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Between the Lines Review: A Nice Surprise, but can it Join the Ranks of “Specks”, GNW, TAYG?

I was pleasantly surprised by Nine’s latest foray into the panel/quiz show formula. Ten has its pop culture quiz show in Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, its news quiz show in Good News Week. ABC has its music quiz show in Spicks and Specks and its sports quiz show in The Trophy Room. So how does this stack up?

Well, first off Eddie McGuire as host : he did the job just fine, there was never any question of that. As always, it always comes down to whether you are a fan of his or not, or rather, if you can tolerate him or not. But whether you like him or not, he knows when to let the guests crack their jokes or tell their stories, and when to keep the show moving (though it was not live).
But at the end of the day, even if you don’t like Eddie, he doesn’t dominate the show, so it would be tolerable at worst.

The two team captains were Mick Molloy and Ryan Fitzgerald, who were both quite funny. Molloy came with a few succinct one-liners that he’s used to delivering on Before the Game while Fitzgerald was quite good at responding to situations and making jokes up on the spot.

The comedians were Peter Berner and Ed Kavalee, and they were predictably brilliant, however, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of nostalgia and excitement for the two shows these two were/are involved in (The Einstein Factor and The Joy of Sets).

The stars Lauren Burns and James Tomkins didn’t really have a lot to offer except for a couple of amusing anecdotes, but I guess you need them on there given it is a sports show. And having 6 comedians on a show can sometimes be too chaotic.

So it’s really no different to most panel-type shows- it will live and die by the quality of its guests. For example, I would watch if people like Ed Kavalee were on, but not if someone like Ruby Rose were on.

Also, speaking of female guests, many have remarked that there is not a strong female presence, which opens it up to a barrage of criticism. Here’s a suggestion for another female guest- Mieke Buchan. She is also on Eddie’s Triple M breakfast show, and has good chemistry with him. Also, and most importantly, she knows her sport- she is also associated with Channel Nine as she does voiceovers for the AFL Footy Show.

And speaking of chaos, if you stack it up against GNW, Eddie keeps his show under control. Which isn’t to say that the chaos doesn’t work for GNW.

It is also a bit more structured than Talkin Bout Your Generation, as that show requires a looser format to allow Shaun Micallef room to weave his magic, the elaborate games to play out and allow the guests to have some good ol’ fashioned fun.

However, it is not as structured as Spicks and Specks. It does borrow heavily from its games such as the “pick a subject” questions, and the “true or false” anecdotes. However, I for one couldn’t care less. If a show is good, I don’t care if it borrows elements from other shows. After all, we’re all friends here….

There was, however, one part I disliked was the segment in which the contestants had to pick the “real” Gary Cosier. It isn’t really the fault of the comedians, as they are there to make jokes, but they proceeded to take potshots at the five “Garys” based on their physical appearance. It only served to demonstrate the sort of blokey ribbing with more than a hint of nastiness that would cause many to switch off. For example, Molloy kicked it off by saying one of the “Garys” “is clearly on day release”. Ed Kavalee’s were less malicious, saying one looked like he wants to “go (him)”, while another looked like “Con the Fruiterer”. Molloy, though, finished by saying one looked like he was born in “1896”. On the other side, Berner said “Get two Kerry Bousteads and tape them together” to get one of the “Kerry Bousteads” in the line-up.

I just hope five women aren’t put up next week or else it could get very ugly…

So in the end, it turned out to be a decent show. Not exactly a rip-snorter, but it has the capacity to turn out some decent laughs every week. However, it all comes down to the ratings tomorrow…

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Angry Boys Review: Good, but not Hilarious – A Dangerous New Direction for Lilley?

At first, I didn’t care if Angry Boys was going to be the funniest thing I had ever seen.

The fact is, we know that Chris Lilley can do funny. In fact, he can do it very well, HBO-standard well. He’s shown us this by contributing two of the funniest Australian series to ever grace our screens.

Lilley could have easily served up Summer Heights High 2. Almost too easily, as it would be another certain hit, given the success of the first.

He even could have brought back Jonah, as by definition, he is an “Angry Boy”.

