Press release time!
Comedy fires up under lockdown!
New ABC series Retrograde launches July.
Set in a virtual bar – Australia’s first narrative comedy filmed entirely in isolation
ABC and Screen Australia are thrilled to announce that the new six-part narrative comedy series, Retrograde, premieres Wednesday 8 July at 9.30pm on ABC and iview. Developed, produced, and post-produced entirely under strict COVID-safe guidelines, Retrograde follows the lives of a group of thirty-something friends as they drown their sorrows at a virtual bar in the time of COVID-19.
The series features a terrific line-up of Australian talent including Pallavi Sharda, Ilai Swindells, Maria Angelico, Esther Hannaford and Nick Boshier with guest star Ronny Chieng. Shot in isolation, Retrograde will be the first remotely filmed narrative comedy series to hit Australian television screens.
Gemma is about to embark on an exciting career in Korea when COVID-19 crashes her farewell party. Faster than you can say “social isolation” she’s made unemployed and has to find a place to live — like, yesterday. Thankfully she hadn’t got around to dumping her boring but nice boyfriend Rob, so she can lockdown with him — and his daughter. Even at 32, adulting is not something that comes naturally to Gemma and to make things worse her ex has returned to Australia and is back on the (online) scene. At least she doesn’t have to drink alone. Her friends have created an online bar where they can commiserate and workshop their questionable life choices. Gemma is forced to take a good hard look at herself in the preview window — and work out what she wants her life to be in lockdown world and beyond.
Bringing you this out-of-this-world (but very much of this world) show are creator/producer/writer Meg O’Connell (Content, Robbie Hood) and lead writer/co-producer Anna Barnes (Content, The Strange Chores). Rounding out the creative team are director Natalie Bailey (Avenue5, Run, The Thick of It), script producer Sophie Miller (The Family Law, Maximum Choppage), and writers Declan Fay (Ronny Chieng: International Student) and Michele Lee (Hungry Ghosts). Alongside O’Connell, the producing team includes Dan Lake, Jackson Lapsley Scott and executive producer Kurt Royan.
Series Co-Creator, Meg O’Connell said, “The COVID-19 lockdown means the characters in Retrograde are finally having the existential crises they put off having in their twenties. They’re being forced to look at their reflections in the mirror (or video call) and are asking themselves: Do I like what I see?”
Sally Riley, ABC’S Head of Drama, Comedy and Indigenous said, “Making scripted content means it’s not always easy to respond in the moment to the terrifying events and changes in our world. But we’ve reimagined the way we make drama and comedy to bring Australian audiences a show that illustrates the very real impact the pandemic has had on life as we know it. Crossing humour with a layer of existential dread, Retrograde tracks from beginning to end our journey of the first wave of lockdown.”
Senior Online Investment Manager at Screen Australia, Lee Naimo, said, “We’re excited to support this team who have responded so quickly to the strange new normal with an incredibly innovative and clever series. Retrograde brings our online lives into focus and introduces a new kind of viewing experience to Australian audiences, and I can’t wait to see it.”
Who knew that the big winner out of a global pandemic killing tens of thousands of people would be Australian comedy? At this stage we’re facing at least 50% or more of this year’s ABC’s scripted comedy output coming as a direct response to coronavirus.
Sure, by “direct response to coronavirus” we probably mean “taking advantage of health restrictions to produce shows on the cheap”, but still: if scripted comedy is to have any kind of future at the ABC, fingers crossed for a all-out nuclear war in 2021.
We’ve all been horrified by the murder of George Floyd. And not just because of the brutal way in which George Floyd was killed, but for the fact that this keeps happening to black people. In the United States and in our own country.
But given this is a blog about comedy – and that none of us writing it are people of colour – is this something we should even comment on? Does Black Lives Matter need more white people and white-led organisations making a statement about this?
As a friend of this blog and a person of colour pointed out:
I’m sick of seeing companies and publications posting black squares. Look at who makes up their board, their senior management team… This rings hollow to me.
