This week on Reputation Rehab: “Reputations exist in the minds of real people”. Could have fooled us. Here’s something else that exists in the minds of real people: what exactly is this show about?
We didn’t review Reputation Rehab after last week’s episode because being built around a big “celebrity” interview left us feeling it might not be a good representation of what the show was actually going to be about. So we waited until this week, which was about how being on reality television can be bad for your reputation: that’s right, it’s 2020 and the ABC is running a show explaining how reality TV works.
It wasn’t a bad guide to reality television by any means, but the news that reality television destroys reputations hasn’t been news for a long time now. Then again, the news that Nazis are bad hasn’t exactly been news for a long time either and that doesn’t seem to have sunk in. Advantage, ABC.
So for a show that lifted the lid on something that hasn’t had a lid since the second season of Big Brother, how was it? Perfectly watchable, actually, which isn’t something we’ve been able to say with a straight face about The Weekly for years. The ABC (by which we mean their stable of producers) have a very good idea how to do these takedowns of the media, mostly because they are the media. Chalk up another point to the ABC there.
Unfortunately, they also know how to do these takedowns in such a way that nothing is actually taken down – see also: every episode of Gruen. Even though this was a show where a reality show contestant played an actual death threat she received via voicemail, the end verdict on reality TV seemed to be “wow, you can do almost anything with editing, huh?” When you get a reality show contestant to provide a DVD commentary on her big moment on reality TV, you’re not rehabilitating anyone’s reputation – you’re just hitching a ride on reality TV’s popularity.
The frustrating thing about this kind of show for us* is that it comes right up to the line as far as comedy is concerned and then pulls up sharply like it just smelt something awful. Reputation Rehab had a bunch of promising information and insights into how reality television is made, but it did nothing with them. There was no wider point to any of it, no sense that the hosts or producers had any real opinion on reality television beyond “it’s part of life”. And without a point of view, you can’t make comedy.
Not that the ABC wants to make comedy: reality television (and last week, sport) has too many fans to risk pissing any of them off by making a joke about what they love. It’s a gutless quest for popularity that’s increasingly common, where if something’s popular it’s too risky to make fun of and if it’s not popular then nobody’s going to get the joke.
Thank fuck for politics, and even then we’re probably only months away from someone in ABC management deciding that laughing at the Coalition is simply too risky in the current climate. Repeats of Rosehaven all round!
*Others disagree: the real point here is that wishy-washy programming that’s neither solid comedy nor in-depth informative ends up satisfying no-one