For at least this century and possibly longer, Australian sketch comedy has been shithouse. Oh, there’s been good sketches here and there, and even the occasional decent sketch show. But they’ve always been outweighed by the crap. So much crap.
And now there’s We Interrupt This Broadcast to… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
As Seven’s latest return to sketch comedy, the big thing that separates this from the last few attempts (remember Big Bite? Double Take? Those episodes of Hamish & Andy’s talk show where they crammed in a bunch of leftover sketches from Big Bite?) is… well, time mostly.
Fast Forward set the template thirty years ago: rapid-fire TV parodies broken up with slightly longer and possibly more general sketches, staffed by a bunch of sometimes memorable, more often merely solid performers. Sometimes it works, usually when some stand-out talents stick their heads up; more often it turns out to be merely ok and gets the axe.
Lately the focus has shifted and we’ve either had comedy programs that have featured sketches (most notably Mad as Hell, but parts of The Weekly are sketch-adjacent), or the other kind of sketch comedy*, where the focus is on the performers. You know, the ones where the sketches run for minutes at a time, the writing goes nowhere but the actors are really going for it?
Those shows always suck. But because you can make a sketch show without writers but you can’t make a sketch show without actors, those shows keep on turning up thanks to producers and executives that think maybe this’ll be the time their cost-cutting pays off. Nope.
So the advantage We Interrupt This Broadcast has when it comes to luring in viewers** is that it’s been a decade or more since we last saw one of these sketch shows. It’s on Channel Seven: of course nostalgia plays a part.
We Interrupt This Broadcast has writers and it shows. The jokes are actual jokes and not just catchphrases, which means sometimes they’re funny. Sketches aren’t drawn out to fill in time – they tell their one joke and move on, at best leaving you wanting more, at worst not letting the stench linger.
Sadly yes, there are repeated sketches and some of those feel like the kind of thing the writers are hoping will become catchphrase generators. But based on the first episode there’s enough variety to stop this from turning into the same six jokes repeated again and again in a futile attempt to make us think that’s the joke.
More than just about any other kind of comedy, you need a lot of crap sketches before you start getting to the good ones. Everyone remembers The Micallef P(r)ogram(me): nobody looks back fondly on a hundred hours of Comedy Inc, or Skithouse, or Open Slather, or The Wedge, or… you can see where this is going.
We Interrupt This Broadcast isn’t that bad; a better comparison quality-wise would be something like Kinne, where you know you’re not watching a classic but it doesn’t entirely feel like you’re wasting your time either. Speed is its big advantage, punching out ok jokes fast enough to make it feel worth sticking around for the next (and the next, and the next).
Let’s put it this way: we’re not dreading the next episode***. For Australian sketch comedy in the 21st century that’s about as high as praise currently gets.
*there’s also the third kind, which mixes pre-recorded and live sketches with live studio banter – SNL, The Late Show, Mr Show, maybe if you squint Kinne. These are the best kind of sketch show, unless you’ve accidentally made Let Loose Live.
**but not that big an advantage, as it came a distant third in the Tuesday night ratings.
***it still seems reasonable to assume there’ll be one – that said, unless those ratings pick up we wouldn’t want to bet big money on it still airing in prime time through April