Pop Culture! [#583]

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

Pop Culture! [#583]

One of the ABC’s more overlooked success stories of the last few years has been the Agony series of programs. Kicking off with the six-part Agony Uncles in 2012, writer/director/creator/host Adam Zwar went around to a bunch of his comedian mates – with a few wild cards mixed in, like former businessman John Elliot and his son – and asked them for their relationship advice. The fact that none of these guys were all that knowledgeable about relationships wasn’t a serious problem; the guys cracked wise, for the most part they were charming about it, and while you probably wouldn’t want to take their advice to heart it was usually funny enough to keep viewers entertained (and make Lawrence Mooney a late-blooming ABC fixture in the process).
Obviously things were a little one-sided, so no one had cause for complain when Agony Aunts appeared later that year, especially when it turned out that the female comedians and celebrities Zwar had lined up were actually a little bit more insightful than the men when it came to relationship advice.
Yes, the format had its problems; the rapid-fire editing that made each episode a collection of under 30-second clips tended to give the show a numbing monotone feel, while the context-setting voice-overs by Zwar didn’t really add much to proceedings. But it was light entertainment, and as such it was basically a weekend newspaper advice column crossed with some lightweight celebrity confessions – how could it fail?
Then in 2013 we got The Agony Guide to Life, which brought back most of your old favourites in a blended-gender instalment for the format the ABC and viewers had grown to love, this time talking about the whole of human existence – which, as most of the cast members had only made it through half their allotted span, if that, meant that proceedings felt even more lightweight than the previous effort. But what was there really to complain about?
The show was basically a showcase for a group of B-list Australian celebrities to tell mildly amusing tales presented in bite-size chunks, and considering the whole thing was run on the smell of an oily rag – Zwar having said the show was just him rocking up to his mates’ place, setting up the camera himself, and letting them talk for a few hours – it was no surprise the ABC asked it back. But now we have The Agony Guide to Modern Manners, and the joke is starting to wear a little thin.
For at least some of the guests, the A-material was used up a series or two back, while their actual insights into the topics being covered are fairly thin. The format doesn’t really do them many favours either, with the rapid-fire clip format largely defusing the potential for anyone to go off on a bizarre tangent or try something surprising. Not that surprises are what this series is about: it’s a cheap, safe way for the ABC to fill up space with local content, and if by now the actual content of that content is wearing thin, chances are the goodwill the series has generated will get it over the line one more time. And the time after that. And by 2016? Well, who isn’t looking forward to The Agony Guide to Lower Back Pain?
Written by Anthony Morris