So, instead, we have some questions for our readers who work in the Australian comedy industry: why are there so few comedy shows by or about people of colour that people like us can review? Why is almost everything about the white experience? And why does there seem to be no effective pathway for comics of colour?
Many comedians start their careers doing stand-up, so it’s in the world of stand-up that you’d expect to see plenty of up-and-coming comedians of colour. Except, often, you don’t:
Of the 10 stand-up shows released on Amazon Prime recently, only one was by a person of colour.
Amongst the 25 performers who were part of Stan’s Lockdown Comedy Festival, just five were people of colour (six if you count Randy Feltface).
Of the 16 episodes of the audio series ABC’s Comedy Presents… just three feature either an immigrant or a person of colour.
These statistics aren’t awful, you might think, but they’re also not great. Amazon could only find one Australian-based comedian of colour to film? Really?
And it’s not like there haven’t been plenty of shows from indigenous and non-white comedians on the live scene in recent years. So why are so few of these performers making it onto TV, radio, streaming…?
And this is even weirder when you consider the great strides made in Australian comedy in recent decades to embrace comedians who are female, LGBTQI+, disabled or neuro-diverse. And the way in which indigenous artists have been the creators and stars of acclaimed drama series like Pine Gap, Mystery Road and Total Control.
So, what’s the problem in the comedy world? Sure, there’s been Black Comedy, the final episode of Get Krack!n, Steph Tisdell’s appearance in Drunk History Australia and Briggs’ occasional segments The Weekly… but is that good enough?
And in the week of George Floyd’s death, why did it seem as if the episode of Miriam Margolyse Almost Australian about ‘Mateship’ was only entertainment program which had anything to say about the problems faced by indigenous Australians?
Yes, we have a long way to go.
P.S. If you’ve got access to Stan, Steph Tisdell’s set on Lockdown Comedy Festival is worth a look. Punchy, pointed and funny, she’s one to look out for.
The Weekly‘s been a bit erratic format-wise this year, but just because the days when it was utterly predictable seem over doesn’t mean the show is actually, you know, interesting or funny. So we were going to take a break this week and focus on other things until we actually watched this week’s installment and… where’d everybody go?
Regular readers of this blog have our sympathies, but they also may recall that a year or two back we ran a series of posts wondering out loud where supposed Weekly regular Briggs actually was. He was in the credits and promos, some episodes even ended with the promise that he’d be back next week, but he just… never turned up. Even in 2020, when he’s technically still part of the team, he hasn’t been sighted (or mentioned) once. Then again, when you can do comedy protest songs with Tim Minchin and have been working with Matt Groening, being condescended to by Charlie Pickering is probably something you don’t need in your life.
So no Briggs this week. Also no Judith Lucy, Luke McGregor, Tom Gleeson, Kitty Flanagan or the Ghost of John Clarke. “You want Charlie Pickering?”, the demonic head of ABC Entertainment seemed to be saying, “HAVE ALL THE CHARLIE PICKERING IN THE WORLD!!” Or at least, a solid half hour of him, which we can all agree is definitely some kind of demonic punishment.
Opening news recap? Pickering. Interview with Hugo Weaving? Pickering. Multiple “comedy” news explainer segments? Pickering. Chats with overseas comedians talking about the issues facing their countries? Pickering and just for a change, Pickering. The return of Charlie Pickering, ABC HR manager? This would have been hilarious if the role of Charlie Pickering had been played by literally anyone else but no, it’s more Pickering.
Sure, it’s his name there on the title. And no doubt the lingering effects of Coronavirus have taken their toll on the show and by that we mean Tom Gleeson isn’t stinking up the place quite so much. But there was nobody around to hand in a segment to break up the half hour chunk of non-stop suck? Much as we appreciated the return of Eddie McGuire gleefully reeling off a list of Millionaire Hot Seat tales of woe, that 60 seconds or so of fun wasn’t really enough of a break from the wall-to-wall Pickering.
