Like Me, it’s hard not to be disappointed that The Chaser haven’t progressed their approach to comedy over the years. Particularly given they’ve had a lot longer than Josh Thomas in which to do it.
An end-of-year satirical round-up should not only be packed full of the best gags the writers can come up with about the key events of the year, but it should have a wild, last-day-of-school-blowout feel to it. It should be a show which really takes it to the edge, then blows it up into the sky like it’s the New Year’s Eve fireworks. Sure, war-, death- and crappy-election-result-filled 2016 wasn’t exactly the best year ever, but a decent satirical program shouldn’t feel like a wake. This did. A wake for satire itself…
With almost three-quarters of our voters voting for this show, it’s worth asking: how is this still on-air? Who are the people who think this is more than passable as either comedy, entertainment or satirical commentary? Is a lame observation followed by a deadpan stare all it takes to amuse the majority of the Australian public? When we write posts on this blog pointing out the flaws with various local shows, it’s not uncommon for a reader to post a comment defending the program we’ve criticised. So, it’s notable that we’re still waiting for someone to post a comment defending The Weekly. And until we get one, we can only conclude that no one really likes this program and that its continual presence on air is due to some kind of administrative error. Or that its return to our screens next week is the sign of the apocalypse that comes after the inauguration of President Trump.
Now that we’re saturated in topical comedy and news satire programs, there’s no excuse to settle for this.
Pickering’s snark is soulless.
A waste of a perfectly good desk and suit.
Well, they’ve turned everything else into some kind of game show, so why not a segment on one of the worst satire programs we’ve ever seen? And if you were the person arguing that there’s a place on TV for an Australian version of Pointless but for cynical Generation X rather than your Baby Boomer parents, then, hey, dreams can come true! Ever wonder why the losing contestants never punch Gleeson in the face as they leave? An action which would be very much within the spirit of this hateful show. So do we.
If you’re going to make one of these semi-serious, “[COMEDIAN X] looks at…” shows, the choice of topic is as important as the comedian. Judith Lucy’s series on religion was funny because she’s fairly cynical about faith and belief and could make plenty of gags about its inherent ridiculousness that the audience could laugh along with. Luke McGregor trying to get over his anxiety about sex and relationships, on the other hand, was more the kind of thing that lends itself to a serious documentary. Because unless you have a heart of stone and feel no guilt at laughing at the sex-scared loser, you’re basically just going to have sympathy with the guy. The other problem: when you get down to it, sex is either something you’re involved with and totally into, or something that when you’re a step removed from it actually looks kinda weird and gross.
Oh, sweet baby Jesus we totally forgot this crap ever happened: guess hypnotism must be good for something. Bad enough Channel Nine thought publicly mind-controlling a bunch of dupes was suitable for a series of lengthy prime-time specials, but why resurrect the grimacing spectre of Daryl Somers as host? And that’s not just because we loathe Somers, the most rabidly unpleasant figure on Australian television – which, yeah, okay, is like trying to draw a distinction between Stormtroopers in one of the more sinister Star Wars installments – but seriously: it’s a show where a hypnotist brings people up on stage, hypnotises them, explains to the audience what he’s going to get them to do, then they wake up and do it. Where’s the role for a host? Then again, it could have been worse: they could have brought Daryl back on a show where he was given more to do than act like a gurning prat.
Didn’t know it was even a show.
I actually tried to kill myself.
Daryl Somers has no reason being back in our living rooms.
Hey, coming second in a race to the bottom isn’t that bad, right? And neither was Down Under, which had the rare attribute for an Australian comedy film of an actually funny concept. Sadly, that concept had already been pretty comprehensively explored in the much funnier Four Lions, and most of the changes to that concept here only underlined how tricky it was to get Four Lions right. Maybe if it had taken itself more seriously it would have been a better film; if your comedy is based on the idea that idiot bogans who constantly swear are sure-fire laugh-getters, maybe you’re the one who needs to take a good hard look at yourself.
