Pop Culture [#591]

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Pop Culture [#591]

Remember the time when sketch comedy was meant to be the kind of comedy Australia did well? We may never have had a Golden Age of sitcoms in this country, but there was a long, long stretch – from the late ’80s through to the early 21st century – when sketch comedy was a permanent part of our television diet. And not just on the ABC either: the commercial networks were more than happy to have a bunch of comedians telling short stupid stories as part of their prime time schedules – so much so that it really took a very long run of very bad shows (The Wedge? Double Take? Comedy Inc: The Late Shift?) to kill sketch comedy there dead. But the ABC wasn’t blameless either, as while their sketch efforts were usually a little more individual and quirky, in recent years they’ve managed to serve up some shockers – The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting, anyone – seemingly designed to turn an entire generation off the very idea of sketch comedy.
It’s hard not to see the ABC’s current foray into sketch comedy as them seeking to make amends: the Fresh Blood initiative is a digital-only program where a wide range of up-and-comers (25 were chosen, but only 24 seem to have made their sketches) were each given ten grand to make three sketches that are currently available on iView and (in some cases) on YouTube.
Calling this effort “Fresh Blood” is a bit of a stretch in some cases. The Axis of Awesome has been around for a fair while now and Veronica Milsom (star of The Record) got her start on Hungry Beast and is a current regular on Mad as Hell. Some of the others are just well known sketch groups like Touched by an Angle Grinder and some have made their mark in other areas, with The Guardian’s online cartoonist The First Dog on the Moon being the guy behind puppet-show The Comestibles.
You can hardly blame the ABC for wanting to have at least some established names in there: if you’re handing out a quarter of a million dollars to get a bunch of sketches made, you’re going to want to put at least some of that money on a relatively safe bet. And as you’d expect from roughly 70-odd sketches, the quality is extremely variable. As a rough rule, the more jokes a sketch tries to cram in the better it is, which is a thumbs-up for stuff like Crowd Failure, Mediacrity, Aunty Donna and Touched by an Angle Grinder.
Some of the high-concept ones have decent concepts – ’80s era Mad Men knock-off Crazy Bastards, the musical Donnatelegrams – but don’t do enough with them. And anyone trying to be too quirky or “dark” usually forgets to be funny. But even the unfunny ones are generally at least watchable, making this a rock-solid reminder that people who actually want to make sketch comedy are almost always better at it than a bunch of random actors and commercial directors lumped together to churn out some cheap TV. Which, you know, might be handy for the people who run Australian television to know.
Written by Anthony Morris