White Lines

Where do you draw the line with White Fever? As previously discussed, it’s perfectly fine for what it is: it’s just that what it is isn’t a comedy. Which is a problem, because if a half hour scripted series airing on the ABC at 9pm on a Wednesday isn’t a comedy, what is?

A Korean-Australian woman glares at a blonde doll which has come to life

As you’ve possibly heard, Gruen is due back on our screens May 15. Well, not our screens; fucked if we’ll be putting ourselves through that for a 16th season. But it’s a timely reminder that the ABC “comedy” timeslot – roughly one hour on a Wednesday if you don’t count Hard Quiz and who does – increasingly doesn’t bother with comedy.

For example, White Fever. It’s a prime example of one of the many genres the ABC likes more than comedy: an issues-based series aimed at young* people. As we all know, pretty much every show aimed at young people on Australian television is going to be promoted as a comedy whether it’s funny or not. What have young people got to be worried about? Nothing: therefore comedy.

It’s also about young people’s relationships. That usually sets off alarm bells when the ABC is involved because they seem to only take on stories that feature young characters whose primary relationship is with being annoying. Over and over again they serve up series where the main idea seems to be “what if we reinvented the concept of screeching harridans for the 21st century?”. Clearly the only way any character under 40 could be funny is if they were some hideous caricature even Chris Lilley would think twice about playing.

Remember All My Friends Are Racist? Of course not. How about Why Are You Like This? Not that we’re saying they’re the same show, but the ABC does have a type when it comes to young people’s programming. And if you manage to get your eyes to unfocus like you’re looking at a magic eye poster, White Fever kinda sorts fits the formula.

Fortunately, White Fever is better than your average ABC young person’s relationship comedy. That’s not difficult: it’s a grim lineage that stretches back at least as far as Laid. Unfortunately, the way it manages to be a better program is by not even trying to be funny for long stretches.

Again, it’s good at not being funny, in large part because it’s actually about something beyond the lead’s romantic entanglements. Remember Please Like Me? The hilarious sitcom that ended every season with a main character’s death (or coma) bumming everyone out? Was that ever about anything beyond Josh Thomas making out with various handsome actors?

To take a wider view, it’s been extremely obvious for the last few decades that, thanks to Australia’s model of television funding – where your real audience is funding bodies – actually making a completed television series comes a distant second in importance behind the funding body crafting a press release announcing that they’ve given your brilliant concept some cash.

White Fever works because creator and star Ra Chapman had a story she wanted to tell. More often, we just get a concept that sounds good to the funding bodies. When it comes to the finished product, the execution falls over.

And when you’re making a comedy, execution is everything.


*for “young”, read “under 50” – after all, this is the ABC we’re talking about

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