Australian Tumbleweeds

Australia's most opinionated blog about comedy.

C*A*U*G*H*T-ing laughs

Stan’s new comedy C*A*U*G*H*T is the sort of show no one expected in 2023. It’s not a dramedy with depressing subplots about death and mental illness, it’s a pure comedy which just wants to make you laugh. Think big comedy performances, with digs at celebrity culture, action films, social media, and contemporary politics. Plus dick jokes. There are lots of dick jokes.

“I really wanted to make this in the vein of Australian classics like Priscilla, Crocodile Dundee, and Muriel’s Wedding,” creator and star Kick Gurry told the Sydney Morning Herald recently. Maybe, but C*A*U*G*H*T feels more like an Ozploitation film meets Hot Shots! or Team America: World Police. With maybe a dash of the British TV series/films The Comic Strip and (here’s a deep cut) Whoops Apocalypse.

Either way, when four unlikely (read idiotic) soldiers are sent on a mission to delete compromising material from the mobile phone of the Princess of Behati-Prinsloo, a (fictional) war-torn island in the South China Sea, and the compromising material turns out to be a dick pic sent by the Australia Defence Minister (Erik Thomson as the gloriously self-obsessed Colonel Bishop), you know this show isn’t aiming to be a serious drama.

What follows is a complicated, and sometimes scattershot, romp in which the four soldiers (Ben O’Toole, Kick Gurry, Lincoln Younes and Alexander England) and some Americans who happen to be in the area, are captured by local freedom fighters (Mel Jarnson, Dorian Nkono and Fayssal Bazzi), and in a desperate attempt to stay alive, collude with the fighters by creating hostage videos and other social media content which will further both their causes. The videos are picked up by various media, including Nine’s Today and A Current Affair (look out for cameos from Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon), British journalist Penny Primberhurst (Tuppence Middleton) and disgraced Today co-host, now independent live-streamer Josie Justice (Rebecca Breeds).

Josie, following a tip-off from her sister Jemima Justice (Bella Heathcote), who just happens to work for Colonel Bishop, heads off to Behati-Prinsloo to get an interview with the freedom fighters and find out what’s happened to the soldiers. Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Warren Whistle (Bryan Brown) and US Secretary of State Alaska Adams (Susan Sarandon) get involved in the crisis, as does Hollywood actor Sean Penn (Sean Penn), who’s recently embarrassed himself on Today whilst trying to promote his charity and wants redemption.

In fact, almost all the characters want redemption, or fame, or simply to stop foreigners from taking their land and destroying the local environment to build luxury golf courses. And in 2023, redemption, fame and fighting for your cause means one thing: telling your story on social media. Indeed C*A*U*G*H*T gets a fair bit of comic mileage out of various characters’ self-obsessions, particularly those that involve online mediums. There are also lots of gags about the art of acting and the Australian film and television industry, thanks to one of the soldiers being a failed former actor. And a few digs at politics too, with Prime Minister Whistle (an unholy mash-up of Bob Hawke and John Howard) getting into a Scott Morrison versus Johnny Depp-type battle with Sean Penn.

To say there’s a lot going on in C*A*U*G*H*T is an understatement. Maybe there’s too much going on, because at times the plot is disjointed and hard to follow, and it feels like a few scenes which might have made things clearer hit the cutting room, perhaps to shorten the run time. (Seriously, what was the deal with Colonel Bishop sending a dick pic to the Princess? They must have shot a short scene explaining that one.)

But while C*A*U*G*H*T is a bit of a mess, it’s an extremely watchable and mostly funny mess, packed with enjoyable performances, sharp lines, well-realised slapstick, and on-the-button parodies. To say Australia doesn’t make enough shows like this is an understatement. With Mad As Hell no longer on the air, we really lack shows which have things to say and want to make us laugh. It would probably be difficult to make a sequel to C*A*U*G*H*T, but more programs with the same sensibility would be very welcome.

Vale Thank God You’re Here 2023

We can’t blame Working Dog for taking an “if it ain’t broke” approach to their revival of Thank God You’re Here. The original run was much loved and fondly remembered… though not by us, which is why fans of the show might want to skip what comes next. Glad you enjoyed it, it’ll probably be back next year, kthxbyeee.

