We don’t often link to profile stories but we think you’ll agree this one is something special:
No-one cared who Jason Gann was until he put on the mangy dog suit.
For 10 years, Jason played the misanthropic, bong-smoking dog, Wilfred, first in a hit comedy series in Australia on SBS, and then in a US version starring opposite Lord of the Rings actor Elijah Wood, with guest appearances by Jason’s comedy hero, Robin Williams.
The US series premiere became the highest-ranking debut sitcom ever for FX Networks. It was praised by the Chicago Tribune as “the strangest new show on TV. And the funniest.”
In the show, the rest of the world sees Wilfred as a dog, while his owner sees him as a man dressed in a dog suit – described as part Australian Shepherd, part Russell Crowe on a bender.
The gig required Jason to put on a grey, fluffy dog suit that would define his adult life. By the time filming started for the first US season, he’d been wearing the suit for a decade, and it had become like a kind of psychic prison.
There’s definitely a lot to unpack there (“like a kind of psychic prison”?). Obviously the main takeaway if you read through to the end is that Wilfred, the rough-as-guts bong-smoking dog, was so popular as a concept that the context around him doesn’t matter. His fans don’t give a shit if he’s in a relationship sitcom or a commercial selling dope – they just can’t get enough of him. And dope!
For everyone else who watched Wilfred, the idea that a bong-smoking dog is 99% of the joke is pretty much just confirming some long held suspicions. The US version was fine in that “we’re not quite sure what people want to watch on these new prestige TV services so let’s just throw everything at the wall and hope people still like Elijah Wood” way of fifteen years ago. Ride that gravy train Gann!
The Australian version, which was the one we largely focused on here, was kind of… well, not creepy exactly, but definitely had some offbeat ideas about comedy relationships. Which co-writer Adam Zwar explored in his later local sitcoms up to and including Mr Black.
(looking back at the careers of Wilfred’s creators, it seems there’s a fairly clear divide between the guy in the dog suit – the kind of “one good idea” that careers are made on – and the guy who actually turned that idea into a show that was more than just a commercial for dope)
It’s a little odd that this story completely ignores the fact that Gann (together with Zwar) was pretty much an established figure on the comedy scene before Wilfred – more than established really, after two seasons of The Wedge and his own spin-off Mark Loves Sharon. But presumably the idea that it was the dog costume that made his career, and not years of hard work, is an easier sell. Especially now that it’s clear he’ll basically be buried in that dog suit.
It’s also surprising how Zwar – co-creator and co-star of Wilfred – just vanishes from this version of events. You’d think when the “offers rolled in from the US”, Gann’s co-writer and co-star would be just as entitled to put his hand out. Instead, he just… didn’t bother?
Still, even if there was backroom strife back then, it’s over now. Zwar and Gann are friendly enough for Gann to recently appear on Zwar’s podcast, and Zwar himself made it to Hollywood a few years later:
Thanks to their impressive body of work, Zwar and Brotchie were lured to Los Angeles about four years ago. Although his career has seemed like a smooth transition from local to national and international success, Zwar said he had suffered his share of rejections and setbacks.
“There’s so much heartache along the way,” he said. “You can spend months and years on a project – unpaid – and then it doesn’t get made. You can even have all the finance locked in and the show cast and then a network might have a change of heart.”
Turns out the moral of this story can be summed up in one line: “Drugs: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems”. After all, a court case over a brutal drunken assault on a bus driver that dragged on for over a decade is now summed up with “But the story of the incident and trial followed him for years to come”.
Possibly that’s because “Gann, however, refused to pay the damages or Mr Hosny’s legal fees after relocating to America to film a US version of Wilfred for cable television.” It wasn’t until 2018 that a US court ordered him to pay up, which presumably he’s since done.
But hey, at least he’ll always have the glory days of Wilfred to look back on:
One review said the show was the rare sitcom to achieve “two series of perfection”, and that Wilfred was comparable to UK comedies Fawlty Towers and The Office.
