Getting Comfy in The Cheap Seats

The Cheap Seats: now even cheaper in week two! It wasn’t really surprising that things were a little… looser in their second outing – while they presumably had weeks to get the first episode right, they only had seven days for the second – but when that’s the biggest change with a live show after week one you’ve got a show that’s pretty sure they’re on the right track.

To be fair, there’s not a whole lot they can do to change things up even if they want to*. The news jokes side of things was strong straight out the gate – as you’d expect considering producers Working Dog have had close to a decade’s practice with Have You Been Paying Attention? – and everything else around it was pretty much just there to prop the jokes up.

That’s maybe a bit harsh: the banter between hosts Melanie Bracewell and Tim (Tom?) McDonald is both funny in its own right and a vital gear change from the rapid-fire pow-pow-pow of the news clip gags. So going a little bit looser worked out well; the opening few segments in last week’s episode set the kind of breathless pace that left the second half hour feeling surplus to requirements, whereas this week’s show spaced things out just enough to make a full hour feel like just enough of a good thing.

And a decent comedy news round up is most definitely a good thing. Unlike shows like The Weekly (or even The Project), where the news comes first and the comedy has to work around that, The Cheap Seats is firmly joke-led: if a news story doesn’t have a funny angle or some decent footage, it’s not getting in. Which is exactly how it should be: if you want serious news, you’re not exactly hurting for it on television.

Sure, this does mean there’s a lengthy sports segment, which is a useful reminder that on commercial television you’re required to cover things people are actually interested in. It’s also a more traditional comedy segment, in that they have to actually explain things to set up the gags rather than just going “covid!” and cutting to some clips of politicians crapping on.

Another thing it does is slow things down a lot, which is a reminder that unless you’re really, really, really good at this stuff you’re just another person doing this stuff. And there’s a lot of “hey, here’s a news story with a joke on the end” stuff out there. Which means that the real trouble going forward is that format-wise the show itself doesn’t have a lot of wriggle room.

The news jokes are the unique selling point here. If the show’s focus slips to a series of wacky segments with mildly funny experts then basically we’ve got The Project 2.0 – or worse, a more polished evening version of a morning show.

On the flip side, an hour is too much time to fill with non-stop news gags. Start piling them on and the whole thing begins to feel like a breathless race; space them out too much with banter and long-winded set-ups and… what’s the point of all this again?

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*and with the first episode pulling in close to 500k viewers with little promotion while also being up against the Olympics, why would they want to?

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