So after a few false starts, Question Everything finally figured out what kind of show it wanted to be. No, not a shit show. In fact, it’s even possible to see why those involved might have thought they were making something decent. They weren’t, of course, but it’s been a long year, we’re getting tired, and sometimes you have to play devil’s advocate to get over the line.
The original idea behind Question Everything seems to have been some kind of Gruen spin-off. Only it would look behind the scenes at news instead of advertising, and feature the usual comedy suspects instead of people who knew anything at all about news.
The only thing interesting about this first version was that, due to covid lockdowns, they had to get in fresh faces instead of the usual chumps. Host Wil Anderson wasn’t a fan, so the next series ditched the idea of fresh faces in favour of… Paul McDermott and Wendy Harmer? Okay.
The greatest hits idea also didn’t really work, and meanwhile Jan Fran was stuck with pointless segments trying to raise the audience’s media literacy. So in this series they… just did more of the same, only with slightly fresher guests. Problem solved!
Time to play Devil’s Advocate:
Okay, so this year, Question Everything sometimes felt like a television show and not just a collection of random bits held together by a timeslot. Wil Anderson is a competent host. Jan Fran is also competent at what she does. Nath Valvo is always good value. And… yeah, we’re done. Can we play Hungry Hungry Hippos instead?
Some shows elevate their guests. The Cheap Seats is funnier than it should be. Question Everything is the opposite, a creation that’s less amusing than its individual parts. It’s a frustrating watch, because there are good people and skilled professionals up there working hard to make a show that’s firmly below average week in week out. Why?
To get the obvious points out of the way, this show doesn’t need two hosts. It barely needs one. Why does Wil Anderson do a bunch of gags on each topic when the point is to get the guests to do a bunch of gags on each topic? Also: his gags are pretty shit. Yelling because you’re pretending not to understand something stopped being funny when Dave Hughes stopped being funny. So around 2005?
At the moment, Australian panel shows are dominated by two cartels. Working Dog over on Ten is one: the ABC is the other. Whatever their flaws, Working Dog are trying to make comedy shows that work as comedy shows. If they don’t work, people won’t watch them, they’ll be axed, game over.
For example, compare the way the panelists on HYBPA? interact with the way guests do on Question Everything. HYBPA? largely falls under the heading of “pissfarting around”. They make fun of each other, they build on each others jokes, they’re generally having a good time unless Ed Kavalee’s being weird.
Question Everything is just a collection of bits from strangers who are working alongside each other rather than working together. When someone takes up some else’s joke, it’s to say “I can do it better”*. The vibe is forced and slightly awkward in the way of pretty much all ABC panel shows**. The whole thing feels like a talent showcase rather than a cohesive show. And why?
Working Dog create shows: the ABC uses shows like Question Everything to create personalities. The point of Question Everything isn’t to amuse or entertain you. It’s to keep Wil Anderson in front of audiences in the hope that you’ll tune into the next show or event he hosts.
At this, the show is a dismal failure. Anderson isn’t even necessary; at least Jan Fran has her own (pointless) segments. Anderson is just doing his Gruen act yet again, only it doesn’t work when he’s surrounded by comedians. On Gruen he’s a point of difference, the wisecracking funny guy who deflates the experts. Here, he just laughs at other people’s jokes… but not so much that you ever get the impression he actually thinks they’re funny.
That leaves everyone else fighting for last place. The guests are more interested in one-upping each other than entertaining the home audience***, because in a talent showcase there actually are winners and losers. Again, that’s because the ABC is a network that creates personalities, not decent television. This series they’ve decided we can’t get enough of Mel Buttle; next series, who knows?
To make a news clip show work, you need a bit of energy. The show needs pace; you’re rarely going to come up with great jokes when you’re dealing with clips about misbehaving animals and bungling politicans, so quantity is the goal. Unless you’re Question Everything.
This is a clip show that presents audiences with a clip that hopefully they haven’t seen already. Then we get a couple of clunky Anderson gags. Then he bluntly throws to a guest to do some material they prepared earlier. Sometimes Jan Fran explains what we just saw in case we’ve never encountered the concept of “the news”. The whole thing is flatter than hammered shit, to coin a phrase.
At one stage Fran said “I feel like this is the last episode that will ever air, right?”. It’s a question we can only hope is answered in the affirmative.
**a notable exception being Gruen, which might explain why it’s popular
***when the final episode of the year opens with a segment on the word of the year (hilarious) where one person just screams, another does two minutes on “fundle”, and Tom Ballard lumps Optus in with Hamas, get fucked.