Shaun Micallef's experiment with variety television has only been done in two episodes so far but it's enough to give me a flavour as to what it's like.
To put it bluntly, it's hilarious, clever and thoroughly entertaining. But I find myself asking a number of questions during each episode.
For one thing, most of the funny parts are Micallef talking in his oddball fashion about current events or politics or, better still, advertising campaigns and slogans. Also his exchanges with voice-over veteran Peter Smith have that same sort of fractured-reality touch that we all used to love about Micallef in his sketch shows.
But the question raised - why is he bothering to do a live variety show when all these elements, at least in part, are present when he does his sketch show? Sure, he's a funny, clever comedian and his interviews with celebrities are enjoyable, light entertainment. But they're just not as funny to watch as his mock interviews that he used to do with regular members of the cast playing various characters.
Secondly, while it isn't a question it's more of a criticism. The program airs on Channel Nine and I find there is quite a lot lacking. For one thing, we have ads in the middle which upset the flow of the show which was always a key part in his shows on the ABC. Secondly, there's a lot more to mock on the ABC with particular reference to their low rating programs and cutbacks and so forth. It also seems to be easier to get away with biting political satire on the ABC than on a a commercial network. And thirdly, there is less editorial eminence and independence given to Micallef since Channel Nine runs a far tighter ship than the ABC. There were so many hilarious sections to his shows on the ABC when he'd actually give you the impression you were watching regular viewing and in actual fact you weren't. For an example, let me use the episode where, during the phase where the ABC logo was 'drawn' on the screen by various normal people in black & white, there was a section, before the show had started, where the same black and white type picture was shown of an Oliver Stone-sendup whereby Micallef, dressed as Lee Harvey Oswald, stepped out to assassinate JFK and as he was dragged off, he drew the ABC logo on the screen with his pistol. I just can't imagine the Nine Network allowing him to send them up like that, and it's a shame, because it's part of the brilliance of Shaun Micallef that he does laugh at the establishment in that way.
Essentially I'm not knocking this show. It's funny, clever, and has the stuff to last. But all I ask is, when each episode appears to be half sketch show, half nothing-out-of-the-ordinary interview, why not just continue with the commercial-free intellectual dandyism?
But I won't complain, as long as Shaun Micallef's on my screen I know Australian television comedy is where it should be.
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