Sometimes, a good thing should be left well alone. Sammy J’s Playground Politics was a razor-sharp series of five-minute sketches satirising federal politics via the medium of a Play School parody. It was also really funny. Then it came back a month ago as part of a series of 15-minute shows, Sammy J’s Democratic Party. In our review of episode 1, we pointed out a few faults with the show but were generally impressed. But now, 4 more episodes later, that list of faults is growing and we wish Sammy J would go back to just doing Playground Politics. It really is the best thing in this series.
The first problem with the show is its high concept. Hey look, Sammy J’s in a bunker under Parliament House and he can run amok! Tee hee, he’s got a periscope and can spy on the pollies, and look, he’s just spotted the Liberals sorting out their latest factional dispute by having a fight in some of those inflatable sumo wrestler costumes.
Okay, that idea is kind of funny – and unlike, say, The Chaser’s super long Election Desk concept, the periscope premise can be used for a number of different jokes (not to mention the fact that said premise can be re-worked into a PA system, and be used for even more jokes) – but it’s not quite up there with the quality of the OUTRAGE episode of Playground Politics in Democratic Party episode 2. Go watch it now, it’s great!
Then there are the Robert Menzies interviews, with Sammy J trying to get answers out of a cardboard cut-out of the former Prime Minister who speaks like a uni student who’s overdosed on internet memes. Having not minded this conceit in episode 1, we now absolutely loathe it. It’s not that we’re against stupid gags but there is an art to doing them, and the art is to take quite clever or well-conceived gags and dress them up as stupid. Something these sketches are not doing; they’re just taking stupid gags and doing them stupidly. Or to put it another way: when you’re left wondering whether you were wrong about The Weekly’s Hard Chat sketches because they don’t seem so bad in comparison, there’s some bad comedy going down.
On a positive note, Democratic Party isn’t often one of those sketch shows that wheels out the same, increasingly-tired-looking, characters each week. The not hugely hilarious Constitutional Cops have only been on the show twice, and the bushrangers with modern problems are also used sparingly. The nice thing about this show is that the Menzies interviews aside, it’s generally trying to keep things as fresh and funny as possible.
The parliamentary sports team coach sketch in episode 5 was a spot-on parody of football press conferences. And it’s been impressive how many very topical gags have made it into intricate and clever sketches, such as the Playground Politics ones, which were probably conceived and written many months ago. Many comedians wouldn’t go to that trouble once they’d finalised a script.
Despite the Menzies interviews and a number of other weak sketches, Sammy J’s Democratic Party is still worth watching. But it would be even more worth watching if they’d just stuck to what worked, or had worked harder on some of their other material.