Okay, now that nobody’s reading this, what was the point of all that? The central gimmick of the show has always been to throw comedians into tricky situations and watch them flail. This year, even with a limited number of returning guests, the novelty factor dropped off fast. Maybe the idea was the the situations themselves would do the heavy lifting. With a lot of variations on “you are an important person put into a situation where you have to explain things you don’t understand”, that wasn’t happening either.

And while there were a lot of one-off appearances – some of whom did pretty well (always nice to see Hamish Blake having to be funny) – it didn’t feel like a show with a whole lot of variety on offer. Partly that’s the fault of Australian comedy. These days there’s only a few lanes where you can really make a go of it, so while the names changed each week the performances often didn’t.

It’s not that people were funnier back when the show first debuted in 2006. It’s that Australian television had more room for people to be different kinds of funny. Hamish Blake, Julia Zemiro and Fifi Box appeared in the 2006 and 2023 seasons. The 2006 version also had Angus Sampson, Shaun Micallef, Frank Woodley, Akmal Saleh, Bob Franklin, Robyn Butler and Alan Brough.

Not only could those performers give big performances, but they were the kind of comedy performer who would take charge of a scene. Too often this year the guard rails were obvious, the performers hemmed in. Give a hopefully funny answer, wait for the next set-up. No wonder one of the series’ big highlights was Aaron Chen being asked what his “new wave” ventriloquist act was.

“More racist”.

A joke that made the follow up – “Can you give an example?” – a rare example of a TGYH line that actually built on a laugh instead of cutting it off dead.

Thank God You’re Here was a product of a time when Working Dog seemed to be more about coming up with new formats (that could be sold overseas) than focusing on being funny. Which is why it was a little strange to see it return. The 2023 version of Working Dog are all about taking fairly generic formats and making them work by making them as funny as possible.

TGYH isn’t designed to be funny. It’s designed to make theatresports more attractive to established comedy performers. People who have a career to lose if they flail around unsupported and unfunny for five minutes doing traditional improv theatre. Yes, there were laughs each week; with the level of talent involved, it’d be astonishing if there wasn’t. But considering how funny pretty much everyone involved is – sometimes on Have You Been Paying Attention? just a few nights earlier – this should have been hilarious. Reader, it was not.

Clearly we’ve had to search hard to find a downside to Ten airing new Australian comedy three nights a week in prime time. Its not like TGYH was the worst format Working Dog could have revived. The only reason people still think fondly of The Panel is because it’s almost impossible now to watch complete episodes.

All we’re saying to Working Dog is, next time Ten calls up saying they’ve got a timeslot to fill, maybe consider reviving Audrey’s Kitchen instead.

Thank God You’re Back… Again

The opportunities for Australian comedians on local television have been shrinking for the last [insert depressingly long stretch of time here]. After a while, it becomes a vicious circle: no jobs for comedians means less comedians means less comedy on television means no jobs for comedians. Want proof? Time to open the blue door to the current revival of Thank God You’re Here.

Thank God You’re Here is a pretty limited show in a lot of ways. The details change with every skit, the format does not. So when you’re doing roughly the same thing – comedian is thrust into a comedy sketch, has to come up with snappy replies to lines they don’t see coming – five times an episode, you need to inject as much variety into proceedings as possible.

One of the big ways the original run of the show managed this was with the contestants. Back in the early 00s, comedians were thick on the ground. A lot of the time audiences had even heard of them. Above and beyond the mainstream types keen for a bit of exposure, you had more established figures who actually had comedy personas to work with – Bob Franklin being the obvious example, but even someone like (shudder) Rebel Wilson brought an act with them. You even had people who weren’t an obvious fit but were willing to give it a go (enter Shaun Micallef).

In 2023, that is no longer the case. In fact, going by the 2023 version of Thank God You’re Here, the Australian comedy scene is basically just people who’ve appeared on Have You Been Playing Attention? Some episodes, every contestant has been a HYBPA? regular. Considering HYBPA? is also currently on air, at times it’s been an exciting chance to see the same comedians twice in one week. And then again a few weeks later.

The fact that production company Working Dog is behind both shows (and The Cheap Seats) goes some way towards explaining things. The fact that this is the first (new) series of TGYH, a format that really didn’t start pulling in big names the first time around until it became a ratings smash*, also plays a part. But the result is the same: much like HYBPA?, it feels like it’s pulling from a very limited talent pool**, burning through people who possibly could use a bit more of a gap between appearances.

