Everything is Questions

We’re only two weeks in and it’s rapidly becoming clear that despite being titled Question Everything, nobody at the ABC got around to questioning why this show needed to be made. Hands up who thought the comedy panel show format needs explainers about Taliban social media propaganda? It’s that kind of thinking that makes all those jokes about the ABC having no viewers under 60 so timeless.

This week it somehow became even more obvious that this was intended to be Gruen News, only instead of getting in a panel of “news experts” – presumably the kind of humourless fucks who populate Insiders – they’d get in a bunch of up and coming comics. Because if there’s anyone who not only watches a lot of news but thinks seriously about the ramifications of what they’re seeing, it’s stand up comedians.

And the whiplash intensified across the episode. We went from boring news explainers to random semi-related gags to Wil Anderson dropping some more dad joke gear and then looking pissed off when comedian Fady Kassab did one better with his “those guys who threw ink on that cop should go in the pen” gag. It wasn’t a good joke, but it was a good Wil Anderson joke.

(especially as it made the next few minutes some of the most painfully awkward viewing the ABC’s served up since those ads promoting Everything’s Gonna Be Okay a week before it was axed in the US. Don’t step on Anderson’s turf!)

The panelists doing better at the host’s job than the host pretty much sums up this show as a whole… or it would if this show had a whole to sum up because it is a mess. The Gruen News / Insiders / The Drum / 40% of all ABC product format is rigid – here’s an issue, now comment on it – and the comedians they’re getting in are too inexperienced or disinterested or focused on being funny to provide any added value to the issues being discussed. Oh no, this panel show is no longer my best source of news on anti-lockdown protesters!

Meanwhile, the comedians are easily the best part of the show and the only thing making it remotely worth watching because both Anderson and pointless co-host Jan Fran are just doing the same old same old. Having Fran suddenly hosting a segment that made us think we’d tuned into The Feed that ended with “Afghans are risking life and limb to escape this regime – do you really want to be complicit with their Talabranding?” was a stark reminder that Hungry Beast wasn’t really very good and it finished a decade ago.

As for the best example of just how misguided the whole thing is, that was – no, not the part where someone said “you’re playing a game of race card snap”, because that came uncomfortably close (for ABC management) to saying the quiet part out loud – the segment where the panel briefly became Woman’s Day editors, coming up with funny captions for celebrity photos… followed by a serious explanation of how libel law works.

And we haven’t even got to the part where it was suddenly revealed that we were watching a game show. “Final round”? There were rounds? Is this show secretly a drinking game? Because if so maybe the people who put it together should lay off the sauce for a while.

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  • Burble McGurble says:

    There is a major schism at the heart of the show, and not just the one between news & comedy. It’s that the show keeps presenting progressive points of view in an “of course we all know this is true” manner, and when those narratives are questioned or derailed by panel gags, the show either immediately corrects them or looks away uncomfortably. It not only doesn’t seem keen to “Question Everything”, it practically demands that nothing is questioned.

    It reminds me of that awful Gruen “The Pitch” on cancel culture, where the first candidate – an ad for “let’s cancel cancel culture” – was clearly a superior ad, as judged by all four panellists, but they decided to split the prize, transparently so that they were rewarding the “approved” narrative. It was like, wtf? Wasn’t this an ad competition?

    It may prove to be a fascinating historical document, illustrating the tension between performative “wokeness” and comedy in this era. But from inside the era it’s pretty painful.

    I beg to differ on the comedy. If panellists are preparing their riffs on topic X ahead of time – and they clearly are – they should be a lot funnier than “here’s one whimsical thought I had on a related topic that I’ve expanded to 60 seconds while everyone offers me supportive laughter”. It seems they get a couple feature minutes each which should be jam-packed, but I suspect the briefing process is not up to snuff.

    It should be: here’s the topic, and here’s the ESSENCE of the topic i.e. here’s what the show itself is suggesting about that topic. “Taliban are not good guys”. Now you decide whether your bit will agree or disagree with that, and THAT is the foundation. Make a comic argument for it. Not “oh, I’ve got some gear on Afghans in some other context, let me shoehorn it in here” or “let’s make it about ‘what is it with those jeeps they drive?'”. That stuff appears to be lazy for a simple reason: it IS lazy. If responses were total improv it might be forgivable BUT THEY’RE SO OBVIOUSLY NOT.

  • Burble McGurble says:

    And if you’re going to parody a quiz show – and we’ve gotta presume that’s what this is, that the inclusion of “quiz” paraphernalia is meant to be a satirical commentary on the proliferation of UK quiz shows – then (a) probably good if the parody has some point (but it would be a bit hard for the point to be “quiz shows are by nature insubstantial and ephemeral” unless this show itself was designed to be a postmodern playing out of that through the panelists), and (b) I can think of maybe half a dozen UK quiz shows that have already parodied quiz show scoring mechanics and accoutrements far more successfully, from QI on down.

    Those shows are able to subvert those things because there *is* some sense of a format there to be subverted. Even “Mock The Week” (which shares some dna with the attempted-comedic aspects of this, and which, not coincidentally, is often lazy & fake-improv and rarely inspired) has clearly different delineated segments to move through. This just collapses into a long blur of desperately supportive “chuckles”, with “Jansplaining” in the middle.

    Because “Mock The Week” and “Media Watch” are fundamentally at odds with each other. The former says, phenomenon X is something to riff a bit of material off; the latter says, we should be taking phenomenon X way more seriously. There’s clearly a way to combine the two where the gags and comic propositions are centred around the actual point being made (again: in favour, against, or arguing nuance – they all work as long as it’s actually speaking to the main point).