Last week saw the final episodes of The Betoota Advocate Presents and Deadloch, two good shows made by funny people which were kind of serious. What does this tell us about the state of comedy in 2023?
For one it suggests that funders, broadcasters, streaming services, and whoever else gives the green light to these shows, seem perfectly happy to employ comedians, but not to employ them to make actual comedy. A TV show from the popular online comedy news site The Betoota Advocate, you’d think, would be along the lines of a topical sketch show or a current affairs parody. Like when The Chaser team moved from being the publishers of a cult newspaper to making parody election shows, and, later, semi-satirical prank shows.
Instead, The Betoota Advocate’s TV show consists of four serious Netflix-esque documentaries about scams and controversies from our recent past. They were good serious Netflix-esque documentaries about scams and controversies from our recent past, but they could have been made and hosted by anyone. If you’re getting Clancy Overell and Errol Parker from The Betoota Advocate to front them, you’re expecting some laughs, or at least something more than occasional commentary from two blokes in Akubras.
Having said that, when your topics include Hillsong and the Cronulla Riots, you’re already limiting the potential laughs. No one wants to see people making light of sexual abuse and race riots. The final episode, on the Fine Cotton Affair, looks at a more natural comic topic, especially when you get to the bit where they paint the horse, but even this was presented seriously.
Overall, and not as in Clancy, you have to wonder how this project turned out as it did. Were the Betoota team offered a TV show and then told “Sorry, we don’t have enough money for you to do a weekly topical sketch show. Why not make some one-offs?”. So, they ended up making these four documentaries? Or is there an active reluctance from broadcasters and streaming services to make comedy unless it’s dressed up as another popular format?
This brings us to Deadloch, the part comedy/part Nordic noir-esque murder mystery. Although, it at least feels like the kind of show that Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney wanted to make. It’s infused with their voice and humour, providing a commentary on sexuality, gender, food culture, racism and more, whilst the bodies of murdered men keep popping up around the small Tasmanian town of Deadloch.
The comic moments didn’t always work, with the jokes destroying some of the dramatic tension and plot momentum in the earlier episodes, but a better balance is found towards the end of the run. And the final episode, in which the murderer is revealed and several of the more pernicious townspeople get their comeuppance, is worth the wait.
Would we personally rather see McLennan and McCartney do more outright comedy? Yes, but Deadloch was a nice bridge (with echoes of The Bridge) between a popular detective genre and the kind of feminist/anti-racist comedy we saw in Get Krack!n.
The fact that TV seems to need such bridges, though, and doesn’t have the will, the guts, or the money to make sketch shows, topical satires, and many other types of comedy is more our gripe here. Who out there has got the impression that audiences don’t want to laugh? Who thinks we’re better off with comedians hosting cooking shows rather than doing comedy? And will today’s release of Mitch McTaggart’s new series of The Back Side of Television solve the problem, or just be more of the same?