(there was also Corona Cops, the segment where the footage changes but the jokes do not)
The Weekly has always been a weirdly shonky show for a prime time news satire, what with the missing Briggs and that time they promo’ed an interview with the South Park creators and then just never aired it. Whether it’s such a high pressure environment that they’re all just barely keeping it together, or they don’t have the resources to put together a smoothly running satirical machine, or they just… can’t be arsed, we have no idea. But there’s a big difference between a freewheeling show that keeps things loose so they can make sure the best possible comedy goes to air and whatever we’re getting each week with The Weekly.
Hey, at least Pickering’s still wearing that natty sports jacket.
Where do you go after you’ve done the most-acclaimed stand-up show in years? Many comedians would be tempted to try and do it all again – same style, similar issues – but Hannah Gadsby, wisely, has taken her new show Douglas (now on Netflix) in a different direction to Nanette. This has turned out to be a good move.
Gadsby jokes at the start that this is her “difficult second album”. Except it’s not, it’s her 10th big stand-up show. And boy does the experience of doing those ten shows shine through in this.
Douglas is as funny and on point as Nanette but it’s also about lighter topics (sort of), with as much of the humour coming from Gadsby playing around with form and structure as it does from great material about real experiences.
Gadsby, who takes such delight in surprising audiences with abrupt 180 turns, is clearly having a lot of fun as she first signals material that she will later call back to, and then, long after we’ve all forgotten about her signalling, does the call back to huge laughter and applause. The look of joy on her face as the audience falls about is as wonderful as being in the audience and appreciating the joke and the call back. Gadsby really is the master of getting her audience to do exactly what she wants them to – and we love it.
Unlike Nanette, which was a very personal reckoning about abuse and misogyny, Douglas takes great joy in revealing that Gadsby has autism, a condition she’s comfortable with. For her, it’s a relief to know why her brain is different. She finally understands herself.
Douglas is stand-up about loving who you are – and a showcase for the (comedic) benefits of having autism. Like how spending hours obsessing over minor things can lead to some interesting and funny discoveries. And how spending (what I’m guessing was) weeks and months honing the contents and structure of this set can result in a brilliant and surprising stand-up show.
The amount of care and attention that Gadsby’s given this show is rare in all but the very best of the big stand-up shows. And while comedians and audiences have quite rightly mourned the loss of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year, it’s worth asking how many of those cancelled shows would have been honed to the level of slickness that Hannah Gadsby’s achieved in Douglas? And how many would have been just an hour of whatever material the comedian could generate in time?
Perhaps this lockdown, and the brilliance of Douglas, will give more comedians the time – and the urge – to work on honing their cancelled shows. There’s no great secret as to why Hannah Gadsby’s a world-famous comedian after all: she’s just spent a lot of time making her material as good as it can be.
Even in the golden age of the ABC’s Wednesday Night comedy stronghold, the whole night was rarely all comedy. Shows like Spicks and Specks and The Gruen Transfer may have provided laughs but honestly? They were more entertainment than straight-up comedy. So having two comedy series on back-to-back should be a pretty sweet deal at a time when Australian television comedy is struggling, right?
Oh right, one of those shows is The Weekly.
The lack of actual news has finally been acknowledged by The Weekly, as it made an unsteady lurch towards sketch comedy with predictably shit results. “Charlie Pickering, ABC HR Guy” gave Pickering a chance to show off his comedy performance chops, and turned out to be a nice reminder that as a comedy performer he makes for a great newsreader. Sure, you make do with what you’ve got; what happened to Briggs anyway?
This week it really was the Charlie Pickering Show, though no doubt if we actually measured his air time it’d probably turn out to be the same contractually mandated 25 minutes it is every week. Which is fine when The Weekly is doing its usual shit mix of dull news explainers and dull celebrity interviews, but without that to lean on – we’re glad they dug up the Sports Rorts to slap the PM around with a bit, but even they had to admit it was old news that not everyone cared about in the first place – all they’re left with comedy, aka Pickering’s greatest weakness besides having to seem interested in other people.
