The web series Monologue shows what happens behind the scenes in the fictional world of Monologue, “Australia’s sixth most influential pop-culture publication”. And in the wake of the recent collapses of Vice and Buzzfeed, on which Monologue is partly based, it feels extremely topical. But is it funny?
In theory, it should be. The young, hip team in the Monologue office lurch from crisis to crisis, desperate to get clicks on their latest stories, whilst editor and co-owner Monique (Mad As Hell’s Emily Taheny) talks up Monologue as a publication that “empowers women”. How a predictable mix of clickbait stories about Chris Hemsworth’s body, romance, and fashion is supposed to empower women is not explained.
Monique has all the characteristics of your worst-ever bosses rolled into one: part headless chicken, part narcissistic bully. Her mortal enemy is Monologue’s co-owner Max (Utopia’s Mike Mcleish), the guy in charge of the finances, who doesn’t care what the publication endorses or whether all the stories are written by bots, as long as the money keeps rolling in.
This should make for an excellent comic rivalry between these two characters, except it doesn’t really. The bot episode, in which Monologue’s writers compete with a bot to write the most-clicked-on articles, has few laughs. Although the bot comes up with the headline The World’s Sexiest North Korean Beaches, which is pretty funny.
Part of the problem is that the action in Monologue moves very fast. Almost too fast to keep up with. It’s like the creators actually wanted to make longer episodes (the runtime for each episode is about eight minutes) and couldn’t work out how to truncate the plot. That then leads to a secondary problem, which is apart from Monique and Max, it’s hard to get a grip on who the rest of the characters are.
All we really have time to learn, even after six episodes, is that editor Lilly (Hot Department: Dark Web’s Honor Wolff) is anxious, assistant BB (All My Friends Are Racist’s Davey Thompson) is gay, writer Imogen (Alice Foulcher) is a feminist, and graphic designer Clark (Wednesday Night Fever’s Robin Goldsworthy) is a bit of an idiot.
As for the action, most of that is aiming to be satirical. There are episodes where Monique is, variously, obsessed with making content for Monologue’s TikTok account and launching a podcast, without really knowing what either of them is.
There are also episodes which echo real events. Remember when Richard Wilkins reported that Jeff Goldblum had died? Monologue has an episode where Clark publishes a story saying Dan Aykroyd is dead, then has a hard time making it stand up. There’s also an episode which harks back to when Christopher Pyne and Greg Hunt liked porn tweets. The Monologue team discovers that a politician who campaigns on conservative family values has liked a tweet posted by @SploogeTittie247. Then Monique has a Twitter crisis of her own, which exposes her as the hypocrite she is.
In some ways, Monologue is like a modern-day Frontline, with its digs at media hypocrisy. But unlike Frontline, it doesn’t have fleshed-out characters, deft plotting, and good belly laughs. It’s also one of those shows that thinks that satire is just recreating something real that happened. It isn’t.
The only stand-out of this series is Emily Taheny, who’s great as Monique. But Monique and the other characters need room to breathe. The kind of room you only get in half an hour.