You’ll (Front) Bar Up

The Front Bar has been one of Seven’s big successes of the last few years. Originally little more than an online advertorial for booze with some footy chat mixed in – or an advertorial for footy with booze mixed in – having Sam Pang and Mick Molloy crap on while clearly getting pissed was a formula that soon became a winter mainstay. At least for those in the AFL states who give a shit about sport.

These days Seven tries to drag this ratings winner out as long as possible. There’s various non-AFL specials constantly turning up whenever there’s a sporting event on that almost kinda sorta justifies it. You can’t exactly blame them: comedians taking the piss out of sport is about as sure-fire as you get with Australian comedy, and Pang, Molloy and straight man Andy Maher are as good at it as anybody else this century.

As comedy goes, The Front Bar is a solid product. It gets more mileage than you might expect from Sam and Mick riling each other up, and Seven’s massive archive of AFL footage going back to the dawn of time gets a pretty solid workout as well. The guests are often good value too. Presumably a career waffling on at pie nights means they’ve got a bunch of anecdotes good to go.

And yet those stories, like everything else on The Front Bar, are always about sport. Sports jokes are extremely low hanging fruit if you’re a fan, and pretty much incomprehensible if you’re not. You’ll probably work out the laughs from the context – it’s not a subtle show – but “work” and “laughs” rarely go hand in hand.

Don’t expect any concessions to the non-sport comedy fan either. While plenty of people like sport and and the same time like things that are not sport, sport is such a massive market in Australia that sport doesn’t need to appeal to anyone who doesn’t like sport. So sports shows are entirely about sport, and shows that aren’t about sport don’t bother mentioning sport because sports shows already have that market covered.

Just look at HYBPA? It’s a news comedy show that covers the week in news pretty extensively, yet there’s only ever a handful of sports mentions and more often than not they’re from overseas. Meanwhile, half the country follows AFL and the other half NRL. National shows can’t cover both because fans of one hate fans of the other. The solution? Avoid the whole thing entirely, which suits people who don’t like sport just fine.

The upside of this divide is, The Front Bar has a fair amount of decent material each week all to themselves. Like those AFL “comedy” series before it – that one with Straunchie, that other one with Sam Newman – there’s also a fair bit of actual sports coverage going on. No surprise there: commercial TV has massive sports departments so why not get various experts and commentators and ex-players on? They’re already hanging around the place.

But is it funny? Despite both Pang and Molloy having extensive comedy careers outside the world of sport, you still need to be pretty committed fans of either – or just like sport – to follow them here. It’s a sports show with a comedy slant rather than a comedy show about sport, and it doesn’t really pretend otherwise.

And there’s a lot of sport: as is seemingly traditional with these shows, this constantly runs over time. If you’re keen on 75+ minutes (with sports-related ads) of sport, much of which seems to be thanks and shout-outs to former players who are now car salesmen or running some shonky pub, more power to you.

Mick Molloy in “my bar tab was so large they just gave me the place” shock

Still, there’s usually a couple of comedy nuggets in here if you’re willing to put in the effort. There’s plenty of funny banter going on, Pang and Molloy are two of the more charismatic characters in Australian comedy, and the show’s just ramshackle enough to give them room to mess around.

If only they weren’t constantly crapping on about sport.

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