The best thing I can say about this weeks “Worms” is that it definitely smoothed out the rough edges this week.
There was less jolting tone shifts, and while it is far from a “winner”, in terms of quality, it is sure finding its footing.
One of the only problems I have with the show lies right at the core of it- which is worrying-in the “worms” themselves.
First of all, how is the question about “burqas” opening a “Can of Worms”- surely that is one Can that has never been closed in recent memory.
So, doesn’t that actually preclude it from being an actual Can of Worms??
The only way I could excuse it is that it hasn’t actually been in the media for a couple of weeks- but then what does that say about the show? It’s got its finger horribly off the public pulse? What about something about the Carbon Tax, or would that be too current? Remember this show is only filmed one day before it airs, not two weeks.
So basically, if it’s going to use “current” issues as catalysts for debate, why not use current ones?
In the “Moral minefield” segment, there were also questions such as “Have You Ever Used a Disabled Toilet”… Yes, not “Is Using a Disabled Toilet Wrong”… If you get the distinction.
Meshel Laurie’s role in the show still puzzles me. She sits on the end, and sometimes explains how a game works, and sometimes doesn’t. And when she does, it is still something that could be largely covered by Dicko.
However, she really comes into her own when she is allowed to act as a kind of moderator who reacts to things said in the debate- which she started to become largely in the last “swearing” debate.
And the guests? Well, they were a vast improvement on last week’s as I predicted. They were all able to showcase their strong personalities as well as bring up examples from their lives to add to the debate. And the fact that there was only one comedian really worked- having two or more can really put pressure on the guests to make the show funny, when the focus should be on the debate.
And the “comedian” Tom Ballard tried very, very hard indeed. He made, by my count three callbacks- these included saying or was OK to use a disabled toilet because he was a “poofter” (this related to an earlier question asking whether it was acceptable to call someone a “poofter”). However, overall, he came off as intelligent and eloquent, and actually very opinionated.
Jessica Rowe was, well, nice. She isn’t really the type of person that goes out to upset anyone, but isn’t afraid to take a strong point of view. She also spent most of the show being outraged, or offended at comments made on either side of her. Hence, she was symbolically placed in the middle. But while Jessica was pretty good, surely the show can find a woman (or two) who might actually outrage or offend people (I’m talking people like Em Rusciano, Mia Freedman- NOT people like Catherine Deveny here).
Don Burke sat in the “controversial loud-mouth” seat, but strangely, he wasn’t nowhere near as irritating as Jason Akermanis was the week before. Sure, he was a bit cranky, a bit “Grumpy Old Man”, a bit deranged ex-TV personality… He was still an interesting spectacle to behold. Though he did go a bit overboard in some parts- staring at Jessica Rowe’s breasts, dropping F-bombs (because there was a worm about swearing, see)… He is probably the ideal type of guest for the show; unpredictable, uninhibited and slightly unstable. And though you may disagree with some things he says, at least he is never completely unreasonable- an important factor in a show like this; even when views are put forth that you don’t agree with, at least they could make you consider their point of view.
Most importantly, though, the guests actually interacted with each other, and actually debated.
This was also an aspect that was applied to other aspects of the show, with more audience interaction, and actual live tweets- what a novel idea…
Dicko was also better, and the few moments where he actually went off-the-cuff were some of his best moments on the show. But, until he appears more natural on the auto-cue, they need to cut the “witty” throws to ad-breaks and introductions to new worms. Seeing him pause awkwardly as he reads not only devalues a decent show, but stifles Dicko’s personality further (he already has to remain semi-impartial as a host).
Overall, a considerable improvement on the first episode, and at least it shows that producers are listening to viewer feedback. It focused the show on debating issues, and made for a less cluttered product. It still needs to focus its worms a bit more, but with some more good guest selection should more than make up for it.
Following Can of Worms’ lukewarm reception after its first episode, it has today released its guest-list for episode 2.
The guests are Don Burke, Tom Ballard and Jessica Rowe.
My initial thoughts are that this is at least a more interesting selection than episode 1. Don Burke would at first seem to stick out like a sore (green) thumb to viewers, and it would seem as if it’s a comeback of sorts for him, after only being seen on commercial TV on a couple of Burke’s Backyard specials. However, he has appeared on Paul Murray Live on Sky News quite a few times, in which he has proved capable of conversing on various hot button topics.
Tom Ballard could almost be described as the antithesis of Don Burke- young, and all over TV of late, with numerous appearances on the 7PM project, Good News Week and a comedy special on ABC. He is also on youth radio station Triple J every weekday morning. His ironic, honest brand of comedy has won many people over, however would probably be exclusively known amongst the younger generation.