However, he hasn’t. He has assembled a cast of “new” characters, barring the the two Sims brothers, who were first seen on We Can Be Heroes.

However what I was looking for was not whether the show was funny, but if it stood by itself as a unique and original show. This is because despite how funny the first two series were, there were strong similarities.

And as much as these aforementioned things were all ticks in my book, the question remained whether he would trot out the same Lilley formula.

That is: “controversial” jokes, cringe-worthy situations and often juvenile-style humour.

The other questions hovered over the new characters: would the Japanese mother resemble Ricky Wong’s parents too closely (or just an “Asian” stereotype in general)? Did the “black rapper” represent Lilley’s stooping to broader comedy?

Unfortunately, in the first episode, we only received answers to some of these questions as we were only presented with the two Sims brothers and their grandmother, prison warden Gran.

First of all, I will start out by saying that my casual assumption that Lilley could churn out another funny series was incorrect as so far, Angry Boys is not as funny as its two predecessors, nor do I think it will be.

Suddenly it became about not whether Lilley had created something new and fresh, but just whether he had at least made a funny show. And I don’t know if he delivered in that respect.

The two Dunt boys showed that they don’t have that much more to offer in terms of comedy- especially since it feels like we’ve seen it before in We Can Be Heroes. We also saw boys behaving badly done to perfection in Summer Heights High in the form of Jonah.

And if you were to place the two (or three) characters of Jonah and the Dunt boys next to each other, it would be hard to differentiate between the two. Both are foul-mouthed teenagers… And that’s about as far as it goes. However, Jonah’s character was inherently more hilarious as we could see he was a student who was struggling academically, yet used swearing, bullying and breakdancing to paper over the cracks.

Viewers enjoy laughing at this situation as we are laughing “at” his bullyboy antics which he uses to escape his hell that is schoolwork. Hence Lilley’s combination of funny antics with an underlying hint of pathos proved a winner.

But when it is transposed to the Dunt boys, we are asked to laugh “with” them as they perform burnouts, flip the bird and… Swear. They aren’t performing these actions because they have an underlying insecurity, they are simply boys behaving badly. And while some (well, probably more than some) will find them funny, it isn’t substantial enough in the first episode.

This was why Lilley decided to supply a boost of pathos… However, to me, explaining that the ear drum transplant didn’t work was a cop out, after their story was seemingly resolved in We Can Be Heroes. I don’t mind so much the idea, but when their story is resurrected in order for Lilley to swear nonstop again, it doesn’t really cut it. It’s also a classic bet-hedging: if critics don’t end up laughing at the jokes, at least they will fall into the trap of complimenting the heartfelt elements of the story. Well, not I certainly haven’t.

Gran, however is a strong character, who would go down as a famous strong female character if she wasn’t played by a bloke. Her racist remarks seemed plausible for an old-school character such as her, however if the media decides, they could easily stir up a huge s-storm over.

However, even though it isn’t as funny, it is clear that there is a stronger narrative arc, and stronger ties between the characters- something that was pretty much nonexistent in the previous series.

Time will tell whether viewers will respond to this as well- they probably will but if Lilley still wants to label his shows comedies, I would say the first episode strayed very heavily into dramedy down. If you watched it again, you could pretty much draw a line down the middle of the episode and observe these two conflicting sides to Lilley’s apparent new style.

To be fair to Lilley, it would be worth waiting for the exposition of the rest of the characters to make a true judgement.

At the end of the day, Lilley needs to remember the reason why his shows are so popular: they are funny. Though he won praise for his portrayal of Jonah, in the way that he made the audience feel sympathy for him in the end, this should not become the centerpiece of the show.

Overall, it was good, but not great, with the highlight being the new character Gran (cue another Lilley creation: Gran’s Gotchas), so hopefully the rest of the new characters inject similar new life into the show.

Winners and Losers S01E01 Review

I normally approach a new Australian drama or comedy with trepidation. As do most people. And who would disagree? It’s true that as of late, the track-record for Australian dramas and comedies hasn’t exactly been that shabby.

Rake? Tick!

Packed to the Rafters? Tick!

Rush? Tick!

Offspring? Tick!

The Librarians? Tick!

