It’s easy to point out the general shittiness of The Weekly, but what about specifics? What are some of the concrete things it’s doing to make it just so hard to watch?
Look, this is a show where someone was paid very well indeed to write “we’ve all seen your military muscle, now put it back in your trousers”; even for clearly rubbish “critics” like us this is a whole lot of low-hanging fruit. It’s got to the stage now where they don’t even show the clip then bring the snark – they break up the clip into segments so Pickering can comment on what’s happening as it happens. Showing the start of a clip, ranting a bit in one direction then going “whaaaaaa” when the next bit of the clip is shown to develop in a different direction is just… it’s just… why?
*stares off into the distance for twenty minutes*
Oh yeah right; concrete advice. Look, one of the things just about every decent long running political satire does is turn their targets (usually politicians) into comedy characters. For a while there in the 80s it was so common we had entire puppet shows based around the idea, but most shows do it – you just focus on a politician’s quirks, play them up in your coverage, and soon enough you’ve got a running gag. Remember Bill Shorten and his zingers on Mad as Hell? That kind of thing.
You do this because characters are a great source of comedy. If you’re doing political satire week in week out eventually you’re going to strike a run of weeks where not much is happening. So it’s handy to be able to make jokes about politicians even when they’re not actually doing anything funny. It’s something to keep the viewers coming back for. It’s a bit of fun. It’s a laugh.
In three years, The Weekly has never once managed to do this. The closest they’ve come is running a bunch of clips of Mark Latham on Sky talking about cooking, only all they contributed to the joke that Mark Latham was talking about cooking on a supposedly political program was a big slice of fuck-all. Otherwise it’s just been “nutty One Nation politician is nutty” and that’s if we’re lucky. Seriously, this is about as basic as political satire gets: study politicians, find funny quirks about them, make fun of politicians. You had one job.
But is that really The Weekly‘s job? We’ve mentioned more times than we care to remember that the current management at the ABC are very keen on the look and feel of political satire – they just don’t want anyone to say or do anything to offend our politicians. Some might say this has been the case for a very long time and previous shows managed to get away with a fair bit. They might also point to Mad as Hell as a show that seems to be able to say quite a bit about our current leaders. But who knows what pressure the cast and crew of The Weekly are under? They can’t be putting Hard Chat to air each week of their own free will.
Tonight Pickering himself described The Weekly as “News, comedy… celebrity guests” to Sam Neill. We actually laughed a bit during that segment, because Sam Neill is funny and he was – get this – playing a character. But Pickering was right: The Weekly is about news, comedy and celebrity guests. And of those three things, the news and the interviews pretty much take care of themselves: the news comes from other sources, the guests are going to talk so long as you ask halfway decent questions.
The reason why we bang on and on and on about The Weekly is because it’s about as high profile a comedy show as you can get in Australia in 2017 and yet the comedy is just… basic. It’s the bare minimum. A lot of the fun of comedy comes from seeing people have fun mucking around, but where’s that on The Weekly? Where’s the parts where it feels like a show made by people having fun? Where’s the silly moments where the joy in being stupid comes through?
And if you don’t have that, if comedy has just become a job for you, then where’s the slick no-nonsense professional comedy you can take pride in? We’re telling an ABC satire that’s been running for three years and 43 episodes that they might want to look into finding things about politicians they can make fun of? This kind of thing demeans us both.
One of the innumerably great things about John Clarke that I have heard over the past, very disheartening week, is that he used to produce two complete versions of Clarke & Dawe every week. He would write two entire sketches, he and Dawe would film them both, and then Clarke would select which one was better, and put that to air.
It’s an extraordinary thing to imagine. Half of his hard work, every week, being discarded like that. Never to be seen. But of course, that’s what made him and his work so exceptional. He’d work hard on crafting the material, producing more than he knew he needed, so that he could continue editing to the very last minute and ensure that his audience only ever saw the very best.
In contrast, has anyone ever gotten the sense that what goes to air on The Weekly has gotten past even a first draft, let alone an extensive purging of weak material to make what remains shine? From the lazy narration of news footage you describe here (which, let’s be honest, is barely a more thought-provoking response to the day’s events than those I’m-Some-Nobody-In-My-Bedroom-Doing-A-Reaction-Video! videos you see littering YouTube), to just letting Gleason rattle off more of his tired shtick, the whole production looks like its made up in the corridor on the way from make-up to the studio. Except not by anyone who actually has a scintillating wit, or any critique of any substance to offer.
And yes, I know this is an incredibly unfair comparison. Clarke was a true comic genius, while Pickering has roughly the right dimensions to wear a suit and can raise his eyebrow, but the disparity between their work – considering Pickering is being offered as a principle figure in this country’s next generation of satirists – is stark.
Stark and depressing.