Yeah, that wasn’t us.
Australian commercial television’s been putting in the hard yards as far as local comedy goes over the last few weeks, with results that are… look, we’ve already used “comedy” once, those truth in advertising guys aren’t going to let us use it again. Onto The Weekly!
Remember when The Weekly used to pretend it was covering a whole week in news? This week Pickering was up to Tuesday by the half way mark – presumably to leave enough time for Roy & HG to do the exactly same act they’ve been doing for the last 35 years. Shouting never really goes out of style, does it?
(speaking of shouting, ongoing segment The Bureau of Cancellations really should be paying royalties to Mick Molloy circa The Late Show. And he should have been paying royalties to John Belushi on Saturday Night Live. And we’ve almost certainly missed out a few links in that chain. If you’re not taking off your shoe and banging it on the desk, you’re not doing it right)
With Margaret Pomeranz, Tony Armstrong and Roy & HG now semi-regulars on The Weekly, it feels safe to suggest that the series – which has never actually figured out what kind of show it is beyond putting Charlie Pickering behind a desk and one year it couldn’t even manage that – has entered its “ABC Warehouse” phase. Old favourites, people who want to be old favourites, people who wish they were old favourites, have we got a deal for you!
Unfortunately that deal involves having to be in a sketch on The Weekly, which is almost as solid a guarantee of a laugh free experience as “up next on A Current Affair, Pauline Hanson has her say”. When will these people realise that wishing on a Monkey’s Paw for “Australian television exposure” has consequences?
Otherwise all The Weekly has to offer is a reminder that the edict to never run a favourable story about Labor in the lead-up to an election extends beyond the news department. Seriously, when the “satire” is basically identical to the regular current affairs programming, what the fuck is the point?
Would I Lie to You? Australia, Taskmaster Australia and We Interrupt This Program might currently be sapping our will to live – or at least, our will to keep this blog alive – but at least the only agenda they’re promoting is one of general mediocrity.
The Weekly feels like propaganda, an agenda-driven show where the comedy is there largely to soften the fact that when watching it you’re never quite sure if the next joke is going to be about how renewable energy can’t be trusted or Labor can’t be trusted or trans people can’t be trusted.
Remember that year they spent making Sky News’ Andrew Bolt seem like a harmless boozer? Remember this week when they made Sky News’ Peta Credlin seem like a zany word nerd? Remember all those jokes about how the housing market was working just fine for rich people and “Corona Cops” and wow the living really do envy the dead in 2023.
Here’s an idea: how about making some jokes about how these people on Sky News are not quirky and are in fact garbage. Otherwise people are going to think your show is also garbage oh wait that ship sailed five years ago. Bring back Briggs!
Press release time!
And In Breaking News… A Message From The Betoota Advocate.
Paramount+ Announces Australian Original Series, The Betoota Advocate Presents.
An iconic name on all social media feeds, it’s only natural for Paramount+ to turn to The Betoota Advocate to cover off on Australia’s most polarising news stories in the Paramount+ Australian original series The Betoota Advocate Presents.
On creating this original series, Editor At Large, Errol Parker and Editor, Clancy Overall said: “As Australia’s oldest and favourite newspaper, The Betoota Advocate has knocked back countless offers to make all manner of TV shows over the years.
“Finally, Paramount+ and Warner Bros. Australia have agreed to let us make the TV show WE wanted to make, and one that everyone else was too afraid to go near – as well as lining our pockets in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.
“So, with the universe aligning, we present the modern history of Australia that nobody really talks about… for a reason. This series tackles four pillars of Australian history. Corruption, money, religion and tribalism.
“From the Fine Cotton racing scandal, to Murdoch and Packer trading blows in the Super League war, to the rise and fall of the Hillsong Church, to riots on Cronulla beach. The Betoota Advocate does not shy away from the depraved, the cringe, the hilarious and the pathetic.”
