Sure, this was the week we learnt that the next series of Mad as Hell would be the last but don’t worry, Charlie Pickering’s got some news that’ll turn our nation’s frown upside down:
“We will be back in December to wrap up 2022 with The Yearly, and we’ll be back next year with season nine of The Weekly“
You know, it’s hard to imagine that The Weekly being axed would get coverage in any news media, so it’s probably good that now we don’t have to spend the next few months getting our hopes up.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the ABC didn’t have even one regular news satire program. There was whatever The Chaser were up to, which was sometimes adjacent to the news but was usually more about politics in general. A bit further into the past there were panel shows like The Glasshouse and Good News Week along the lines of “comedians poke fun at the headlines”. But regular, topical, news-based comedy? Nowhere to be seen.
And now with the end of Mad as Hell, those days are back.
The Weekly has lifted its game slightly over the last few weeks. But that’s almost entirely down to a boost in the number of comedian-fronted segments and interviews. The fact this shift has come at the end of the series makes it feel more like “oh shit, we better use up these pre-recorded segments”; what was the deal with giving Corey White a new segment – introduced as “a new segment” – on the very last episode of the year?
Maybe this was an actual decision to make a funnier show. But why now? They’ve been doing just fine so far without comedy. And when you’re making a show that actually gets better once you get to your end-of-run clearance sale, questions need to be asked.
The Weekly and Mad as Hell usually rate roughly about the same, and yet – even accounting for our biases – you’d be hard pressed to argue that they both make the same impact on the public consciousness. Now, if they could somehow figure out how to make Gruen News, then that ungodly creation would probably blow both shows out of the water. But it’d just be a slower, yappier, more annoying version of Have You Been Paying Attention? and nobody needs that.
So it’s possible to argue – look, we’re about to do it right now! – that for the last few years the ABC has really been running one long 30 episode news satire show a year, only there’s been a middle segment hosted by Charlie Pickering that just isn’t as good as the other bits. The question is, can The Weekly stand alone?
Look, there’s no reason why it can’t… if you’re willing to ignore every single thing that’s come before. Currently operating as a “news recap”, it seems utterly unaware that simply recapping the news with the occasional “check out that funny name!” joke is completely pointless in 2022. Everyone is walking around carrying a portable supercomputer connected to a global web of information: if you want to get caught up on the news, you’re not waiting until 8.40pm on a Wednesday.
And yet the final Weekly of 2022 led with a big segment and interview on the well worn and worn out subject of the mass resignations designed to force Boris Johnson to resign. This was, as they say, “old news”, complete with “old jokes” and “Charlie Pickering”.
Oh yeah, Pickering. The Weekly started as a show that needed a bland host so the other, wackier cast members could play off him. Then the other cast members left and bland is all that remains.
Then again, what else does The Weekly actually have to offer its audience apart from Pickering’s dubious charms? Sure, if you’ve been desperately looking for a disinterested rich nihilist’s take on the week you’re in luck, but half the time the show can’t even figure out how to make that point of view anything more than a sustained smirk.
To wit: what was going on with Luke Heggie’s segment about dud roots in veggie boxes that turned into a (comedy?) attack on farmers? Saying the opposite of conventional wisdom to get laughs is fine – though it worked for Tom Gleeson, so yeah, “fine” – but this segment just felt all over the place.
Then again, a sneering, punch-down joke like “I don’t mind donating to farmers, but I do mind when thieving shelf stackers steal my donation” is pretty much prime The Weekly. Fuck those minimum wage workers who provide a vital service, they’re thieving scumbags. Yeah, it’s a joke – and that’s the joke.
We’ve enjoyed much of Heggie’s work this season and Australia definitely needs more comedy misanthropes. But judging by the (slightly) muted reaction from the usually nuts Weekly audience, even those sugar-addled fruit loops weren’t sure how to take this bit.
In 2022 The Weekly feels like a collection of slapdash segments thrown together by a team of clock-watchers with only a passing interest in the news and zero interest in how it relates to the real world. This was sustainable when there was something better around the corner; when all we have to look forward to is (say) Chris Taylor’s News Blammo, not so much.
It’s impossible to predict the future of The Weekly because (and we’re going to be charitable here) every year it reinvents itself. At the moment the only sure thing is that there’ll be a desk and Pickering will be sitting behind it for at least some of the show; everything else is up for grabs.
Well, apart from it being funny.