(it’s notable that even Working Dog have a line they won’t cross: HYBPA? regulars Sam Pang and Ed Kavalee haven’t made an appearance, even though Ed was one of the regular cast on the original run. Cheap Seats co-hosts? They’re fair game)

The thing with TGYH is that once you have a roster of regular guests, you might as well just make a regular sketch comedy show. The show’s appeal comes from being surprised by what the famous-ish comedy types deliver. And yes, there have been performers this season with firm comedy personas. Aaron Chen for one, Ray O’Leary for another. No surprise their appearances have been highlights of this run.

In contrast, you’d think that Rhys Nicholson would be a prime example of what we’ve been calling for: a comedian with an established comedy persona the show could work with. But being a flamboyant performer good at off-the-cuff comments is exactly the kind of performer this show rewards. There’s no tension as we wait to see how they perform, because this is the kind of thing they do well.

Of course, TGYH needs performers like that as well. There’s got to be people up on stage who are going to deliver the goods. But for the show to be anything more than a very sloppy sketch show, it needs a steady stream of guests where the fun is coming from wondering if they’re going to mess up – and how funny that mess up is going to be.

And at the moment, it looks like Australian comedy just doesn’t have enough comedians to make it happen.


*Angus Sampson appeared six times in the first ten episodes of the initial run

**Seeing Mel Tracina (The Cheap Seats’ entertainment reporter) on HYBPA? last week was a surprise – she did well, but it did feel like a sign the talent pool was starting to dry up

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

There’s a lot of reasons why remakes and revivals and adaptations take place [you mean beyond money? – ed.]. The celebrity driven ones – where someone famous says “I want to do this” and they’re famous enough to make it happen – aren’t always the worst, but they’re rarely the best. The problem is that they almost always end up turning the original material into something that suits them rather than coming up with a faithful or authentic adaptation: it’s just more of whatever it is they do, only now they’re wearing the skin of what we came to see.

When we first heard that the ABC was remaking Mother and Son, we figured they’d finally hit rock bottom. Make no mistake, it made sense for today’s ABC. A project that skewed old and promised a hefty dose of nostalgia? Shut up and take my 8.30pm Wednesday timeslot.

But the more we see of the actual finished project, the more we’re inclined to believe the press claiming that it was all Matt Okine’s idea (“imagine if we redid Mother and Son). Because what we’re getting – in the Okine-scripted episodes at least – is less Mother and Son and more Son and his Love Life and is that his Mother over There?

Take this week’s episode. The opening scene? Arthur and his ex tidying up her house before she moves to Canberra. Aside from the mention of a nude cleaning crew? Comedy-free and intentionally so. Maybe, at a stretch, you could say the point was that Arthur could maybe get back with his ex if he didn’t have to help out with his mum. But really, it was just your typical lightweight, two people just hanging out dramedy scene.

If this was an entirely different series, then fine: be shit. But this is a reworking of one of Australia’s classic sitcoms. Who thinks the way to bring a sitcom into the 21st century is by deliberately making it less funny oh wait every single Australian television producer sorry we asked.

The rest of the episode sounds like traditional sitcom fare – a possibly dodgy overseas student is roped in to look after Maggie, Maggie decides to set up a weekend food stall like the old days and oh no, it’s the same day Arthur’s booked in to help his ex – but beyond that the laughs are thin on the ground.

Let’s cut Okine (who wrote this episode) some slack. Mother and Son is tricky to write, because the main dynamic is that Arthur is a whiny bitch – but with good reason. The idea is that to everyone else he looks like he’s overreacting, but because we get to see him with Maggie we know that he really does have a point. Only in this version, he doesn’t?

In 2023 all the rough edges have been sanded off both Maggie and Arthur. One’s slightly quirky, the other’s a little daggy. Which is not in any way how the original worked. So why ruin a classic formula? Is it a near-fatal desire to keep everyone “likable” and “relatable”? Yeah, let’s go with that. And what do you get when everyone is likable? It’s not comedy, that’s for sure.

With no deeper reason to hang around, we keep being told Arthur needs to be there to keep an eye on his mum to keep her safe. Honestly, he’s doing a pretty shit job of it. So shit, in fact, this episode begins with him coming home to find a complete stranger has moved in with his mother.