Jessica Rowe fits somewhere in the middle. She is good value, and is eloquent and all the rest of it, however her infamous short stint on the Today show likely will follow her around for the foreseeable future.
In my review of episode 1, I bemoaned the lack of somebody who can be brutally honest without compromising their comic sensibilities, and Tom Ballard could well fit this description, so he is the main drawcard this week for mine.
In addition, I should also mention the promos this week for Can of Worms… On TV this week, they have promised the show will be “awkward”. Yes, “awkward”, not “controversial”, not “smart”, not even “funny”. Is this some sort of crappy market research ploy? Do “the kids” today want awkward TV over all else? Well, I certainly don’t… It’s just so lazy and neither here nor there. If it wants to create an average show, then they should just go right ahead, but if they want to create another “Gruen”, why can’t they make a show that’s sharp, funny, insightful… Etc. Give me a break…
This week we opened with the theme of loyalty, and it reared its head nicely when Ryan agreed to trick Wilfred into going to the vet.
Before this, we were treated to a charming montage of Wilfred bonding with Ryan set to Peggy Lee’s “It’s a Good Day”, which only built up the tension heading to the vet.
It was quite amusing to see Wilfred describe being micro-chipped as having a “tracking-device”, and pleading not to have the vet “take his balls”.
This is one of the many upsides of the show; seeing things from a dog’s point of view.
We also learnt this week that while Wilfred was not only an acerbic pun-slinger, he was also racist. When presented with an Indian vet, he said “I need a Doctor, not tech support”.
The side-story of Wilfred telling Ryan that Jenna “has a dick” was seemed fairly stupid at first, and seeing Ryan trying to look up her skirt while she chewed with her mouth open and watched the football and drink beer seemed like a bizzaro-world sitcom plot… which I guess is what the show is.
But, then again, it did open up the nefarious, manipulative side of Wilfred, especially when he accidentally called her “he”, only fuelling Ryan’s paranoia.
But then when Jenna opened the door to reveal a tall, muscular boyfriend, who of course, is played by Chris Klein (who has possibly given up snaring another network comedy leading role). It turns out that Wilfred meant that Jenna “has a dick for a boyfriend”, which was a nice little reveal, though it was not an entirely unexpected twist. It also simultaneously set up the tried and true trope; girl has idiot for a boyfriend, making us root for the protagonist.
On top of that, it sets up yet another hurdle for Ryan to overcome in his quest for Jenna; the first is Wilfred, the second is his paranoia and “awkwardness”, now the third is the chiseled Klein.
And now Wilfred and Ryan are “even”, after Ryan tricked Wilfred into going to the vet- and it will be interesting to see if the series continues with this dynamic of one-upmanship, or whether they begin to unite to fight against a common enemy in Jenna’s “dick” of a boyfriend.
The show even attempted to give Wilfred some semblance of a backstory- he was thrown into a river in a sack as a pup. Time will tell whether this is meant to lay any bearing on his ruthless actions, or was just a throwaway line.
So the show is clearly still laying the ground-work for the characters and plot-lines, which is to be expected, however, it will definitely provide for some interesting stories.
(And just on a side note: speaking of plot-lines and characters, the next-door neighbour played by Ethan Suplee was nowhere to be seen in this episode, which would normally be fine in only a second episode, but remember when Wilfred placed Ryan’s wallet near the scene of the crime last week? I know that the show will not forget about this crucial point, but to not have some sort of consequence in the next episode is puzzling- even if the neighbour doesn’t coming bursting through into his house, surely Ryan could at least pass comment about his wallet being missing?)
Whether the show will become really funny because of this is hard to tell, but it’s not all that funny at the moment, save for more than a few amusing moments.
For example, take this Wilfred quote; “Everything I need to know about someone, I can glean from their asshole.” Yes, it’s amusing for its shock value, but it just relies too much on the notion of Wilfred being a man in a dog’s body. There’s no subtext or subtlety; it just tells us, “He’s a dog, he sniffs assholes”- now laugh at the word “asshole”, and the fact that a dog said it, and the fact that he used the word “glean” to more eloquently express something, and you wouldn’t imagine a dog to be that eloquent if he could talk.
But anyway, I’m nit-picking here, and the show is still earning a lot of well-deserved buzz.