It takes real talent to make a film about a B&S Ball that isn’t even accidentally interesting. It’s an event where a bunch of drunk country folk go berserk driving heavy machinery, and yet somehow this insipid little nothing of a movie managed to avoid presenting audiences with a single memorable line or incident. Maybe going documentary-style would have been too confronting for city audiences – people die from being driven over while sleeping in a sleeping bag at these events, after all – but then there’s the tried and tested comedy path of having stupid people do silly things still waiting to be explored. But not by Spin Out: showing a clearly deeply-felt respect for everyone apart from those who’d paid money expecting to be entertained, this revealed B&S attendees to be attractive, moderate-drinking, morally upright young people with minor personal issues that could be solved by nothing more dramatic than a good old-fashioned chat. If only someone had one with the film-makers before they wasted both their time and ours.
Australian cinema at the moment is so bad that I haven’t even heard of either movie being nominated, in fact, I don’t want to even find out about either film due to the likely scenario that either film is extremely unfunny.
At least Down Under had a good script – Spin Out is just passable mediocrity and doesn’t show B&S balls properly. Also, no one that attractive would be at a B&S Ball.
This B&S ball was more BS and balls.
“There’s no such thing as having the wrong opinion” is what we’d usually say here. But, you know, politics in 2017; let’s just say it’s not possible to have the wrong opinion about a television show. So the fact that Enker has been a firm and articulate supporter of multiple Tumblies winner Please Like Me for four years now is 100% fine with us: dusting off phrases like “the best Australian comedy you’re not watching” when after four years the problem isn’t that people aren’t watching – it’s that they’ve tried the show, decided they didn’t like it or simply weren’t interested, and are now actively avoiding it? Hmm. Defend it all you like on its artistic merit, but claiming it’s popular on iView when the iView figures aren’t publicly available isn’t really helping anyone.
Razer has been a regular here for about as long as we’ve been running these awards, so it’s safe to say her career as a critic has been fairly closely examined over the years. Fortunately for us, the gardening columnist, op-ed photocopier and occasional live comedy reviewer continues to forge new ground in reviewing: her latest book, The Helen 100, not only manages the rare feat of featuring the author’s name twice on the cover, but also features her on every one of the 312 pages as she occasionally refers to the 100 people she dated to try and get over her broken heart. So if you’ve enjoyed her distracted, self-involved reviews of comedy shows, chances are her review of a string of people looking to forge some kind of romantic connection with her should make for gripping reading. Exactly what’s being gripped remains open to speculation.
Hey, here’s something interesting: it seems that Ben Pobjie’s bio over at Fairfax – where he writes pretty much exclusively about television – says “Ben Pobjie is a comedian and satirist.” And thank your god of choice for that, because if he was still working as a television critic and was employed by Fairfax to write reviews of currently screening television programs on a regular basis then the way he continues to publicly ask various television personalities and network executives for work would be seriously embarrassing. A professional television critic going around trying to get work as a cricket commentator, Q&A panelist, Bachelorette contestant and Shaun Micallef flunky would be someone who clearly had no idea of how criticism actually works, a glad-handing careerist worthy of nothing but pity for his desperate antics. But fortunately for him and us, Ben Pobjie isn’t a critic: he’s a comedian and satirist so it’s all fine and dandy. Clearly we screwed up big time even having him in this category, for which we most sincerely apologise. Mind you, Fairfax might want to stop putting “review” in the title of his articles.
Pobjie’s continued employment proves that mediocrity and having the ‘right’ opinions will get you everywhere.
Winning this award would just give Pobjie some more material for his next appearance on I Love Green Guide Letters. On the other hand, I do genuinely hate him.
Given Pobjie spends half his time trying publicly to get work on TV shows, clearly, he doesn’t think much of himself as a critic either.
The writers of the Australian Tumbleweeds proved once again in 2016 that they are bitter, twisted, failed-at-life losers, with nothing better to do than spend hours of their time ranting into the internet ether, desperate for someone to take note of the very, very important things they have to say. So we say, good on the 24.14% of voters who were brave enough to put those bitter, twisted, SAD people back in their hate-filled boxes with articulate and considered criticism like this:
You guys should neck yourselves.
Ya shit mate.
