One of the big problems the Australian commercial television industry faces is that it’s small. There are plenty of perfectly good ideas for television shows that we could do decent jobs of, but they’ll never get off the ground because if you’re not a massive crowd-pleasing success you’re not going to be shown in prime time, and if you’re not being shown in prime time then there’s no way to make enough money from advertising to turn a profit. Wait, isn’t this a review of Drunk History?
Drunk History is a tried and tested international format in which comedians get drunk and then try to tell historical tales. The US version has a host who gets drunk with the guests; the UK version – and the Australian pilot – simply has the guest get pissed on their lonesome, which is slightly less chummy but probably cheaper booze-wise.
This version featured two stories: Stephen Curry talking up Ned Kelly, and Rhys Darby rabbiting on about Phar Lap. Unlike Skit Happens, money was spent: the re-enactments looked good, the cast in said re-enactments was relatively star-heavy (even the minor roles: Aaron Chen, Paul Fenech and Heath Franklin made brief appearances), and if you were thinking “ooh, looks like Ten wants their own version of ratings-smash True Story“, we wouldn’t disagree with you.
But was it any good? Well, yeah: both leads are likable guys so thumbs up there, Curry’s segment was pretty rambling but there was some decent material (who doesn’t love bad Irish accents, apart from Irish people), while Darby – who has a bit more experience on the improv side of things – came up with a few decent jokes (nice work busting out the horse incest material right at the top of the segment).
Of course, the real fun here is meant to come from hearing a couple of pissed blokes trying to tell a story and messing it up, but for the most part they both kept relatively on-topic, making this more like “rambling guy at a party chatting away history” than the kind of history that ends up with someone’s head in the toilet. Basically, it’s a successful overseas format they would have had to spend money to license, and the pilot was a polished piece of work: with the very similar True Story doing well in the ratings, giving this eight episodes is pretty much a no-brainer.
But does that mean it’ll actually do well at a time when Ten has publicly said they want to shift upmarket? Uh… well, maybe this could survive as a series if they could get a bunch of high profile names involved (and if there’s free booze, why not), but otherwise all this episode did was remind us that there are a lot of decent (and not so decent) comedy ideas out there that are just too inessential to survive as prime time Australian television shows. Remember Street Smart? Was that even on this week?
This was mostly funny, largely informative and on the whole well made; it’s easily the best of the Pilot Week shows to date. And if Ten had a decent comedy timeslot available – say, if they’d worked hard to make Sunday evenings a place where various Australian comedy shows were aired – this would definitely be a good fit. But they don’t. And without a lot of support, this is the kind of decent but unmemorable comedy show that dies on its arse in this country.
Still, it’s got a better chance on a commercial network than tonight’s Pilot Week entry Taboo: that’s clearly an ABC format that’s wandered way off the reservation.