Produced by Warner Bros. Australia for Paramount+, The Betoota Advocate Presents is coming soon.
The Betoota Advocate is one of those satirical sites you’d think wouldn’t translate all that well to television. A lot of their news story jokes are basically just the headline, and there are a lot of jokes that don’t really work: it’s quantity not quality that gets them over the line, especially when the hits go viral and the misses are quietly buried.
On the other hand, who else is doing this kind of thing at the moment? Making a decent TV comedy series can boil down to picking the right format (it’s not like we’re getting another series of Brass Eye) and waiting until a few years worth of targets and material build up. The internet sucks the laughs out of literally everything within hours, but on television what’s your competition? The Weekly?
As per usual when it comes to anything that isn’t a panel show or quiz show that’s really just a panel show, we remain guardedly optimistic until reality – or some really bad casting choices – gives us reason to think otherwise.
Not content with screening sketch comedy made during this century, Seven has decided to throw a bit more cash Daryl Somers’ way and bless us with The Best of The Russell Gilbert Show. Two hours worth over two big weeks! Yeah, bet you thought you were funny with your “The Best of? So it’ll run for five minutes then?” jokes.
Unfortunately for those after laughs, first you had to wade through Daryl’s introduction, reminding us that Russell “is a loveable rascal” and not the anti-vaxx crank last seen shouting abuse at the Victorian Premier:
Which might explain why Daryl referred to Gilbert in the past tense throughout his introduction until a weird “And I hope you’re watching tonight Russ”, which makes it sound like nobody even bothered telling him a series starring him was going to air.
“His career was sadly cut short by health issues” is as close as we get to an explanation; it seems Gilbert had a stroke a few years back in the wake of the death of his partner and isn’t the man he used to be.
And on that hilarious note, on with the comedy!
As Daryl helpfully explained, this show is a relic from the days when sketch comedy was “in vogue across all of the networks”, which makes it a useful guide as to why that’s no longer the case. It’s not that the material here is unwatchable (it’s a best-of, after all), but calling it “lightweight” feels like a disservice to our current system of weights and measures.
At least Gilbo’s mixing things up, with a bit of stand-up at the start before a lengthy sketch involving producing John Farnham’s latest album where the joke is roughly 90% “that’s the real John Farnham”. When Gilbo locks his keys in his car he goes to the nearest house, explains the situation, and asks if he can use their phone: the punchline is a fun reminder that phones used to be roughly the size of house bricks.
Other sketches don’t quite stick the landing. Where’s the one where every shirt Gilbo tries on makes him assault the salesman going? The answer will leave you thinking “I guess?” Just cutting a sketch short when there’s no decent punchline dates back to at least Monty Python, yet 25 years later Gilbo is still firmly sticking to the old ways.
Some sketches still have charm, others are aggressively stupid. Overall, it’s basic material that didn’t stand out at the time and hasn’t aged well. But hey, nostalgia still sells even if nobody watched it in the first place, right? Hang on, is that a fax machine in that office sketch?
The cast is… well, it’s great to see Roz Hammond and Bob Franklin as semi-regulars, and there’s a bunch of guest stars including Glenn Robbins and Mick Molloy*. But this isn’t really material that can be elevated all that much by great performances.
What it does have going for it is Gilbert himself, who sticks throughout to his established comedy persona of a slightly overconfident and intellectually underpowered bloke who’s essentially harmless whether he’s making ridiculous demands of a pizza chef, being a crappy high school teacher, or tricking women into taking off their tops oh hang on a second.
(he does also seem to be the kind of funnyman who goes on to win acting awards for playing “against type” as a brutal killer, an angle sadly unexplored here – though the sketch where he’s “Larry Kendall, workplace bully” comes pretty close).
The real interest in this decades-old material is that for two weeks – the second episode airs this coming Wednesday at 7.30pm – Seven is showing it 24 hours after We Interrupt This Broadcast, their much-vaunted attempt to drag sketch comedy into the 21st century.