We thought the joke was going to be that Arthur thought his mum was trying to replace him but no, that would require some kind of serious emotional involvement: Arthur just thinks he’s a scammer. Which isn’t an entirely comedy-free scenario, but it’s yet another reminder that the big problem with this version of Mother and Son is that it often feels more like Old Lady and Distantly Related Carer*.

In the 2023 version, there’s no hidden depths to the relationship between mother and son. What you see is what you get, and what you get is a relationship that’s all surface. Forget any lurking resentments, or buried frustrations, or toxic co-dependency: it’s all out there in the open, and there’s not a lot of it to take in.

The same goes for Okine’s Arthur. He’s a failure, but in a kind of low stakes, not really important, he’s hardy even trying way. There’s no sense of him being seriously downtrodden or oppressed by his situation. His mum says embarrassing things: oh no. His sister doesn’t respect him: big deal. The grocer woman seems into him: why? He doesn’t need to escape his plight, he just needs some alone time on the Playstation.

Which makes him basically the same character Okine plays in everything he does. It’s also the same character he wrote about in his memoir, because “lovable self-aware loser” is the Matt Okine brand. Mother and Son is just the latest Matt Okine Project Starring Matt Okine [enough of the fake titles – ed.].

He’s not a Chris Lilley-level egotist by any means – as we always stress, Denise Scott is this version’s saving grace. But having him play Arthur as just another Okine stand-in kills off a lot of the comedy. He’s not a comedy character; he’s just some guy we’re meant to find relatable.

Unfortunately, he’s also just some guy who now has a track record when it comes to reboots. Give it a few years and he’ll be redoing Kath & Kim. Can’t wait for an all-new version of Fountian Lakes where Kim plays video games and hangs around the house claiming to have writers block while some much funnier actor plays Kath, getting half the screen time and twice the laughs.


*A large chunk of the episode is just Arthur hearing second-hand what his mother is doing. Why can’t we see her activities? They’ve got to be funnier than following Arthur around

Would That Be Funny? Seems That It Would

Lorin Clarke’s Would that be funny? Growing up with John Clarke is a book about growing up with John Clarke as your father. Let’s get the suspense over with: having Clarke as a dad seems to have been exactly as awesome as you’d expect. The portrait of him here is the kind of thing you’d think was too good to be true if it wasn’t exactly how he came across in pretty much everything he did in the public eye*.

Lorin herself is an author of no little renown, and so one of the many themes running through this book – again, to get the suspense over with, it’s great and you should purchase a copy immediately – is how growing up with a master storyteller helped guide her to her current career.

And why wouldn’t it? John Clarke made telling stories and being actively engaged in the world and all it’s silliness seem like the most magical thing there is. Clarke was a man who got authentically excited about floorboards and nails: you’d be a fool not to want to get in on that action.

Beyond Clarke himself, it’s a picture of a family, complete with in jokes and references you had to be there to get. Only you don’t have to have been there, as there are plenty of short chapters that are basically listicles running through things like “Expressions we stole” and “Things at which my parents are stratospherically bad at”.

There’s also plenty of anecdotes, excerpts from Lorin Clarke’s own Fitzroy Diaries series, the backstory behind jokes from Clarke & Dawe interviews, voicemail transcripts / poetry, and so on. It’s the best kind of grab-bag.

The family portrait thing goes both ways in time, as Lorin grows up, changes schools, reinvents herself, discovers the joy of writing, studies politics in Boston and has a family of her own. We also learn about John Clarke’s own, somewhat less happy childhood and youth (don’t worry, it all works out in the end). Lorin is at pains to point out that her father shied away from reductive explanations as far as what drove him to write and perform; a “sad clown” he was not.

We could go on. There’s a lot happening here – we haven’t even mentioned Lorin’s mother, a well-known academic who wrote a book about eroticism in art, or Lorin’s sister Lucia – and if you’re even remotely interested in writing, making television, the work habits of one of Australia and New Zealand’s greatest comedy talents, being thoroughly entertained or just cosy memoirs about family life then once again it’s time to say this is great and you should purchase a copy immediately.