And the comedy was not great this week. Corona Cops takes Australian comedy’s fine tradition of dubbing over existing footage and… doesn’t seem to understand that the results should be funny? Still, when you’re making a half hour show you can’t just rely on Judith Lucy’s segment having a pointless minute-long intro to fill in all those seconds. On the flip side, that edit of all the disastrous things that’ve happened to Millionaire Hot Seat contestants was gold; fire the writers, hire more researchers.
Nothing else in this week’s episode really worked, and while it feels like there should have been a difference between that sketch bringing back Scott Morrison’s PR team and the Yard Chat interview with Richard Wilkins son (why?), they both dragged on so long we stopped paying attention before we could figure out what it might be. Aside from them both being pointless, which is a weird thing to say about The Weekly when you think about it because unlike At Home Alone Together it still has a point: making fun of the news. It’s not good at it, but it’s a slightly better show when it sticks to it.
Speaking of At Home Alone Together, it’s funnier than The Weekly. Then again, so is [insert generic horrible thing here]. It’s still a mixed bag but that’s the whole point, and even when a bit doesn’t really work (that home wine tasting sketch comes to mind) it’s still possible to see what they were going for and how somebody else might find it amusing. Can we say the same about The Weekly? Let’s move on.
The weaknesses of the whole “lifestyle show parody” angle are coming clearer, but that was always going to happen. The joke in all the sketches is the same joke: the person hosting the sketch is either creepy, incompetent or having a breakdown, and this is laid over a traditional lifestyle show topic for humorous results. Or not. Already pretty much all this week’s sketches had characters paired off with someone else to interact with, which adds another layer to the hijinxs and should keep them going for the remaining five weeks even if we’ll be roaming the streets freely in a fortnight or so.
Unfortunately that means what initially seemed like the most promising aspect of this show – watching lifestyle hosts go increasingly nuts as lockdown drags on – has suddenly been taken away, leaving the prospect of it becoming a show making fun of something that’s already over and that most people will want to forget. Then again, we would have said that about Ray Martin a month ago and look where we are now.
As usual with Australian comedy, it’s the worst of both worlds (aside from the lack of deaths, obviously): At Home Alone Together will increasingly lose the only angle that made it interesting, while The Weekly remains stuck without any real news to cover as the rest of the world remains in lockdown. When’s that next Spicks and Specks reunion?
Who exactly is Kinne Tonight for? Obviously it’s a sketch show with a young cast – Troy Kinne himself is what, early 30s? – so there’s a bunch of sketches set in bars and dinner parties (well, Christmas dinner in the first episode of this latest season) and a load of observations about drunk texts and the pain of helping the olds navigate today’s technology and so on. And yet there’s something a little odd about proceedings – something that doesn’t sit quite right with today’s comedy landscape…
Oh, that’s right; this is a television comedy aimed at mainstream Australia.
It’s easy to forget mainstream Australia exists when the only Australian television you watch is comedy. We’re not talking about the actual real-life mainstream of Australian society; we’d need to make a lot more television than we currently do to give a real picture of what’s going on out there. But young adults who have office jobs and go out for a drink after work and are in a reasonably committed relationship but haven’t “settled down” yet? The kind of generic “mainstream” you’d expect to be all over the media? They’re hardly ever seen in our comedies.
Partly that’s because – and hopefully someone’s pointed this out to Kinne, because this would be a shitty way to find out – these people don’t watch television. Kids and teens watch television; parents and old folk watch television. But people in their 20s and early 30s? They’re too busy going out, having fun, and possibly raising kids to watch television. Or at least, that’s what’s Australian television has assumed in the 21st Century: plenty of young people on our screens, but not a whole lot of references to how they actually live their lives.
So while Kinne Tonight is solidly more of the same thing Kinne has been doing since 2014, at least he’s got the market all to himself. There’s no way the ABC is going to make a comedy (or any other kind of show) about white middle-class people in their 20s, and the other commercial networks aren’t really going after this demographic. Even when he does a joke we’ve seen before (that bit about the difference between weekday drinking Kinne and weekend drinking Kinne resembled the old Seinfeld bit about how his nighttime self was always screwing over his morning self), it’s a reminder that nobody else is currently doing those kind of jokes on Australian television.