So here’s your chance to compare and contrast: which sketch show does it best? Has sketch comedy really changed that much in 25 years? Does We Interrupt This Broadcast offer anything the equal of Gilbo’s Pantsless Cop? And will restaurant sketches ever truly die?
*it also features Mike Myers of Austin Powers fame as a crappy lifesaver, which is certainly an idea with potential
We Interrupt This Broadcast continued this week with more parodies of First Dates, Love Island, and the like, but with a few new things brought to the table too. Although don’t get too excited, the new things were parodies of reality shows they haven’t already covered. The Masked Singer! RBT! Millionaire Hotseat! The Bachelor!
Some of the sketches on the show demonstrate that there’s a commitment from the makers to try and do something funny and a bit different; the sketch about an episode of You Can’t Ask That featuring clumsy people was only a few seconds in length but raised one of the best laughs of the episode. Sadly, another You Can’t Ask That sketch, featuring a Dungeons and Dragons player, resulted only in a predictable and groan-worthy punchline. For a better-used groan-worthy punchline, which acknowledged its lameness, see the Border Security parody featuring Gandalf.
But back to that commitment to try and do something funny and a bit different. Aunty Donna’s Broaden Kelly is well-used in a Border Security sketch questioning whether a woman who’s just returned from Bali really will continue with the relaxed Balinese lifestyle now she’s back home. Christine Whelan Browne (Mad As Hell) is a stand-out as a full-of-herself contestant in various reality show parodies, and Greg Larsen (Tonightly) gets a chance to shine in the Footy Show parody Small Desk Big Boys. This recognisable take-down of boof-head sports panel shows is a welcome change of pace from the relentless spoofs of actual TV shows – and having the token woman panellist called just “Woman” brought a welcome element of satire.
But even with the widening of the pool of shows spoofed in We Interrupt This Broadcast, some sketches are starting to feel worn out already. It’s probably not necessary to make any more Play School 1958 sketches if every week it’s just the presenters doing something that we know better not to do now. Similarly, the Bridgerton parody Fridgerton seems destined never to progress beyond just having some fridges dressed in period costumes.
It would also be good if the writers moved beyond some of the well-established cliches (Costa has a big beard!) and tried to think of some punchlines that weren’t someone vomits/eats something gross. On the other hand, the show bothered to get Lawrence Mooney on to do his Malcolm Turnbull impression, so it does contain occasional surprises.
Is this a great show? No. Is it worth watching every week? Probably not. But there’s still a sense, no matter how slight, that someone, somewhere in the team is trying to do something which isn’t the same five ideas over and over again. And in the context of a commercial TV comedy, that’s quite something.
Press release time!
Fire up! The future is female.
Cameras roll on comedy series Gold Diggers
ABC, CBS Studios and The Alliance (KOJO Studios x Stampede Ventures) are thrilled to announce filming is underway in Victoria on ABC TV’s riotous and rapid-fire, eight-part comedy Gold Diggers.
Set in the 1850s, as thousands of men from around the world flock to the goldfields to hit the jackpot, Gold Diggers follows the adventures of sisters Gert and Marigold and their ambition to strike it rich by landing themselves newly-rich idiots.
Claire Lovering (Class of ‘07, Wellmania) is Gert Brewer, a headstrong party animal, Danielle Walker (Taskmaster, Get Krack!n’) is Marigold, her blissfully naïve sister, and together they are willing to do anything to secure their fortune; but first they must suffer the lads, lice, and lechery of the Australian goldfields.
Megan Wilding (Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Mystery Road: Origin) is Fran, their dubious French ex-BFF; Luke Mullins (Joe Vs Carol, The Spanish Princess) is Percy the rich and fancy mining magnate; Wil King (In Our Blood, Why Are you Like This) is Percy’s protective Butler, Jerome; Eddie Perfect (Love In Lockdown, Offspring) plays the all-knowing barkeep, Barry; and Brandon McClelland (Doctor Doctor, The Other Guy) is Leonard, the town’s cop and possible incel.