And so on…

However, when Australian shows fail, they fail badly. Think Canal Road, The Strip, Cops LAC…

But this new offering from Seven was interesting for a number of reasons…

1. Packed to the Rafters has been a monumental success, how would Winners and Losers fare (ratings and quality-wise)?

2. Would Seven commission a carbon copy of Packed to the Rafters?

Before I answer these questions, let’s take a look at the superficial aspect of the show.

It is interesting to observe any pilot, mainly for the techniques it employs to grab the viewers’ increasingly fleeting and fickle attention.

In this case, the lives of the four main characters were shown to us. And the character-types are fairly stock-standard, so not much exposition is needed. There’s the flirty (or slutty, depending on your point-of-view) one, Melanie Vallejo as Sophie, the nerdy one, Melissa Bergland as Jenny,  Zoe Tuckwell-Smith as Rebecca, the career-driven one [SHE WORKS SO HARD SHE FALLS ASLEEP AT HER DESK], Virginia Gay as Frances James, and Zoe Tuckwell-Smith as Rebecca Gilbert, seemingly the one in a stable relationship.

Probably the most recognisable of the bunch would be Virginia Gay, of All Saints fame. And I guess observant viewers would recognise Vallejo as home-wrecker Mel from Packed to the Rafters.

[Just a side note, for fans of the US version of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Vallejo has kind of done a “Rashida Jones” here, if you get my drift]

I had a tiny problem with the way their names were plastered on screen as they went about their everyday business. It isn’t a big deal, and most likely will seem to be a novel way of introducing characters, but really it is just laziness.

Anyway, on to the meatier scenes… so to speak.

In relation to the question about being a copy of the Rafters, well… it ain’t.

This was pretty evident from the opening scenes- and it’s clear the writers wanted us to know.

Cue Melanie Vallejo… er, riding a bloke.

Then um, Melissa Bergland is cleaning up a woman’s lower regions…

Throughout the course of the episode we are also treated with an F-bomb, and a “BS”.

This isn’t a criticism, but it is certainly a touch surprising, as you’d imagine that families with children under 16 expecting another family-friendly dramedy like the Rafters would find this a squirmy experience, to say the least.

I’m surprised that Seven risked alienating a large proportion of Rafters viewers by airing such risqué scenes, yet it rated well (1.6m), so who am I to criticise?

This is not to say it’s Australia’s answer to Californication, or even as saucy as Underbelly, but I can say that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Another obvious difference to Packed to the Rafters was the amount of bloody characters (or actors) introduced in episode 1 compared to Packed to the Rafters. Now, I know that many extras pop up in TV shows, but when you have such recognisable faces as Scott McGregor (from Neighbours, Temptation), it implicitly demands viewers to sit up and take notice of them. Aside from Scott, there’s also

(Temptation)

Francis Greenslade

But despite all the differences, it seems as if the show will be somewhat centred around a family… that of Jenny Gross. However, with the dynamic of the four girls, it will be interesting to see which group will be the central, or base one.

Most likely it will be the four girls, yet I thought that Denise Scott and Francis Greenslade were particularly good as the Jenny’s parents.

So let’s have a look at all the characters introduced, and you can place your bets on who will stick around, and who won’t.

So there’s the four main actors;

Virginia Gay

Zoe Tuckwell-Smith

Melissa Bergland

Melanie Vallejo

their partners and family, played by;

Francis Greenslade

Jack Pearson (Jenny’s brother)

Sarah Grace (Jenny’s sister)

Denise Scott

Blair McDonough

friends:

Damien Bodie (Frances’ assistant)

Tom Wren

the antagonist

Michala Banas

… and once I work out who everyone else is they will be added too…

like Lawrence Mooney, who for some reason was in the show. Hopefully we see more of him but there isn’t a character page for him on the official site so who knows?

There has also been a lot of discussion about it being labelled by Seven as a comedy. Yes, it is true that there aren’t a great deal of gags, and some fairly weighty issues are brought up, such as bullying (which, incidentally, was a very prominent issue in the week), so a “dramedy” would be most fitting. SMH refers to it as a “light drama”, which is also not a bad little label.

Overall, would I watch it next week? Yes.

