No more Bill Zingers? How will we go on? It’s another three years of (roughly) the same old crew doing (roughly) the same old stuff – how will Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell keep the laughs coming? Oh yeah, right: by actually making jokes with political content. Sorry, after three months of The Weekly we forgot how comedy is meant to work.
If you’re a regular consumer of the ABC’s comedy output it’s far too easy to find yourself thinking that “comedy” really just means “not drama”. Mad as Hell is about a strong a rebuttal to that idea as you can get: it might be harsh to say that it’s making the rest of the ABC’s comedy line-up look bad, but saying the ABC even has a comedy line-up outside of Mad as Hell is a pretty dubious proposition.
That said, a lot of old favourites were back this episode, which can sometimes be a bit of an iffy proposition with Mad as Hell. It’s a show that usually keeps its reoccurring characters around a season too long (we really don’t need to see the Kraken again) with the often unjustified expectation that turning the joke around towards “can you believe we’re still doing this?” territory will squeeze a few more laughs out of it.
(this is the danger with a show as smart as Mad as Hell; the team aren’t just funny, they’re students of funny, so they know all the meta-jokes and self-referential angles that can keep an old favourite alive. And we like that stuff too – it’s just sometimes a joke is done, and making a joke about how a joke is done can’t change that)
But this is the first episode of 2019, and if there’s a theme to this year it’s that things are both shit and yet somehow not quite shit enough that the majority of people want them to change. Maybe that’s because those profiting off the current system have a stranglehold on power; maybe it’s because every time there’s been a change in the last few years things have gotten demonstrably worse. Either way, Mad as Hell knows what it’s doing, and bringing back the same characters is perfectly in tune with the currently grim reality of having the same characters back in power.
It’s also interesting that a chunk of the first episode was spent pointing out the approach that Mad as Hell will be taking towards this “more of the same oh fuck” era in Australian politics (basically: we know The Australian Public wanted these guys back and we can’t believe it either, so we’re still going to attack them but probably not give them a really violent kicking until they get around to doing something to deserve it). It’s hard to imagine The Weekly (or any other current Australian comedy show) having to reassure their audience like that; in part it felt like bringing back the regulars was a way of saying “yep, let’s just keep on going until we figure out how to deal with this”.
(and they really have burnt through a lot of characters over the years – any other Australian comedy series would still be bringing Inspektor Herring from Newstopia back)
But let’s look on the bright side. Micallef himself is as funny as ever – which is handy as the show is around 60% him behind a desk – there’s more than enough variety in the humour to make the half hour fly by, and both sides of politics get a kicking but in a way that reflects their actual positions in society which makes the jokes funnier and provides real balance without any of that “but the party out of power and with no ability to change things is just as bad” shit.
In short, it’s the best show on the ABC and the only reason the national broadcaster should even bother programming anything between 8pm and whenever Rage starts. Logies for everyone!