This year, Screen Australia announced it was funding an awful lot of new comedies, including the web series Sheilas, which they trailed as:
A playful celebration of the forgotten and most badass women in Australian History
Re-reading the press release, almost all the shows sound fairly terrible, but Sheilas stands out not just because it’s produced by Chaser-run production house Giant Dwarf, but for the words “playful”, “forgotten” and “badass”. What’s the betting this show will be chock-a-block with tough yet kooky characters (because female comedy characters almost always have to be kooky, for some reason), existing in various historical eras, but about as funny as The Weekly if it had been on air during the weeks following the Port Arthur Massacre? Odds on, we reckon.
Having re-made Frontline as two separate but rather similar political sitcoms over the past decade (The Hollowmen and Utopia), Working Dog have recently made a contemporary version of Funky Squad (Pacific Heat), and are now planning to bring back not only Thank God You’re Here but Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures, itself an early noughties re-working of the Wallaby Jack sketches from The Late Show. There’s a theme here, and it’s that Working Dog have totally run out of ideas. And unless this new series of All Aussie Adventures takes Russell Coight into hilariously-uncharted territory, this is going to be really disappointing.
Australian Muslims face prejudice and hardship at every turn. They’re more likely to be living in poverty than non-Muslim Australians, they have a harder time getting work than non-Muslim Australians, and a sizeable proportion of non-Muslim Australians worry that the sole reason they live here is to blow stuff up. Well, at least there’s one thing they can do every bit as well as non-Muslim Australians: get funded by Screen Australia to make a show that sounds kinda shithouse…
Newly dumped 26-year-old Mustafa must find himself an Afghani wife in a month… or else his mother finds one for him.
Oh great, a sort of caper-comedy about relationships. We were wondering what to do with ourselves once we’d finished watching all the Judd Apatow films.
My nephew is 5 years old and loves watching Nickelodeon and Disney. And on these channels they have sitcoms aimed at teen’s and preteens and other little kids. Each sitcom is profoundly silly and over the top. I mention this because any of those kids shows are far funnier and more entertaining than any local adult crap that is being made right now. That’s shitscarey when you think about it! And to make matters worse an old comedy that hasn’t been on air since 2003 will be funnier than anything new on tv as well. That’s an extremely sad statistic on the health and well-being of Australian comedy at the present moment.
I just voted for anything described as a dramedy, or with the phrase ‘hilarious and heart-breaking’.
Fuck all these shows. They’re all gonna fail anyway and the ones that achieve mediocre success will not get a second season unless international interest is shown.
In perhaps one of the least surprising results here, it turns out that letting someone good at being funny come up with his own show results in a show that’s funny. That might seem somewhat obvious: if you’re wondering who could possibly think otherwise, may we direct you to the rest of this year’s results. Chieng is a charming and likable lead, the insights into student life are sharp and funny, the whole thing is progressive in a way that feels natural and did we mention it’s funny? The full season later this year can’t come fast enough.
Luke McGregor’s had so many chances at the ABC one of them had to pan out eventually, and it’s no real surprise that it came in the kind of mild, fish-slightly-out-of-water show that the ABC audience often takes to heart. It’s a show where you really, really, really have to be on board with the characters to get much more than “hmm, nice scenery” out of it; fortunately for those who’re yet to warm to McGregor’s slightly awkward, slightly flailing persona this also features fellow ABC long-hauler Celia Pacquola. She’s been funny in everything she’s been in: this is no exception.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Sammy J’s Playground Politics was hilarious. Sammy J’s been one of the funniest people in Australian comedy for years now, and while his recent sitcom Ricketts Lane was a slight stumble, his live shows were so good and he’d been the best thing in so many sub-par shows, he was bound to come up with a real winner sooner rather than later. And having him turn his talents to politics should have grabbed our attention too: maybe it was year after year of the increasingly disinterested and diluted Chaser churning out satire-by-numbers each election that made us think Australian politics was a laugh-free zone. Whatever the reason, this came out of the blue to ruthlessly mock the grubby, shallow world of election politics in a way that was both on-point and consistently funny. Having it return for an end-of-year special has us hoping Sammy J’ll figure out a way to keep it going in 2017; political comedy in this country could definitely do with more of his pre-school-level insights.