Is it as good as Packed to the Rafters? No, but no-one expected it to be (yet), surely.

Will it match this week’s ratings of 1.6m? No, because it isn’t Packed to the Rafters… yet.

Will it ever match Packed to the Rafters in terms of ratings? Probably not, but it is a worthy effort. For a first episode of an Australian show (well any show, these days), it is an achievement in itself to have dialogue which is natural and lines which don’t clunk, and it certainly did that.

As long as it keeps it natural; the characters and issues relatable, and the plots interesting, I will keep watching. But the real question is, will you?

Ben Elton Live From Planet Earth Episode 3 Review: Here we go again, again.

No laughs for the first sketch with Julia Gillard. None.

That’s how this week’s BELFPE kicked off. Here we go again, people.

Some more topical crap. And what else would he joke about- Ricky Nixon. I’m afraid in the age of twitter, most of these jokes had already been said.

“Sales are dropping like Warnie’s trousers”. Another week, another potshot at Elton’s critics. And this week, it’s the newspapers who are obsessed with ratings.

Ooh, a new character; “Toughy Nightly”. Unfortunately, one that wasn’t that funny, and was merely meant to highlight Paul McCarthy’s Julia (now in its second appearance in the same show).

However, it is quite good. In terms of impression at least.

And for someone who doesn’t listen to- or care for- his critics, he has seemingly increased the role of Elaine Front exponentially from week 1.

She almost had more time on screen than the host before the first break. And, unfortunately, her sheen is starting to wear off.

And calling one of the part-Aboriginal actresses a “mongrel” due to her mixed heritage. Hmm, lucky not many people will be watching, Ben.

The two schoolgirls have now appeared in 3 out of 3 episodes. Elton seems sure that they are winners. They ain’t.

And I didn’t even realise that the cook was called NIGELLA (Sauce). I mean, that- I think- lies at the heart of the problem of the show. It’s just all so utterly spelled out for the viewer.

And the confusing thing is for viewers, is that they are not sure whether it’s Ben Elton not being funny enough, or treating the viewers like complete morons.

Elton even joked about the “double entendres” during the Nigella sketch. She referred to her husband liking (chicken) “breast”. And guess what? It could’ve simultaneously meant her breasts! All the while, Nigella flaunted her breasts… In case you didn’t get it.

And I’m sorry, Girl Flat was just the same as the last two weeks. (That means it was awful). So, really, no point discussing it. Awful.

The Elaine-Brynne interview had potential, but didn’t all those jokes surface around the time of the Brownlow over a year and a half ago?

Ah, well. It was bearable.

New characters cropped up: country Australian stereotype, parents who feel like taxi drivers… Next!

Then there was a swipe at the very deserving target of Lisa Mitchell of Australian Idol fame. One that consisted of the three singers asking for “throat” lollies… Repeatedly.

Deary, deary me.

So, after 3 weeks, I have figured out two possible causes of the problem. Has Elton’s style of humour really become this obvious, one-dimensional and juvenile? Or does he think that that’s all that Australian audiences are capable of understanding?

What do you think it is?

Adam Hills In Gordon Street Tonight S01E02 Recap

The gang at AHIGST notch up another win...

It just keeps getting better and better doesn’t it?

Tonight we saw Tim Minchin with his “Jesus clock”. Possibly the highlight of his interview was when he grabbed a kid’s phone and feigned reading a text message “”.

He also performed a cover of Crowded House’s “Better Be Home Soon”.

Gaddsbyism of the night: In response to Megan Gale’s Chakra rocks: “That’s really lovely Adam, you can throw them into the garden with the rest of ’em” (Gestures towards garden filled with garden-variety rocks).

Megan “Don’t mention Andy” Gale also made an appearance. She is always quite good talk-show guest material… however, she believes in rocks having powers and that. Judgement free zone here, though.

Hey, I wonder what brand of eyeliner Tim Minchin wears...

There were also some nice little pieces involving Dave O’Neill and taxidermists. Over at Channel Nine, an actress saying she is Beyonce is singing about her “Bootylicious booty”.