In her breakout role, Perry Mooney stars as Vic, the head of the local Fur Traders, leading her posse, Kartanya Maynard (The Messenger, Deadloch) as Molly and Aaron McGrath (Preppers, Black Comedy) as Albert. JJ Fong (Wellmania, Creamerie) is Zhi Ling, the boss of Chinatown, and George Zhao (The Family Law, The Secrets She Keeps) plays her younger brother Ben, while Semisi Cheekam (Hardball) is the creative 16-year-old entrepreneur Kelvin. Michala Banas is Tippy, the prim, moral compass of the town and Lincoln Younes (Barons, Last King of the Cross) will make a special appearance as JJ, the leader of the feared McCreedy Bushrangers.
Executive Producers Linda Ujuk and JP Sarni said: “We’re thrilled filming has begun in the vibrant Victorian goldfields. We’re proud to be producing such a timely, feel-good and immersive Australian comedy with our brilliantly talented team of key creatives, cast, directors and crew. We are excited to see Claire and Danielle bring the unashamedly irreverent Brewer Sisters to life alongside our outrageously funny ensemble of Dead Horse Gap Townies. This sensational cast will transport audiences to another world and have them laughing-out-loud.”
Filming in the Victorian goldfields and in Melbourne for the next eight weeks, Gold Diggers will premiere on ABC TV and ABC iview later in the year.
First point: that’s a pretty fast turnaround, even if “later in the year” means late October. How many years have we been waiting for Stories From Oz now?
Second point: It’s not going to be as good as The Olden Days, is it? Then again, what is?
Third point: Just because Australia’s yet to serve up a period sitcom that works doesn’t mean this won’t. It just means it’s going to have to be different from all the previous duds. We’ll leave this one on “wait and see”.
For at least this century and possibly longer, Australian sketch comedy has been shithouse. Oh, there’s been good sketches here and there, and even the occasional decent sketch show. But they’ve always been outweighed by the crap. So much crap.
And now there’s We Interrupt This Broadcast to… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
As Seven’s latest return to sketch comedy, the big thing that separates this from the last few attempts (remember Big Bite? Double Take? Those episodes of Hamish & Andy’s talk show where they crammed in a bunch of leftover sketches from Big Bite?) is… well, time mostly.
Fast Forward set the template thirty years ago: rapid-fire TV parodies broken up with slightly longer and possibly more general sketches, staffed by a bunch of sometimes memorable, more often merely solid performers. Sometimes it works, usually when some stand-out talents stick their heads up; more often it turns out to be merely ok and gets the axe.
Lately the focus has shifted and we’ve either had comedy programs that have featured sketches (most notably Mad as Hell, but parts of The Weekly are sketch-adjacent), or the other kind of sketch comedy*, where the focus is on the performers. You know, the ones where the sketches run for minutes at a time, the writing goes nowhere but the actors are really going for it?
Those shows always suck. But because you can make a sketch show without writers but you can’t make a sketch show without actors, those shows keep on turning up thanks to producers and executives that think maybe this’ll be the time their cost-cutting pays off. Nope.
So the advantage We Interrupt This Broadcast has when it comes to luring in viewers** is that it’s been a decade or more since we last saw one of these sketch shows. It’s on Channel Seven: of course nostalgia plays a part.
We Interrupt This Broadcast has writers and it shows. The jokes are actual jokes and not just catchphrases, which means sometimes they’re funny. Sketches aren’t drawn out to fill in time – they tell their one joke and move on, at best leaving you wanting more, at worst not letting the stench linger.
Sadly yes, there are repeated sketches and some of those feel like the kind of thing the writers are hoping will become catchphrase generators. But based on the first episode there’s enough variety to stop this from turning into the same six jokes repeated again and again in a futile attempt to make us think that’s the joke.
