Kind of a Bummer, Love

In the midst of the recent kerfuffle about the ABC’s lack of fresh comedy faces, one series was noticeably left out of the conversation: Summer Love. Which is odd, as it’s the one ABC series in recent years that’s gone out of its way to provide opportunities to up-and-comers.

While it’s a Gristmill production and they’ve been around for a couple decades now, the line-up of writers and actors has been heavily skewed towards those stepping into new roles. Even the episodes featuring familiar faces have usually also been written by those faces… well, not literally by the faces but you know what we mean.

Even the press release used the whole “emerging talent” thing as a selling point:

Screen Australia’s Head of Content Sally Caplan said: “We’re thrilled to support the powerhouse creative team of Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler in delivering this irrepressibly Australian series. They have assembled a stellar array of emerging and established diverse writing and acting talent and we look forward to seeing this well written and inclusive drama brought to life.”

So you’d think this would be a halfway decent counterpoint to the whole “where are the young comedians?” argument of a week or so back. “Look, there they are!” Case closed, everyone can go back to pretending Wil Anderson is the young fresh face of Australian comedy or whatever.

Obviously this didn’t happen. Partly that’s because by “young comedian”, many of those speaking up really meant “young TV hosts”. Writers and actors? We get them from Hollywood, right?

For most people these days television is just a place where people stand around talking directly to them. Newsreaders, reality show hosts, panel show guests, talking heads on current affairs programs, sports commentators, someone standing in front of the interesting stuff during a documentary, stand-up comedians. That’s television. You know, radio with pictures.

In Australia, giving creative new talent a place to express and develop their talent just isn’t a cultural or economic priority. Television is for people who want to be on television. If the ABC isn’t giving young people a chance to be on television, then the people who want to be on television – but currently have to make do with lesser forms of celebrity like social media or newspapers – aren’t going to be happy.

But the real reason why nobody mentioned Summer Love is because Summer Love isn’t funny. It’s the kind of show where any flashback – especially one featuring a character who isn’t currently part of the story – fills the home viewer with dread because there’s a very good chance that character is now dead. Relationships are a source of conflict and drama, not laughs. Quirky moments of bonding are the best you’re going to get.

Want to train writers and actors to be funny? Give them a sketch comedy series. Even the ABC knows this: see the semi-recent Black Comedy. Summer Love definitely should have been part of the conversation on why the ABC isn’t nurturing new comedy talent, but only because it’s exactly the kind of show you make when you don’t actually want new comedy talent.

Summer Love is perfectly fine for what it is. But what it is, isn’t going to lead to a new generation of comedy writers and performers. It’s a little hard to see exactly what it will lead to, though it may very well get a second season; the ABC doesn’t make character focused dramedy, or much of anything scripted that doesn’t involve a series of murders in a small town.

The ABC isn’t going to come out with the truth, which is that they’re not giving younger talent hosting opportunities because their audience doesn’t want to watch younger talent hosting their shows. Instead, the ABC is going to give younger talent the opportunity to make the kind of mild, “serious” dramedy that older viewers like to watch. Anyone hoping for the return of The Factory or Recovery or even The Money or the Gun is shit out of luck. But Summer Love?

Like the song says, “Well, I’m a freak ya right each and every night”.

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