The not-so-surprise comedy success story of 2017, True Story with Hamish and Andy is back and operating on an equally unsurprising principle: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
So the set-up remains exactly the same: Hamish & Andy sit on a couch, a regular unknown person sits down across from them and proceeds to tell a classic story from their life that will – hopefully – entertain and amuse. It’s Drunk History without the booze or the learning, but with a fairly polished story that usually provides some laughs.
“It was a long time ago, and I was very young” is a great way to distance yourself from your bad behaviour. And so it proves to be in episode one, as a tale of trying to get out of poetry homework (having to come up with 24 poems is pretty steep, admittedly) in 1986 rapidly escalates thanks to one slack student’s refusal to admit her sickie is fake. Do we end up in a hospital heading for surgery? It’d be a short episode if we didn’t.
While all the old favourites are back, and by that we mean decent comedy performers in cameo roles – hey look, Rob Sitch as a rhyming poetry teacher! Mark Mitchell hamming it up as a doctor! Stephen Curry as a surgeon! – there’s a new twist or two as well. Having the re-creation change as the story-teller provides more or new information is an obvious way to get laughs and starting out the first episode with an example (our lead in the flashback changes as we’re told more about her look) suggests things might be a bit more flexible reality-wise this season.
(okay, we saw Hamish & Andy on breakfast television and they said there’s an episode coming up where the storyteller is a bit of a bullshitter and they constantly had to rein him in)
But otherwise this remains the kind of solid, unremarkable amusement that Australian television really needs to consider as the floor for broadcast quality rather than a high water mark. Hamish & Andy can get stories out of the public in their sleep after over a decade in radio, the stories themselves are good but rarely great (hey, at least they don’t have to pay writers for the ideas) and while the all-star casts are great the actors rarely get to do much more than turn up and get a recognition laugh or two.
The core problem is that this is a show that says that while craft and care should be lavished on every other aspect of the production – the production values are always first-class (just look at the range of locations!) – comedy itself can’t be crafted: you just ask random people for funny stories and use the best. And again, while these stories are good, we’re not talking about a halfway decent episode of The Games or Frontline here; given a fortnight pretty much anyone reading this could come up with a much funnier “real-life” story*, but that would defeat the purpose of the show. Which, following that line of logic, clearly isn’t to be funny.
Put another way, television comedy lives or dies in the writing, and this show doesn’t really want to use writers at all.
*anyone who says “you couldn’t make this stuff up!” deserves a slap. It’s the story of a teen girl who refused to admit her illness was faked, not Fawlty Towers.