If I had one criticism of the show, it was that the boyzillian was a bit too breakfast radio for Hills’ standard. Not that it was low brow, it’s just been done before, and before that- think 40 Year Old Virgin.

Rake was also entertaining. Yes I know that’s not his name.

Best moment: Adam’s stapler story. Simply brilliant. Just ‘Tube it.

Well, it’s time to break out the scores. If last week was an 8/10, this week was a firm 8.5/10.

Packed to the Rafters: S04E02 Review

The episode begins in a fairly conventional way- Rachel decides to clean up Jake and Coby’s pad- because, you know, men are messy and women love to clean. However, she does discover that Coby is actually a
– gasp! – closet painter. Obviously an attempt to add another layer to his character. Not a bad one, but I’d rather see layers added by actions (such as Rachel’s boyfriend’s quite noble ones).

Nathan is also back from wherever he was.

Carbo’s mother is also living with Carbo and Retta, so it’ll be awkward situations ahoy. The kind not seen since Seasons 1, 2 and 3 of Rafters.

It’s always interesting to see a bit of tension between siblings, particularly between Nathan and Ben.

There’s also the added edge of having Ben with a beard, and the intrigue of Ben having spent a month away from Nathan.

It is clear to everyone that there is lingering resentment between the pair, and scars that still haven’t healed. It then becomes clear that Ben still hasn’t recovered from Mel’s death- and why wouldn’t he have? It turns out he had put his own life in danger by jumping off a cliff into water and needing to be brought into hospital.

It is a novel way to structure an episode, with the main focus being on the aftermath of the event, with only a quick flashback to the precarious moment. Normally, Ben jumping off a cliff would be the climax of an episode (and the promos certainly framed it that way), yet the climax was instead Ben almost being hit by a car trying to run away from ‘fessing up. It was a nice little metaphor which still proves that Ben still has a bit to work through.

I wonder how the show’s writers will resolve his grief, as opposed to his father’s depression issues. After all, this was meant to be a happier season.

Well, at least we’re guaranteed to see at least a few different plot-lines involving Ben chasing tail of various kinds, with a fling with a mystery woman signalling a new “beginning” for him.

But certainly the best storyline involved Coby and. After a boozy night in which Coby loses a girl he was interested in to another group of blokes, Jake then wakes up in the middle of the night to them “partying” quite hard with this girl.

There are some obvious signs of these guys taking advantage of this obviously liquored-up girl.

This is where Rafters really comes into its own- putting real societal issues on screen. And this week it’s obviously the question: Would you intervene if you saw someone who was off their face being taken advantage of? Even if they said “yes” to going back to the room?

Especially if you are putting yourself in harm’s way, or, in this episode’s case, make the girl think it is you who is indeed the perpetrator.

In the end, it was certainly a more enriching plotline, and one which will have dramatic ramifications in the coming weeks, than the Ben-Nathan one, which was seemingly resolved with some cardboard-box jumping.

At least for the moment, it doesn’t quite seem that the show is shark-jumping.

Review: Adam Hills In Gordon Street Tonight

Wow. That’s all I can say.

Oh, and: why? Why have the ABC held off for so long on producing this gem of a show?

Has there ever been an Australian personality so ready-made for a talk-show than Adam Hills?

Affable, friendly and most importantly… funny.

And it couldn’t have a better home: 8:30 PM on a Wednesday night. A family-friendly timeslot which is usually home to a little show called Spicks and Specks.

It is also coming off the back of one of the worst debuts in Australian history- Ben Elton’s Live From Planet Earth premiered to reviews mostly slamming it as a turgid mess, which was only emphasised by its lacklustre rating of 455,000.

Anything would’ve been a relief. But this wasn’t just “anything”.

Hills single-handedly (see how I didn’t joke about his artificial foot) restored faith in not just Australian comedy, but Australian TV in general.

Yes, we have good shows- ie. Packed to the Rafters, Underbelly, Masterchef, but we’ve seen it all before, haven’t we?

And while the audience will know exactly what to expect from Hills- and that’s not necessarily a bad thing- we have on our hands not only a fresh, exciting new show, but a new format- or at least a new twist on an old one.

It fuses together many elements, but does the show allow Hills to fly into the stratosphere- a place many believe was his rightful and deserved one?