There’s a lot of comedy of manners here; that Christmas dinner sketch was basically a battle of the woke, only the joke wasn’t on the idea of woke so much as it was just pointing out the ways it can be taken to extremes. And because Kinne is approaching this stuff from an insiders point of view, the observational comedy is more “this is how things are” rather than “what’s up with those crazy kids” – which again, isn’t an angle we see much of at the moment.
It’s a little strange that Kinne has this market all to himself, because there’s been long stretches in Australia where this kind of comedy was the main kind of comedy. But these days comedy itself is a niche interest, so you might as well make Squinters or Mr Black or any one of seemingly countless comedies that feature characters in their 20s without actually being about anything anyone in their 20s actually does (remember how the female lead in Mr Black worked at a newspaper?) because who’s going to pull you up?
Kinne Tonight was a bit more focused this time around in its first episode back – no public interactions, not much live stuff, no guests – but Kinne’s sense of humour remains consistent. His relationship material is thankfully even-handed, he’s usually sure to make himself the butt of a sketch’s joke, and when he comes up with a dumb comedy character at least the central joke is an actual joke, which only sounds obvious if you haven’t been watching those reoccurring bits on The Weekly.
That final musical number about bad grammar in texts being a turn off could have done with another polish, mind you.
Press release time!
JOSH THOMAS’ CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED SERIES EVERYTHING’S GONNA BE OKAY IS GONNA BE BACK FOR A SECOND SEASON ON STAN
The series, from the Emmy-nominated and critically acclaimed Aussie writer and comedian, will return to Stan in 2021.
Need we go on? Eh, may as well.
20 May, 2020 – Stan today announced that Josh Thomas‘ critically acclaimed comedy Everything’s Gonna Be Okay will be returning exclusively to Stan in 2021.
The series, which is created, executive produced and stars Josh Thomas, follows Nicholas, a neurotic twenty-something-year-old who is forced to raise his two teenage half-sisters, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, after the untimely death of their father. The series stars Josh Thomas – the creator and star of the International Emmy-nominated series Please Like Me – Kayla Cromer, Adam Faison and Maeve Press.
Thomas, Stephanie Swedlove and Kevin Whyte serve as executive producers, with David Martin, Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner executive producing for Avalon. Additionally, Please Like Me collaborator Thomas Ward reunites with Thomas as co-executive producer.
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay will return exclusively to Stan in 2021
The way they couldn’t quite be bothered to bold the final “y” in Everything’s Gonna Be Okay pretty much sums up our feelings about the whole thing.
What this really tells us is something we already knew: Thomas was hired to provide prestige, not ratings. It’s a great place for him to be, even if it does suggest he’s not actually funny, because “prestige” is the kind of thing you don’t have to prove. If people think you’re classy, then you’re classy, low ratings and general disinterest be dammed.
The real question now is, will there even be a Stan by 2021?
The world has changed rapidly in the last two months and it’s perhaps sad that just as comedians are starting to understand how to produce comedy online or at home or remotely or at a social distance, that the country’s starting to open up again.
Or maybe not? Because let’s face it, this is going to be with us for years. And this has just been the first of many, near-incomprehensible stages.
In the next few years, we’ll see a slew of content about what it’s like to come out of lockdown, or to suddenly be plunged back into it, or how people have had their lives ruined (or improved) as a result of what’s happened. And this could be a good thing for comedy. It certainly makes a change from naval-gazing dramedies about falling in love, or mental health issues, or pregnancy. Now we can have naval-gazing dramedies about falling in love, or mental health issues, and or pregnancy, but in isolation!
What this crisis has shown us, though, is that there is an audience for low budget, scrappy online content that contains actual laughs. Particularly if it can be produced quickly enough to feel timely. Gristmill’s Love In Lockdown, a six-part web series about two people falling in love over Face Time, has quickly gained good viewing figures on YouTube.