Because you’re here, we’re going to assume your main interest in this book is John Clarke, writer and sometime performer. You’ll be pleased to learn this is a vivid and insightful look at a very funny man, one that somehow manages to make the most likable person on Australian television – okay, not a high bar to clear, but still – even more charming and funny.

And yes, for comedy nerds there’s loads of gold here. Peter Cook gave John Clarke the idea to do the Clarke & Dawe interviews on television! That’s reason enough to buy the book right there, and that’s just something we chose at random. Throw in his influences, dealing with the ABC, snippets of his unpublished writings, the way he priced the Fred Dagg album at half the usual price because he knew a lot of his fans were kids, and this is a well worthwhile deep dive into the work of one of this region’s comedy greats.

(also, this isn’t a book that starts at the start and works it’s way through to the finish. Chapters about John Clarke’s school days are still turning up towards the end; don’t think you can just find the single solitary section on comedy and put the rest aside)

More importantly, this provides a vivid sense of what John Clarke was like as a person. The man in these pages is chatty (an understatement), fond of poking fun, caring, loyal, interested in people, not someone who tolerated fools behind the wheel, a man who once almost mailed his address book (which, as you can imagine, was a book with a lot of private contact details) to Frankston by mistake and a person whose commitment to being casual and relaxed occasionally went a little too far.

And yes, in between the consistently evocative writing and the sharply observed family portraits – there’s at least three generations under the microscope here, with marriages ranging from acrimonious to deeply loving – there’s something of an origin story here for the John Clarke that entertained the antipodes for decades.

With a sense of humor shaped by friends and family (especially, and surprisingly, his parents-in-law), and often uncertain of his abilities early on but surrounded by support, Clarke life is presented here as (amongst many, many other things) a reminder that often it’s the people around an artist who bring forth the art.

Would that be Funny? is both adoring and authentic, the kind of clear-eyed, open-hearted writing that’s a privilege to read. Whether you’re a lifelong fan of John Clarke or couldn’t pick him out of a line up, this book is a delight.


*well, maybe not the evil property developer he played in Crackerjack

Time to Fix the Home of Home-Grown Laughs

Press release time! And this one’s a classic:

Comedy hits the highs on ABC

ABC is the undisputed home of exciting, new, original Australian comedy, with millions of viewers flocking to ABC and ABC iview for a fix of home-grown laughs.

In exciting news, Season 5 of Utopia has catapulted to the top of the charts to become ABC iview’s #1 non-kids program this year, as viewers lap up the exploits of the Nation Building Authority’s crack team of bureaucrats, headed up by Tony Woodford (Rob Sitch).

Season 2 of Kitty Flanagan’s award-winning comedy Fisk, available exclusively on ABC iview, was ABC’s most-watched comedy in 2022, and in 2023 it remains one of the most popular shows on iview, as the probate lawyer in the brown suit, Helen Tudor-Fisk, continues to garner a legion of fans across the country.

While launching last week, the feel-good comedy Mother and Son, starring audience favourites Denise Scott and Matt Okine, is proving an early hit, picking up a new generation of fans and notching up a total audience of over 1.2 million people watching the first episode*.  

ABC Head of Screen Content Jennifer Collins says “The ABC has a long and proud history of supporting Australian comedy and nurturing comedic talent both on screen and behind the scenes.  We’re thrilled to see our audiences enjoying our first-class, diverse comedy offering.”

ABC Head of Comedy Todd Abbott says “It’s always great to see home-grown comedy kicking goals, and we’re super proud that laughs are leading the way in showing people the on-demand delights of ABC iview.”

From the hilarious wild times in Gold Diggers and the madcap comedy of Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café, to the beautifully executed comedy-drama In Limbo, ABC is the home of Australian comedy.

Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in. “ABC is the undisputed home of exciting, new, original Australian comedy”. New? Original? Exciting? Maybe not words we’d use to describe Utopia, a show now into its fifth season. Maybe they mean the reboot of Mother and Son? Referring to In Limbo as a comedy is definitely new.

We’re not going to go to town on this. Nit-picking gets dull fast – though it is interesting that the ABC Head of Content would rather refer to comedy in an official press release as “diverse” over “funny” – and after the last few years any kind of recognition that ABC audiences want to watch comedy is a good thing.

