What What in the Butt (of television)

Last year’s 2020:The Last Year of Television was one of the hidden gems of 2020, a snarky Charlie Brooker-influenced takedown of Australian television – not exactly the toughest subject to kneecap, but considering the media-inspired glow that still somehow persists around an “industry” built almost entirely on selling vacuum cleaners, a necessary job none the less.

(rumour has it there’ll be another special at the end of the year; with The Yearly already lined up to remind us of Scott Morrison’s triumphant leadership in between jokes about how great it is that housing prices keep on rising, thank fuck)

Mitch McTaggart’s current series, The Back Side of Television, is a slightly different beast. It’s more in-depth regarding the faults of Australian television – what, it’s only three half hour episodes? This sucker should run for months – which makes it more informative but somewhat less funny.

The comedy here is largely confined to McTaggart’s asides, which are amusing but are also coming between a lengthy look at the many ways commercial television happily wallows in real-life murder for reasons that creepily seem to go somewhat beyond simply pandering to an audience, so yeah.

To be fair, this weeks final segment about an escaped criminal who went on to audition for Crimestoppers, possibly for the role of himself, was a very funny story, and if they can find something that good each week then we’ll take the whole “not that funny” thing back.

But the overall impression is of a show that is looking at what drives Australian television because the reoccurring themes and obsessions of our media are worth highlighting in and of themselves rather than just background for some cheap gags. As much as we love cheap gags this stuff still works as television without them.

The result is a well-made clip show with something important to say about the Australian media landscape. If you have any interest at all in the history of Australian television – and if you’re reading this blog then you do, because Australian television comedy is increasingly a matter for the history books – then The Back Side of Television is most definitely worth checking out.

It’s just not all that funny. Unlike many of the actors in the crime reenactments.

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