Vale The Weekly, Hello Gruen

So messed up and lacking in cash is the ABC comedy department at the moment that we pretty much only get one comedy show on air at a time. Last week we had the final episode of The Weekly. This week, in the same timeslot, we have the first of a new series of Gruen.

Both The Weekly and Gruen are shows that no one seems to want or know how to kill. The Weekly just finished its 10th series, but will be back in December with The Yearly, and in 2025 for series 11. Gruen is on something like series 16, and boy does it look it. But let’s take a quick look at the final episode of The Weekly before we tackle the return of Gruen.

“We’ve saved the best ‘til last” announced host Charlie Pickering, in his opening remarks. And perhaps The Weekly had, by their own, low standards. But for us, this statement was kinda undercut by the preceding sketch, which was about Barnaby Joyce being filmed drunk and lying on a footpath. A story that broke THREE MONTHS AGO.

We’ve talked plenty about The Weekly taking weeks to get around to stories which are no longer topical by the time they talk about them, but we repeat, this happened THREE MONTHS AGO*. Sure, it’s an amazing story that no one can forget. But it would have been way more effective to air this sketch within a week of it breaking.

Which is the Weekly story in a nutshell. If you can’t be funny**, there’s still a load of obvious ways to punch up a satirical program. Be vicious, be topical, be intelligent, be stupid, be knowledgeable, be opinionated. Just be anything that isn’t bland. Oops, looks like they messed that one up too.

The Weekly‘s decision – if anything about that show is ever actually “decided upon” – to ditch pretty much everything in favour of interviews and panel chat presumably made it easier to make. Spending an entire season on one-joke ideas like Australia’s Next Top Ally definitely made it easier to skip.

But the real problem came yet again with the announcement that The Weekly will be back in 2025. Not because it’s a garbage show that’s a waste of even the minuscule resources that go into everything that isn’t Charlie Pickering’s salary. But because leaving this crap on auto-renew encourages the lazy, half-arsed effort we get every week when we mistakenly tune in.

The Weekly is a show made fresh each week. And yet, almost everything about it feels like they had one staff meeting at the start of the year, threw out a few ideas for ongoing segments, went “that’ll do” and made fourteen slightly different versions in an afternoon.

Week after week the same boring segments run the same unfunny jokes into the ground. Any possibility of being surprised, let alone amused, was pummeled out of the format years ago. Much like any sign of intelligence or engagement in Pickering’s eyes when he’s reading off the autocue. Which is all the time.

And then there’s Gruen, the cockroach of ABC infotainment. Remember that decade or so where the ABC’s approach to just about everything in arts and culture was to make a version of Gruen about it? And now the ABC has no arts programming at all. Really makes you think.

If television worked the way it’s supposed to, the creatives – we use that word advisedly – involved with Gruen would have walked away years ago. Fifteen years doing the same thing? And that “same thing” is talking about advertising? Way to advertise you’re utterly dead inside.

But to its credit, Gruen has lasted so long almost nobody remembers that it’s basically just one of those “World’s Wackiest Commercials” specials sliced really thinly and padded out with a team of corporate blowhards wheeling out the kind of talking points their staff ignores while they actually get work done. Advertising works, just so long as you keep doing it until everyone who disagrees is dead.

There was a point in the first episode back where one of the panellists said “In ten years time, when people say ‘what’s your favourite ad'” and we didn’t hear the rest because we were too busy kicking our television set in. Nobody real ever says “what’s your favourite ad”. Ads are shit. The only time anyone has an emotional connection to an ad is when the ad comes from another country and is selling something that isn’t available. So basically, a comedy sketch.

The act of being sold to – of having a relationship revealed to be a commercial transaction – destroys any chance of authentic emotional connection. We all know this, unless you’re one of those guys who falls in love with the sex worker that you’re paying for sex. That’s why appearing on an ad is a step down for comedians. It devalues their brand, to use an advertising term.

And yet Gruen, while discussing that Hubbl ad Hamish & Andy are on, never come out and say “this makes Hamish & Andy look bad”. Which is the big takeaway from every single celebrity-fronted campaign: a celebrity is cashing in on their fame to sell us crap.

This is why Gruen is trash. Well, not the only reason, as having a bunch of unlikable advertising executives spew marketing-speak about commercials on the ABC is offensive on a number of levels. But Gruen, like most products sold through advertising, doesn’t even live up to its marketing. It’s not a program that lifts the lid on the advertising world. It’s a program that lies about advertising to try and promote it.

And like every other commercial, it makes everyone who appears in it seem just that little bit more shit.


*anyone else get the feeling they made this sketch a while back but never found room to slot it in? Here’s a tip: maybe don’t make your emergency “we’ll put this on when there’s nothing else happening” sketch about something that’s extremely topical

**they can’t

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