But if a line-up that we’d definitely call “mid” (two winners in Fisk and Comedy Cafe, one solid mainstay in Utopia, and two fizzles in Gold Diggers and In Limbo) can pull in “millions of viewers”, imagine how well they’d do with a line up that was legitimately crowd-pleasing?

It’s not a secret that audiences love local comedy. The only time in recent memory the ABC was able to field an evening’s entertainment that could seriously challenge the commercial networks – that’d be Wednesday nights, though the glory days there are well over a decade ago – it was based on comedy. Not news or current affairs, not sport, not “hard-hitting local drama”. Comedy.

And yet for a generation at least, the ABC has treated comedy like an annoying obligation. It’s a big steaming pile of vegetables they’ve had to eat before they can get to the part where they take home a bunch of awards for a grim drama nobody watched and a news expose nobody gives a shit about. They’re serious broadcasters: comedy is just that little bit beneath them.

Of course, the justification for all that boring crap is that the ABC is meant to be filling the gaps left by the commercial networks. Fun fact: the commercial networks (10 aside) aren’t making comedy, and nobody’s making sitcoms. Making comedy is what the ABC should be doing. A bunch of reboots and revivals and “beautifully executed comedy-dramas” is a dereliction of duty.

After all, they really seem to like it when comedy brings in the viewers.


This week WTFAQ made its debut on the ABC. Not that it felt anything like a debut, as it’s really just the latest version of the kind of lightweight infotainment series the ABC has been flogging since at least Hungry Beast. Every time it returns we tune in to see if this time it’s actually a comedy. Every time we come away disappointed.

In the same week – well, within a seven-day period – we also learnt that Mark Humphries and the backstage dancers that helped put together his satirical segments on 730 were finishing up. We say “finishing up” because in his carefully worded statement Humphries did not go into any detail whatsoever as to why he was finishing up.

The smart money is on budget cuts, mostly because it’s always budget cuts.

Thing is, the ABC’s budget is, to a large extent at least, something that is spent on the whim of management. This isn’t a case of “fuck, we have to keep Kyle Sandilands around, the advertisers love him and he brings in 99% of our income”. The ABC gets money from the government to do various ABC things, but as far as programming is concerned management can turn everything after the news into an all-snail watching channel – and who knows? Maybe they have. It’s not like anyone under 60 is watching.

But this means when “budget cuts” are thrown around as the reason why, oh, just for example, the ABC now no longer runs any satire at all-

-that’s right, it’s all gone in the bin in the last year or so. Sammy J? Gone. Mad as Hell? Gone. Mark Humphries? We’re going to assume you didn’t just skip directly to this paragraph. It’s almost as if ABC management really, really really didn’t want to run any comedy (we could stop right there really) that was making fun of the government, but they were too gutless to act while the LNP was in power. But now that Labor is sitting in the big chair and presumably the ABC audience don’t want their heroes being mocked? Fuck you satirical comedy.

Anyway, when the ABC says they’ve cut something due to budget cuts, what they mean is that they decided something else was more important because they’re the ones who decide where the budget is spent. It’s not some harsh judgment imposed on them by forces beyond their control; the federal government isn’t telling them they can only spend 5% of the budget on comedy (70% being reserved for “dramas about a murder in a sleepy small town where things are not what they seem”).

Yes, they can’t afford to be everything to everyone. But even if they had unlimited money, you know they’d be blaming “technical limitations” or “bandwidth constraints” to explain why they weren’t creating the kind of shows they didn’t want to touch.

So when you cast your gaze across the ABC line-up and see a grand total of zero sharp-witted news satires taking deadly aim at our lords and masters – or just whatever it was Mark Humphries was doing – but the return yet again of “let’s answer viewer questions with stunts!” for another six or so weeks, remember: this is how the ABC chooses to spend their limited budget.

They could be paying funny people who can see how the country is being run to make jokes about how we’re being screwed over in pretty much every direction you care to look. Instead, they’re paying people to wonder if tomato sauce is more hygienic in a cupboard or in a fridge.

Is the cost-of-living crisis the result of massive commercial monopolies our governments actively encourage because they’ve been captured whole by big business? Fuck knows, we’re too busy trying to find out if having your baby trapped under a car gives you super-strength.

Then again, if we really want answers maybe WTFAQ could tackle the question “why doesn’t the ABC have any satirical programs in 2023?”