More than just about any other kind of comedy, you need a lot of crap sketches before you start getting to the good ones. Everyone remembers The Micallef P(r)ogram(me): nobody looks back fondly on a hundred hours of Comedy Inc, or Skithouse, or Open Slather, or The Wedge, or… you can see where this is going.
We Interrupt This Broadcast isn’t that bad; a better comparison quality-wise would be something like Kinne, where you know you’re not watching a classic but it doesn’t entirely feel like you’re wasting your time either. Speed is its big advantage, punching out ok jokes fast enough to make it feel worth sticking around for the next (and the next, and the next).
Let’s put it this way: we’re not dreading the next episode***. For Australian sketch comedy in the 21st century that’s about as high as praise currently gets.
*there’s also the third kind, which mixes pre-recorded and live sketches with live studio banter – SNL, The Late Show, Mr Show, maybe if you squint Kinne. These are the best kind of sketch show, unless you’ve accidentally made Let Loose Live.
**but not that big an advantage, as it came a distant third in the Tuesday night ratings.
***it still seems reasonable to assume there’ll be one – that said, unless those ratings pick up we wouldn’t want to bet big money on it still airing in prime time through April
At the moment, Australia’s free-to-air television networks are currently showing four new locally made comedy (well, light entertainment really, but we’ll take what we can get) programs a week: Would I Lie To You? Australia, Taskmaster Australia, Hard Quiz and The Weekly with Charlie Pickering. If you’ve been wondering why it’s been a bit quiet around here lately, there’s your answer: good luck working up the enthusiasm to cover those side-splitting winners on a regular basis.
What is interesting about those four shows, in a depressing way that’s increasingly par for the course in Australian comedy, is the talent – or lack thereof – in front of the cameras. Fifty percent of these shows are hosted by one man: Tom Gleeson. Of the rest, 25% are hosted by Charlie Pickering, who is also a team captain on Would I Lie To You? Australia.
So these two are the funniest people in Australia? That’s why they have the hosting jobs all sewn up – because they’re the best there is at what they do? It’s not just laziness, pre-existing fame, entrenched privilege and a massive lack of imagination that keeps serving them up to us, right?
And that’s the best laugh you’ll get from either of those two men this week.
Look, we get it: hosting a pre-recorded show is a moderately difficult gig that not literally anyone can do, and when you bring in established names you hopefully get their established audience along for the ride. Australian comedy is a tough sell at the best of times – while we’re here, keep an eye out for We Interrupt this Broadcast, Seven’s new sketch show starting Tuesday at 7.30pm – and a Logie-winning name might be the difference between success and failure.
No, the real problem here is the system that let these two repeatedly fail upwards until they’re now somehow the biggest names in Australian television comedy despite being about as funny as letting a sentence run on and on and on without any kind of clearly defined point but let’s just keep it going because that’s how things have always been done around these parts.
Gleeson’s act revolves entirely around him playing a smarmy smug smartarse: now that he’s the top dog, the joke feels more like having an arsehole boss following you around at work*. Pickering’s act is… what, being slightly too young to be a real newsreader? That ship sailed a decade or so ago, but good on him for sticking with it.
Both of them come across as competent on television. There’s no reason why they can’t host two shows at once, especially shows as firmly forgettable as these ones. The problem is that all the comedy currently on Australian television is forgettable, and all of it is hosted (or near enough) by these two.
If you don’t think we deserve better, congratulations: your job as a commissioning editor awaits.
*to be fair, he’s a reasonable fit for Taskmaster and Hard Quiz was built around his act. So a better question is, why is half the comedy on our televisions at the moment based on a smug dickhead host treating people like shit?
And welcome back to the incredible shrinking ABC satire. Where’s Briggs? More like where’s everyone else these days on The Weekly. Remember when the show wasn’t 40% archival footage? On second thoughts, don’t bother – the whole show’ll just be showing old clips from Hard Chat as soon as they come up with a hilarious comedy angle that justifies it.