Written by Robyn Butler (The Librarians) and Lucy Durack (The Letdown), the show features Durack as Georgie, a working-from-home office manager with nothing much to do but bake, and Ned, a newly out-of-work musician and café worker, who’s turned to online ukulele teaching to make ends meet. When Georgie starts lessons with Ned, a romance between the two seems unlikely – she’s an uptight hard worker and he’s a lazy, disorganised loser – but these are strange times, and anything can happen.
Love In Lockdown isn’t a super hilarious series, but it’s funny in parts and a pleasant enough watch if you have half-an-hour (and who doesn’t these days). We didn’t quite buy that Georgie would fall for Ned (he’s a bit of a dickhead) but we do sort of buy that George (who’s desperate and lonely) might fall for Ned in these circumstances.
Or, for more straight-up – and shorter – laughs, head over to Frank Woodley’s Facebook page and check out his No Bad Ideas series. So far, he’s come up with an amusing suggestion for coping with loneliness during lockdown…
…and another for dealing with the new normal.
Or, there’s Steen Raskopoulos’ Instagram, where he’s posting one-man sketches, impressions and other nonsense on a regular basis.
Are we going to look back at any of this in decades to come and think “Classic comedy!”? Probably not. But it’s keeping us going in the meantime.
Probably the most impressive thing about At Home Alone Together is that it exists at all. A rapidly thrown-together reaction to Australia’s comedy crisis – uh, coronavirus crisis – it was largely filmed in the presenters own homes using minimal camera equipment… so yeah, if you’ve ever wanted to check out the inside of Ray Martin’s house then now is your big chance to seek professional help.
As for the show itself, it’s a lifestyle parody show, which is a genre that died somewhere between the third and fourth series of LIfe Support a couple decades ago. Having Ray Martin as host seems like it should be funny until you remember that Ray hasn’t had a high profile gig in a decade and never really had the cheesy charm of your Ian Turpies or Baby John Burgesses. A natural comedian he is not, unless he’s having a go at John Safran for going through his bins.
But on a night when The Weekly seemed to suddenly remember that its remit is to be as unfunny as humanly possible – quick, stick a sports jacket on Charlie Pickering and play loud distracting background music under both of his seemingly endless “news-in-review” segments – having something on the ABC that was actually trying to be funny was something of a relief. Remember when Julia Zemiro’s Road Trip was all about comedians? You won’t when it returns next week.
Being made up of a bunch of sketches recorded individually by comedians under lockdown, At Home Alone Together was always going to be hit and miss. The weird thing was that the two weakest sketches – Harry Potter sex play and turning your bathroom into a sauna – were put up the front. And that fake non-ad for Bleach was a bit of a head-scratcher until it became obvious what it was referring to, which was a news story that by 2020 standards took place a thousand years ago. In the age of twitter, topicality is not your friend unless you’re very, very funny.
Surprisingly though, by the end the good largely outweighed the bad. Craig Reucassel’s bins full of bottles was a good solid laugh that didn’t outstay its welcome, that fake ad for the Adelaide Wet Market filled with cheap toast was weird enough to be a decent palate cleanser, and Helen Bidou having yet another meltdown while putting out a bizarre song was everything you want from Anne Edmonds.
We’ve been fans of Ryan Shelton’s sketch work since his Rove days and presumably he’s doing just fine working behind the scenes with Hamish & Andy but his appearance here really did make us wonder why he’s not doing more front-of-camera work. Caution: the next paragraph or two is going to get even more wanky than usual.
The appeal of the lifestyle parody is that lifestyle show segments already have a plot – you start out trying to make or do something and by the end you achieve it. As most Australian sketches are basically just someone coming up with a funny idea then doing that over and over until it stops being funny then coming back with the exact same idea for the next six weeks, it’s easy to see the appeal of a format where the story work is done for you.