Gimme that White Fever

It’s press release time!

Cameras roll on ABC’s sexy new comedy White Fever.

ABC and Screen Australia are delighted to announce that filming is underway in Melbourne on White Fever, the new Australian comedy from rising star Ra Chapman.

Ra Chapman and Chris Pang posing with a clapperboard

Jane (Ra Chapman) is a cocky Korean-Australian adoptee with a love of hairy white guys – the hairier and whiter the better. When her friends call her out for having “white fever”, she sets out on a journey to try and reprogram her libido but instead instigates the process of finding out who she really is.

From hens’ nights to country weddings, moon crystals, “gotcha” days and a boxing ring, it’s a K-Pop-infused, action-packed, wild ride filled with revelations, surprises and a large helping of Asian pop culture.

Creator, writer and star of White Fever Ra Chapman says “I’m so excited for audiences to meet Jane, and experience the unceremonious roller-coaster journey she goes on. I hope this fun and cheeky comedy not only makes you laugh but also makes you see yourself and the people you love, and lust after, in a totally new light!”

Starring alongside Ra is a terrific line-up of Australian comedic talent, including Chris Pang (Crazy Rich Asians, Joy Ride), Roz Hammond (Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, Bay of Fires), Greg Stone (Jack Irish, Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries), Katie Robertson (Rosehaven, Five Bedrooms), Cassandra Sorrell (North Shore), Harvey Zielinski (Deadloch) and Jillian Nguyen (One Night, Barons).

ABC Head of Comedy Todd Abbott says “Everyone loves a romcom, but this one, from the phenomenal talent that is Ra Chapman, is so much more than just that. It’s sharp, smart, funny, fresh and plunges us deep into a unique world. Hearing this sensational cast read the scripts around the table made us laugh, cry and rethink so much of what we take for granted. I can’t wait to see it burst into life on screen and share it with audiences.”

CEO of Screen Australia Graeme Mason says “White Fever is a refreshing and authentic take on the everyday romcom. With its clever script, candid insights, exceptional cast and creative team — this bold and hilarious series provides a meaningful exploration of identity and relationships. Without a doubt, Ra Chapman and White Fever will strike a chord with Australian audiences, leaving them wanting more.”

Developed by Ra Chapman and Katherine Fry. Written by Ra Chapman, Michele Lee, Harvey Zielinski, Clare Atkins and directed by Aidee Walker, White Fever will film in and around Melbourne over the next five weeks and will air on ABC TV and ABC iview in 2024.

White Fever also appears to be partly based on ideas in creator/writer/star Ra Chapman’s 2022 play K-BOX, about a Korean-Australian adoptee. Reviewing a performance at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, The Guardian described K-BOX as flitting between “between rapid-fire humour and tense family drama”. The play later won the Patrick White Playwrights Award.

But whether the sort of humour typical of the theatre will translate to a TV comedy is another matter. David Williamson’s Dog’s Head Bay, once described as “the worst piece of television in the history of Australia”, suggests not.

Either way, White Fever seems to be giving off vague Colin From Accounts vibes. Sitting firmly in the recent Australian tradition of making shows that look like sitcoms but turn out to be mildly depressing dramas. Can it buck the trend and make us laugh a lot? We hope so.

Hideout in plain site

The launch last week of the new podcast From The Hideout was a nice surprise. Featuring Tony Martin (The Late Show, Get This, Sizzletown), legendary Channel 9 voiceover man Pete Smith, and Djovan Caro (Lessons with Luis, The Backside of Television), From The Hideout is a loose chat between three men who share a similar set of interests.

Djovan Caro, Pete Smith and Tony Martin sitting in a car

But clocking in it at just 37 minutes, this isn’t one of those “three mates around a mic talking about their hobbies” podcasts, which rambles on and on. Smith, Martin, and Caro are experienced broadcasters and storytellers and know how to keep things interesting and succinct. And when they don’t, the show’s producers, Caro and Alex Amster employ a few judicious edits to break things up… Which allows you to enjoy a sting of the show’s chilled-out, jazz club-esque theme music, written by Mitch McTaggart (The Backside of Television).

It’s the kind of discipline and care and attention we wish more podcasters had. You don’t need to keep everything you recorded in. You really don’t. But if there are three people who know that very well, it’s Smith, Martin, and Caro. They may be from completely different generations but they’re all film and TV nerds, and they understand that editing is important.