The ABC hasn’t always run satirical programming – there was that decade or so of The Chaser doing pranks for starters. Haha, just joking. Somebody has to: it’s not like there’s many laughs to be found with The Weekly.
Back to our point: there have been stretches in the past where the ABC hasn’t bothered with scripted satire. During those periods, the slack was taken up by shows like Good News Week and The Glasshouse. Whatever the format or quality, there was always a vague sense that the show we were watching was willing to gesture towards telling some harsh truths amongst the comedy.
Not The Weekly. As it currently stands – and it’s been through a lot of changes over the years – The Weekly is a show purpose-built to defuse the very idea of satire. It’s shithouse at it, and it makes sure that nobody watching it is ever made to feel in the slightest way uncomfortable or perturbed. Not that Mad as Hell had them rioting in the streets or anything, but that show usually went harder than “oh look, the PM ate an ice cream in a weird way, he’s cancelled JOKE OVER”.
(fun fact: politicans are specifically told to eat awkward food items in those weird ways. That’s because the alternative for someone constantly being photographed and recorded is much, much worse. Does anyone really want to see any one of our nation’s politicians sucking on something even slightly phallic? Well yes, obviously, which is why they don’t do it)
What do we get for our half an hour a week? Some lazy observations about days-old news stories, a bunch of archival footage with a voice over pointing out exactly what it is we’re seeing, and a surprisingly large amount of coverage of reality and breakfast television – if we wanted to watch that shit, we’d watch that shit. If we’re lucky, there’s also a guest comedian a thousand times more qualified to be on television than the host.
Let’s not forget, this is the only “satire” the ABC is showing, now and for the forseeable future. It’s not like the commercial networks are going to pick up the baton, even if both Have You Been Paying Attention? and The Cheap Seats do a better job of political comedy by accident. This is as good as it gets, and it’s nowhere near good enough.
It’s not this shit by accident. This exact format – fake newsreader-style host behind a desk makes fun of recent events via clips from news services – has been the basis for numerous classic satirical series, and dozens more pretty good ones. And then there’s The Weekly, a program that couldn’t lob more softballs if it was one of those robotic pitching machines, one of which coincidentally would also be a much more charming and charismatic host.
Good news for the rich and powerful, a group whose arse The Weekly is never far from at the best of times. Bad news for the taxpayers who fund the ABC, many of whom like their comedy to be funny.
Still, at least host Charlie Pickering – who at 45 remains the fresh young face of ABC comedy – has the big desk all to himself so he can really express what truly matters to him: acting shocked when Rhys Nicholson suggests black deaths in custody are a bad thing. Roll the Zapruder footage!
And now you know why politicans are very careful when eating ice creams.
Comedy is for the young and the young at heart. If you were looking for confirmation that the ABC appeals to neither of those groups, have we got good news for you! But for everyone else, strap in because this article right here is a bumpy ride down a waterslide right behind a family that just ate a whole lot of dubious shrimp:
Of all the broadcasters, ABC has the biggest slate of local production across drama, comedy, documentary, children and news.
Not all of it can realistically be canvassed in a single conversation, but in this final Programmer’s Wrap, Jennifer Collins Acting Director, Entertainment and Specialist, pinpoints some of 2023’s highlights.
What follows is a close look at a cavalcade of programming seemingly aimed entirely at people nodding off on the couch, and not in the “we just scored some good shit” way. When you’ve got someone saying “If the ABC can’t take risks, who can?” with a straight face about a reboot of Mother & Son, you haven’t so much gone through the looking glass as smashed head on into it and severed an artery.
In previous years our stance on the ABC has basically been “the obvious reason why they’re serving up such thin gruel is because they’re not being properly funded”. So now that Labor is back in the big chair federally and the money tap has been turned to… well, not quite as firmly off as before, what have we got to look forward to on the light entertainment front?
Amiable interview series Kitchen Cabinet with Annabel Crabb makes a surprise return in second half of the year.
