With The Weekly and The Cheap Seats now on the air, is Australia big enough to have two news summary shows? Fortunately for viewers, the two are aimed at two very different audiences. On the one hand, The Weekly has Charlie Pickering behind a desk shouting lines like “For a second there I thought I was going to have to stop having sex with my monkey”. On the other, The Cheap Seats is funny.
The stark difference between the two was underlined in a week where there was only one big news story:
a truck got stuck under Melbourne’s Montague St bridge yet again the election. Unsurprisingly, both The Weekly and The Cheap Seats used a couple of the same clips (Peter Van Onselen forgetting to vote, Seven’s Screen of Dreams), creating a rare head-to-head clash of the comedy titans.
Obviously comedy is subjective and only a complete idiot would even try to compare one joke with another. So yeah, The Cheap Seats was funnier.
In case you forgot The Weekly airs on the ABC, there were plenty of segments aimed at winning over the pension-age crowd by showing their peers still out and about. There was a lot of footage of the return yet again of John Howard, and a lot of footage of the return yet again of Roy & H.G. What’s next – the return yet again of Aunty Jack?
In another youth-friendly high point, the centerpiece of tonight’s Weekly was an interview with Leigh Sales, AKA the kind of cross promotion we’ve come to expect from pretty much everything out of the Working Dog warehouse over on Ten. And yet Pickering asking the host of 730 “what was it about Shane Warne that fascinated you?” still seemed like television hitting a new low. Especially as there didn’t seem to be anything being cross-promoted?
The real problem with The Weekly is that it’s The Weekly with Charlie Pickering. Pickering is basically a newsreader who’s somewhat less charming than Rove McManus; having him do literally everything – desk jokes, introducing clip sketches, conducting interviews, starring in comedy explainers explaining cutting edge topics like smart phones (that can’t be right – ed) – just hammers home how bad he is at doing at least three of those things.
(seriously, the explainer on smart phones was subpar stuff. If you’re going to say “without smart phones we’re adrift”, the bit about having to print out your vaccination statement makes zero sense in mid-2022. Complaining about being lost at a tram stop would maybe work if the tram stop he was at didn’t have both a route map and a screen providing updates as to when the next tram was coming)
But who cares about any of that when you have a studio audience willing to go nuts at you mocking an overseas person’s accent? It’s somewhat telling that while The Cheap Seats (and Have You Been Paying Attention?) have small studio audiences that rarely draw attention to themselves, The Weekly seems to have gone down the path much loved of ABC live entertainment and pulled in a crowd wacked out on the kind of sugar rush that usually ends in a diabetic coma.
It’s nice that the studio audience are enjoying themselves; it’s not so nice when their enjoyment detracts from everyone else’s. Used well, a studio audience is the equivalent of a decent movie sound track – a barely noticeable attempt to manipulate the emotions of the viewer. As used on The Weekly, it’s more like the blunt force trauma of the soundtrack to MasterChef.
Put another way, if you have to work this hard to tell us Charlie Pickering is hilarious, maybe he’s not as hilarious as you think.