All three also had boyhood ambitions to get into broadcasting, and in this first episode, they talk about how they each started out.

Back in the late 50s, Smith wanted to get into radio and television and shared this ambition with schoolfriend and fellow Channel 9 alumnus Philip Brady. This led to the pair kind of inventing the podcast as teenagers when they recorded themselves at home presenting a show called Brodie’s Hideout. Their method of distributing the show, there being no Apple Podcasts or Spotify at the time, involved them posting each episode to friends and broadcasting live via doorbell wire to neighbours.

Other formative experiences the trio discuss include a radio play produced as a school project by Martin, and Caro’s teenage attempts to remake the Matrix films using home video recording equipment.

If you’re in any way a film or TV nerd, like messing around with recording equipment or just enjoy a real-life story well told by funny people, give From The Hideout a go.

Mother and Son 2: Charnel House

There’s a certain kind of cheap thrill you get when something you had low expectations for somehow manages to be even worse. Good news: being a hater sometimes pays off. And while nobody was expecting the Mother and Son reboot to be anything more than exactly what the words “Mother and Son reboot” promise, the first episode somehow managed to deliver so much less than that.

Just to be clear, it’s perfectly possible to imagine somebody coming away from this episode thinking “that wasn’t too bad”. They would be wrong, and you’ve just wasted five seconds imaging some pointless nightmare creature that never should have existed. But, just for the sake of balance, we’ll admit that Denise Scott fans were well served. Visually it looked like an inoffensive lightweight drama. If you like Matt Okine’s work, seek professional help.

For everyone else, this was a pointless insult at best and 27 minutes of absolutely nothing at worst. It was an attempt to bring a sitcom created at a time when comedy was 110% about being funny into an era where actually trying to make an audience laugh is little more than an optional extra. We came to see a mother and son go at each other hammer and tongs: what we got was two people who occasionally found themselves in the same room.

Maybe the words “executive produced by Matt Okine” should have been warning enough. Okine – who also stars, because Australia no longer has sitcom writers, only performers who think they can write – plays Arthur as his typical stunted manchild character. You might think that would work here. It does not.

It doesn’t work because… well, there are a lot of reasons really. But okay: let’s accept that Okine was always going to play Arthur, and that Okine’s well-established limitations as a writer and performer aren’t automatically fatal – basically, that there could be a good version of Mother and Son featuring Okine as Arthur. Then this this version of the show is still shithouse, because there’s no stakes.

The tone of the first episode makes it clear that if Arthur’s mum would get off his back, he’d happily live with her. There’s no sense that he’s trapped, nothing to suggest he even wants other options aside from an ex he half-heartedly tries to win back. This version of Arthur is just an aimless drifter with dreams of a successful website; he also has a roomate who just happens to be his mum.

Maggie is slightly more interesting, both as a character and because Scott is actually funny. But again, aside from a kitchen fire (that we don’t see), there’s not a lot here to suggest she really needs Arthur around. And without the central idea that we have two people stuck with each other – people who in many ways make each other worse but can’t survive without each other – there’s no comedy.

Oh sure, there’s a bit of banter. Maggie pulls a few stunts here and there. But without audiences bringing some preconceived idea of what “Mother and Son” is about to proceedings, this is just an oddly aimless lightweight drama. It’s a show about trying to put mum in a nursing home so the kids can sell the house before deciding “nah, we can make even more money if we wait until the guy next door dies”.

The only way this approach makes any sense is as an attempt to bring one of Australia’s best sitcoms into the era of stuff like… well, stuff that Matt Okine makes for starters. Inner city hangout shows where bland characters exchange “realistic” dialogue. The goal isn’t so much laughter as keeping you just engaged enough that you don’t change the channel. These aren’t shows you watch, they’re shows you have on in the background.

The original Mother and Son was made by people who knew that for the premise of the show to work, there had to be an edge to it. Desperation and need; they’re not always essential to comedy, but they don’t hurt either. The original often had people asking if Maggie had dementia, which was a little dark even then and today is the kind of area the ABC isn’t going anywhere near. Suffice to say, that’s not a question you’ll come away asking here.

Though you might have cause to wonder about your own mental health if you come back next week.