UPDATED: Well, here we are. Are we witnessing television history in the form of Ben Elton’s last show? Or, are we witnessing yet another great Australian come-from-behind win, a Stephen Bradbury, even? Yes, that’s the type of humour that is still hanging around the show.
Anyway, the big question was, will Elton actually change his style of humour dramatically in response to his critics (read: everyone on Planet Earth)?
And the answer is: well, not really.
He opened with some “satire”- which he pointed out to us, just after the sketch finished- of Julia Gillard. Yes, the impression was good. But then came the references to “moving forward”, etc. It would’ve been funny if it came maybe, say, around November last year. But what do I know?
Hey, at least it was something we hadn’t seen last week. Right?
But what ruined the show for mine, came only in the first segment.
It was Ben Elton responding to critics.
Not by stating he would be changing his act, but by attacking the people who criticised him.
He called tweeters “twats”, because apparently, the opinion of plebs doesn’t really matter, and if it does, we don’t know anything. We also don’t know what’s funny. And Elton does. So just sit back and LAUGH, DAMMIT!
It became clear that he wasn’t going to change his style of humour, but defend it to the very end. I was ready to give him another go, but it was obvious that he didn’t want to take any criticism on board. So don’t expect any goodwill from anyone. But I will still comment objectively… well, you be the judge.
He also went on another rant against the people who criticised his naughty language, or rather the idea of naughty language. He just came off like an indignant little kid, not wanting to go to the naughty corner.
Oh, and just in case you thought that things had changed from last week, they haven’t. The schoolgirls are still there. So are the chardonnay-sippers. And this time, the didn’t make the audience laugh once. Once.
OK, so to be fair, there were a few things that were different. Elaine Front was brought to the front of the show. And it was still pretty good- yep, so not much had changed. Even the joke about her name being pronounced EEE-laine Front.
Some things also got the chop from Week 1, like the female… Male bodybuilder and the offensive public school teacher. Remember them? Me neither… (Well I do, it’s kind of hard to forget, but you know).
They were seemingly shafted to make way for the new Julia Gillard and big miner tax; while they were a step up from some of last week’s stuff, they still don’t quite cut it.
But, they were slightly better nevertheless. So it makes you wonder why they didn’t just go all out and press refresh on the entire show- try all new characters (save for maybe, Elaine Front).
There was also a female singer who spewed words like “FUCKING” and a male rapper (who was played by a woman) who spewed words like “pussy”. Yep, Elton was persisting with smut, that was for sure. I didn’t find it funny, but what do I know- I’m just a tweeter.
OK, then there’s Girl Flat. There was yet another parody of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”. Yep, even the song was the same.
Hey, but this time she said “JIHAD”. The characters are still one-dimensional. Like a proper journalist, here’s a proper quote and that to prove it. “Beyonce” sings “My bootylicious booty” and my “booty is so bootylicious” to her song “Single Ladies”.
There was also Fiona O’Loughlin who was quite good. And the inimitable Tim Minchin. However, and here’s some real criticism. They actually bring the show down. Because they are so good that they make the rest of the show seem crap… or crapper.
(I have been informed by commenter “Sophie” that Tim Minchin’s song he performed was called “Lullaby”.)
But once again, I have to compliment the performers, who, I still believe rise above the dated material. And Ben Elton is still good as a host. If only he didn’t keep saying “Live comedy”… if you still need the novelty of it being “Live” to prop up your show, then you may be in a touch of trouble. Yes, the live factor is great, but at the end of the day, it isn’t going to save it from being trite.
Then, there was some more “gentle satire”, labelled for us, once again. It was a “big miner”. It seemed more like a serious pundit on A Current Affair- especially since he used words like “UnAustralian” and “Fair go”, without any laughs in the background to prove it was actually meant to be funny. The “joke” came in the form of a play on “Fair go”; apparently “big miners” want to “Fair bugger up the country, then go”. Don’t expect any more laughs if there’s only one joke in a sketch.
But Elton might say, look at Minchin, his song isn’t peppered with gags. Yes, true. But his song was utterly entrancing, actually controversial, and actually funny.
So, after all that talk of altering the show, it didn’t seem all that different at all. Myself and many more people were generous enough to give it another shot, only to be insulted by more of the same stuff that had people turning off in droves last week.
And then his attacking of Twitter came across as merely a bitter man unwilling to face up to his mistakes. The idea of him taking on criticism was at odds with him criticising his critics. And then, what really took the cake at the end of the show, was seemingly a complete backflip, and he began to beg for approval: “Why not give us a friendly tweet?”
Um, no thanks Ben.
So, what did you think? Any better?