Sammy J absolutely crushed it.
Sammy J was enchanting in his role as the Play School-esque host.
Playground Politics was a strange idea but executed so perfectly. The parody was accurate, the satire sharp, and the jokes funny. Brilliant work from Sammy J.
At a time in Australian comedy history when comedies that Australians actually laugh at are given less airtime, Clarke & Dawe’s weekly 150 seconds of satire remains something to treasure. Every week they really nail it, and with seeming effortlessness show us how satire should be done: succinctly and with care and attention paid to every word and every inflection. 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of pair’s first satirical interview. Long may they remain on air!
A difficult second series? Far from it. If anything, series two of The Katering Show was better than the first with Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney finding no shortage of food trends, TV chefs and lifestyle choices to parody. Because of its focus on the dynamic between the two characters, and its determination to take the comedy as far as it can go (who else was making references to the movie Safe in 2016?), this series has endless potential.
Speaking of endless potential, if Mad As Hell isn’t still on-air in a decade’s time, there’s something seriously wrong down at the ABC. Sure, there is something seriously wrong down at the ABC (see above), but at least they’ve had the good sense to keep making this. Like the other two finalists in this category, Mad As Hell has a strong, well-developed comedy voice and a commitment to being as funny as humanly possible in as many ways as humanly possible. You know what makes us mad as hell? Not that Mad As Hell isn’t on all year round (as much as we’d like that, even the best things are best rationed), but that the ABC still can’t find a group of comedians who can make a show that’s even half as good as what Micallef and friends can. That is a serious problem for our comedy future. But until someone fixes it, release the kraken!
Globally 2016 was an unceasing dumpster fire of hate and bile. Mad as Hell‘s absurdity and subversive wit were the only thing that cut through the horror.
A perennial favorite.
Cancel The Weekly, and broadcast Mad As Hell all year ’round!
Seven executives, having noted the flurry of new comedy talent initiatives on the ABC and SBS over the past couple of years, briefly flirt with the idea of commissioning their own. Then they’re offered an enticing new reality format at an international TV fair and forget all about it.
Following further budget cuts, the ABC replaces its stand-up showcase Comedy Next Gen with a Skype feed from The Comics Lounge. Mad Mondays is nominated for a Logie.
Further displaying their commitment to local comedy, the ABC will rebrand everything that’s not news programming as “local comedy”.
Chris Lilley will jump-start his flagging career by returning with his first batch of fresh characters in a decade. Unfortunately, audiences won’t take his all-new and totally original comedy characters “Kath” and “Kim” to heart, forcing him to return to his day job as a kindly old caretaker at an unnamed private girl’s school in Sydney’s inner east.
The Weekly will follow Please Like Me’s example and basically not even try to be a comedy anymore, advertising itself as “News. No Joke.” as it adopts a format of running day-old news stories then cutting to Charlie Pickering sadly shaking his head in silence. Despite hitting a new low in ratings, they’ll do it again in 2018 in the hope that we’ll accept that as the new normal for satire in this country.
The ABC will air a flurry of new comedies at the start of the year, another burst at the end, and just forget about the seven months in-between apart from maybe one show if we’re lucky. Despite hitting a new low in the ratings, they’ll do it again in 2018 in the hope that we’ll accept that as the new normal for comedy in this country.
Following the success of upcoming Paul Hogan biopic Hoges, Seven will greenlight Lawson, a biopic about Josh Lawson focusing entirely on the time he played Paul Hogan in Hoges. Adam Zwar will play Lawson.
For the 20th year in a row, the future of comedy will be “the internet”. Even though that’s where you found us.
Christ on a crutch, what a shitty year for comedy. At least 2015 had Utopia from Working Dog. That had one joke per episode, which is more jokes than all 2016 Oz comedies combined.
I’m surprised Meet The Habibs didn’t get any mention in your list. Sure, it sucked, but at least it showed the commercial networks are now open to the idea of commissioning Oz comedy. Here’s hoping 2017 is a better year.