Most of the segments here didn’t really do much with that: Harry Potter sex fantasy had one twist – the dude was more into Potter than sex – while the sauna one didn’t even have that and the bit about making soup out of weeds went exactly where it was always obvious it was going to go.. Bidou was just a performance piece with the side joke of her son getting pissed off, but when you can perform like Edmonds that’s plenty.
Shelton though, not only had the joke that he was crap at handiwork so he’d got in his twin brother Jase to help, but then had Jase be everyone’s nightmare sibling before the segment somehow degenerated into a hammer toss with a dick pic as the prize, followed by the dick pic being blurred out and Shelton coming up with a truly pathetic excuse for losing. Comedy is subjective and if you found Ray Martin’s soapy pockets hilarious more power to you (okay, the bit where he accidentally used them next to the sink was good), but when it comes to sketch work Shelton remains the one to beat.
Whether it’s lack of oversight from the corporate bigwigs or the idea that maybe now might be a good time to make people laugh, having a comedy series on the air that’s clearly putting being funny first is a refreshing change from the majority of ABC output. It’s too hit and miss to be any kind of classic, and chances are next week will reveal that this week’s jokes are in fact the only jokes this series will be offering over its eight week run, but for now it’s the best local comedy on the ABC.
Still, it’s a shame about Ray.
Remember Danger 5, SBS’s period spy spoof series where a group of secret agents had to kill Hitler? There were two series of Danger 5, the 2012 series set in the 1960s and the 2015 series set in the 1980s, and since then, nothing. Now the team are back with Danger 5 Stereo Adventures, an eight-part series for Audible in which our heroes, Danger 5, uncover a secret evil organisation called Big Knife and try to stop them from…whatever they’re planning.
What Big Knife is planning, however, isn’t necessarily the point. Like James Bond, Thunderbirds and the various spy series which inspired Danger 5, it’s really about the romp. So, don’t go in expecting a cohesive or easy-to-follow narrative – even with Shaun Micallef’s narration – and certainly don’t go in expecting cohesive comedy. Like the TV version of Danger 5, the humour can be a bit ‘random LOLZ’ following by ‘crowbarred-in gag’… Hey, look a guy with an animal head! Ha ha ha!
Most of the comedy in the first episode of the Danger 5 Stereo Adventures – a romp around the Caribbean involving the Loch Ness Monster and a pirate potion – is just different versions of the seaman/semen pun. And while we’re not saying we don’t find the seaman/semen pun funny, it gets a bit relentless.
On the other hand, subsequent episodes don’t include the seaman/semen joke but are even less hilarious. And it’s not as if the writers aren’t trying to be funny… There are crazy characters, silly foreign accents, commercial breaks (including parodies of the Bunnings Warehouse ads and Today Tonight promos), the odd excellent line (‘Quick, let’s trust this mysterious stranger!’), plus a bunch of barbed satirical digs at Australian patriotism and the ANZAC spirit. (The ANZAC stuff’s quite good, to be fair.)
Thing is, overall, it just doesn’t gel. There’s a lot of assumed knowledge about the show (an assumption that listeners know or remember who all the members of Danger 5 are), and the writers haven’t been the best at translating the kind of characterisations that work fine on TV – because you can deliver the character notes visually – to audio-only. Hence, Claire, who’s British, female and uptight is…yeah, we don’t need to spell out what her character’s like.
As for the broader concept of this being a spy series spoof, well, it is a spy series spoof, except it’s a spoof of a type of spy series that never really existed. It’s more a spy series set in ‘the past’ and because it’s ‘the past’ it’s made to sound like the kind of audiotapes people used to borrow from their local library in the 1980s, complete with those little beeps before and after the show ends… Which is mildly interesting to recall if you’re old enough to remember that kind of thing, but probably seems pretty weird if you’re under 40.
Not that anyone under 40 is listening to this kind of comedy. Probably.
Danger 5 is funny in fits and starts but is a bit hard going if you’re after a reasonably comprehensible plot and clearly defined characters which can generate a lot of decent gags. It’s not even worth listening just to hear Shaun Micallef, because if you want a Micallef spy series you’re better off watching Roger Explosion.