Well, for the sake of formality, let’s run through them.

First, there’s Hills’ laconic chat with his guests- an extended style of his usually more rapid-fire Spicks questions. The chat with Arj was funny- as to be expected. There was a reason that Arj was one of the only bright-spots of Planet Earth last night.

Not doing what you think he's doing

 

Then there was a mostly serious chat with Simon McKeon- not sure if it was the best opportunity to showcase Hills’ humour- McKeon chosen really because he is the man of the moment than anything else.

Bit of a change from the usual Talk Show mugs

However, the chat with Melissa George was the real test- and boy, did it succeed, with at least one YouTube moment that George will still blush about. That’s when the show evolved into everything everyone thought it would be, with off-the-cuff lines flying around and Gadsby spreading her wings.

Ross Noble’s chat was typically weird and as brilliant as always. Now there’s a Brit we can get to host a comedy program.

Then, there’s the side-kick, the Andy Richter, the Paul Schaffer: Hannah Gadsby. The perfect foil to Hills, though that goes without saying. Her humour is deadpan while his is sparky.

An obvious criticism is that there wasn’t enough of her in the first show, aside from a few hilarious facial expressions and the odd one-liner, though I’m sure that will change.

Yes, she actually has mannerisms. Say that for me slowly, Channel Nine, man-ner-i...

I’m confident that her inclusion will prove to be an absolute masterstroke- even if Hills isn’t for you, you simply can’t miss Gadsby.

Hannah Gadsby: "They've called themselves five guys and there's six of them."

In terms of being a talk-show, any show which allows the guests to hang around becomes instantly better. In fact, it was one of the elements which made Rove better when it relaunched in 2006.

Oh, it's just ROSS NOBLE... on a MOTHER-FLIPPIN' iPHONE

Hopefully we’ll get a Julian Clary/Rex Mossop moment in the not too distant future.

Then there’s the audience interaction- something Andrew Denton proved could be genuinely interesting, sometimes audience members even upstaged celebrities on Enough Rope.

And of course Hills’ show “Mess Around” took it to new heights. And it would only work with a handful of comedians, too, as an overly aggressive comedian would alienate audience members and make home viewers squirm.

So basically if you like Hills, you’ll absolutely love this show.

One thing’s for sure; there is absolutely nothing wrong with this show. The first show was definitely funny and it was definitely entertaining. Did you expect it to be anything else?

But a talk-show is one of the hardest formats to pull off, so the fact that it seems like a show in its tenth season is really testament to Hills.

It isn’t often that we know a show will be good, and this definitely delivered. It didn’t necessarily exceed my expectations, but then again, they were fairly lofty to begin with.

It might not be as outrageous as Craig Ferguson, as smooth as Letterman or as cool as Conan, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s Hills at his best and he’s comfortable and charming.

People sometimes say that we shouldn’t go hard on Australian shows that aren’t funny; at least they’re employing Aussies… Right?

Well, sort of.

I believe that we need to give shows a fair go, but if they simply aren’t that funny, it represents a tendency to settle for less. And it isn’t truly indicative of what we are capable of as Australians.

This show is all that we are capable of… And then some. It not only showcases one of our greatest talents, but exhibits everyday Australians as laid-back, funny people with great stories to tell.

Stuff Oprah*, this would be the best advert for Australia. And if not that, jus a damn entertaining show for British telly (Neighbours-style).

Simply put, we needed this show a long, long time ago. It won’t be must-see viewing for everyone as Hills’ comedy isn’t exactly explosive drop-everything-laugh-a-lung-up humour, but no other show can guarantee such a consistently friendly and most importantly, funny show week-in, week-out.

*Sorry Oprah, nothing against you. Please don’t smite me.

The League gets a Third Season

Popular comedy The League has been picked up for a third season. The League, centers around an NFL fantasy football league, airs in the US on the FX network, a network now famous for producing high quality, yet edgy dramas and comedies.
The League has been praised by critics in particular for the interplay between the five members of the League. It features a particular kind of bro-comedy, that was popularized by Judd Apatow and his array of movies. This involves various scatological references and talk about women.