New in 2023 is a series with Chas Licciardello, Kirsten Drysdale & Lawrence Leung to be known as WTFAQ (previously No Stupid Questions). Described as a hybrid format with both location and studio elements, this sees the team answer questions submitted by the audience
Craig Reucassel returns for a third season of War on Waste, last staged in 2018.
more Gruen, and Question Everything for Wil Anderson fans.
To be fair, there is a clear programming ethos on display behind commissioning all this shit. These are all shows aimed not so much as getting people to tune in – because seriously, who is going to consciously decide to change the channel to an “amiable” show where Annabel Crabb tries to make Peter Dutton seem like a top bloke – as it is to stop the people already tuned in from tuning out.
While the ABC seems to think drama is something that might possibly lure new viewers in and so still puts in a bit of effort there, all this… stuff (we can’t call it comedy) isn’t even trying to hide fact that the ABC sees even mildly interesting comedy programming as just a little bit too risky. And fresh faces? Don’t make us laugh. Let’s play connect-the-dots:
With no Mad as Hell on the horizon, Collins confirms, “We don’t intend to make Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell without Shaun, but the door is of course always open to Shaun for return…”
Which pretty much confirms the various rumours that Micallef and company did want to keep the series going without Micallef as host – but more on that later, because then there’s this:
“And I love Wayne (Hope) and Robyn’s (Butler) work. I’ve been a fan of them for a long time. I thought Summer Love was a perfect vehicle for nurturing new writers and new performers.”
You know what was an even better “vehicle for nurturing new writers and new performers”? Mad as Hell. And yet the second there wasn’t an already established name out front, all that nurturing – and the talent – went directly in the bin.
You wouldn’t want to assume the budget previously allocated for Mad as Hell has gone to another “surprise” series of Kitchen Cabinet, but it does seem noticeable that, despite Shaun Micallef saying clearly on a number of occasions that he’s stepping aside to “make way for new talent”, the ABC in 2023 is offering absolutely nothing in the way of opportunities for new talent.
And why would they? Going by this year’s programming line-up they have zero interest in anything comedy-wise that involves anything beyond 40 year-old concepts or comedy teams that have already proven successful elsewhere, preferably for at least a decade or more. Why give new talent – or even funny established talent – a shot when you can have Wil Anderson hosting two shows a year and members of The Chaser hosting everything else?
(don’t forget, Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen’s Stories From Oz is “going to land in the second half of the year.” Feel free to imagine the sound it’ll make when it does)
As far as scripted comedy goes, if you’re an optimistic sort you might almost believe the ABC is showing a bit of interest for once, with sure things Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe airing this year alongside a fifth season of Utopia. The six-part Limbo “tackles the serious issue of mental health” so uh yeah, while period comedy Gold Diggers is created and written by Jack Yabsley, about which the internet has little to say beyond hosting some kids TV and filming a bunch of Gogglebox. Will we see that Mother & Son reboot this year? Not before October is our best guess.
But even if all of those series are winners, that’s what – twelve hours of local scripted comedy for the whole of 2023*? In previous years Mad as Hell went a long way towards boosting those numbers: now it’s gone and nothing funny has taken its place. This line-up is an unmistakable pivot away from comedy and towards a kind of pale white dogshit approach to programming, where the idea is that it’s basically crap but hopefully not so annoying that anyone will actually do anything about getting it off their screens.
These aren’t shows people want to watch. They’re not hosted by anyone the public cares about. Giving Annabel Crabb and Wil Anderson two separate hosting gigs in a year would be taking “more of the same” to insulting levels even if they came across on television as anything more than carpet samples given the power of speech.
Not to mention Sammy J’s finally put the legacy of John Clarke in the grave as the Thursday 6.55pm “satire” slot has now become, like satire in general on the ABC, a thing of the past. Welcome to 2023!
*you could possibly try to argue that The Weekly and Hard Quiz count as comedy. Good luck with that