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Shallow and banal: 'The Weekly' doesn't deserve its prime ABC slot

Last year, the ABC ambitiously launched The Weekly, Charlie Pickering’s answer to the US news satire programs like The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Pickering was clearly considered a bankable host, coming off almost six years of hosting Ten’s The Project, so 20 episodes of The Weekly were ordered, sight unseen.

The program stuck very closely to the templates laid down by Jon Stewart and John Oliver, and initially the ratings were quite strong, although they fluctuated over the course of the season substantially. The critical reception was lukewarm, but the ABC has stuck with the format for 2016.

The Weekly has been given a generous 14 episodes by the ABC for its second season in the prime 8.30pm Wednesday timeslot (a slot around which a full line-up of comedy programs is usually built). In its first episode back, it was seen by just 577,000 metro viewers (less than an excellent episode of Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, which was up against far stiffer competition at 8pm). It’s a soft start for a show meant to hold together the Wednesday night line-up.

The Weekly hasn’t evolved in any meaningful way since the first season — if anything, the first episode back is more derivative, less entertaining and shallower — and its return begs the question: why has the ABC put so much faith in such a weak property?

The series never comes close to the incisiveness or sheer satirical force of its international counterparts. Pickering is a likeable enough host, but his delivery tends to flatten out many of the gags — there’s a serious sincerity in everything he says which not only makes the show not particularly entertaining (the 33 minutes of last night’s episode felt far longer) but tends to make you gloss over whatever political point he might be making.

Bizarrely, the second season kicked off with a lengthy segment on the US presidential election. I suppose that’s because the comedic potential of American politics is currently far higher than the comedic potential of Australian politics (thanks, always-sensible-sounding Mal and bland-and-inoffensive Bill). But a segment about just how unlikable Republican candidate Ted Cruz’s personality is seems kind of lightweight.

This was followed with a segment from Tom Gleeson about raising ignorance — as opposed to awareness. It’s a sweet idea, but the segment didn’t quite come together. Then one with Kitty Flanagan about e-cigarettes which was quite fun — Flanagan’s delivery is always spot-on and she’s got to be the show’s greatest asset — but missed out on several opportunities to actually explain what e-cigarettes are. Sure, that was meant to be part of the gag, but it’s actually less funny to not know.

Pickering also interviewed actor Ben Stiller, and while it was one of the more entertaining chats with a movie star in the middle of a press junket, it made this episode even more lightweight than it had already been.

Perhaps the strongest part — although it was dragged out too long — was Pickering’s “explainer” on match-fixing in sports and some of the more recent scandals (but he still lags behind his replacement on The Project, Waleed Aly, in these segments).

Frankly, if the team is struggling to be particularly entertaining or informative in the first episode alone, the outlook for this season looks dire.

The writing for The Weekly has often been quite strong — although the writers’ room probably needs a better mix of comedians and news folk — but there are just as many missteps.

Last year’s season ended with a passionate speech from Pickering and a glitzy production number encouraging men not to rape — it failed to be either funny or particularly profound. Of course, it was immediately praised as “important” and led to a long list of news sites running headlines like “Charlie Pickering tackles/skewers/destroys victim blaming”. Pickering was lauded for stating something pretty blatantly obvious, but, as Clementine Ford pointed out at the time, women have been lambasted for saying exactly the same things.

I just don’t believe this is the best that we can do in the news satire arena, and we need to stop celebrating mediocrity. ABC2’s The Roast was consistently funnier and more responsive and The Chaser, in their vastly different formats, managed to force their audience to reconsider the way we look at news and politics more often than The Weekly. All The Weekly ever seems capable of is reinforcing its audience’s already moderate-liberal views.

And I’m sure everybody is sick of the comparison being made, but Shaun Micallef managed to riff on the American news satire format in a genuinely subversive way in Mad As Hell. Despite Micallef’s ambitions to create even more episodes of his series, the ABC has only given him 12 for the year.

By comparison, The Weekly is a show with very little going for it. It’s bland, shallow, not particularly funny and a wasted opportunity.

42 responses to “Shallow and banal: 'The Weekly' doesn't deserve its prime ABC slot

  1. I like it. It’s funny, before this show started I found Kitty Flanagan irritating but quite liked Tom Gleeson, now the tables have turned.

  2. Charlie Pickering lacks just about every quality required and the writing is juvenile, conservative and droll. Not funny, clever or even mildly entertaining

  3. My god, will there ever be a positive review on this site? I expected this to be another of Helen’s spiteful pieces but it’s Ben’s turn apparently.

    1. Hi Hamish,
      Thanks for your comment. I think you might be referring to commentary here rather than reviews. If you scroll down our What’s on Category to the right of your screen there is a list of about 40 shows that have been reviewed and given a star rating by reviewers – including Ben. The average score appears to be about 4 out of 5. The reviews that have scored lower than three stars are very few. Cheers, Ray (editor).

  4. For someone who uses the English language as their source of income it’s amazing you don’t know what ‘begs the question’ means…

  5. Kitty Flanagan is wonderful and makes the best of a bad job. Agree with your analysis Ben. You could have added how puerile that running gag about “hard” chat is. It was never funny or clever and is now tiresome – and that bloke is so fond of himself: for no apparent reason.

    1. I totally agree Diana. Unfortunately Tom Gleedon comes across a lot like Charlie- bland, not amusing or particularly good at satire and over confident in his own sense of intellect. Most of the time Gleeson comes across as rude to guests on hard chat, not funny, insightful or asking genuinely ‘hard’ questions. We can all be rude and insulting, it’s certainly not ‘hard’.’

  6. Couldnt agree more, yes i could…I turned it off, none of them even raised a smile…it is SO weak and Pickering is really boring. Flanagan’s vaping piece was just facile and unfunny, they are stuck on a really banal format…this is the new ABC I fear.

  7. What pseudo-intellectual wankers! The show is entertaining and one of the few on the box that is prepared to get a bit out of the square and piss on the odd sacred cow. Pray tell … what shows do meet your discerning standards? Insiders? 60 Minutes? Karl? Kochie? ?? ?? Just go back to “reality” shows if that’s what you really want and let the odd half million or so of us who enjoy The Weekly get on with it! (Ah, that’s better – purged!! ??)

  8. The ABC has a lot of form with limp entertainment and comedy formats. It commissions far too many episodes of new shows and too many shows are just simply crap ideas. Tractor Monkeys and Randling come to mind and seem like a decade ago but in fact were made not so long ago. Hasn’t the ABC ever heard of pilots? It seems that the ABC in its descent into ABC Lite under Mark Scott, its head of TV and its current programmer and commissioners has little level of accountability and little grasp as to how to produce compelling shows. It is all a little sad. But if the ABC wants to attract the 25-45 audience which has deserted it perhaps it is time to take a really hard look at the quality of the content and get a lot smarter and more rigorous with its approach to commissioning. It could look back to the great comedy and entertainment it commissioned in the 80s and early 90s and ask why this period created such great work. One can only hope the new ABC boss will ask a few hard questions but it seems she may lack any strong content experience as well.

  9. I’ve sat watching, wondering why it has to feel so try-hard for so much of the time. Pickering’s monologues can be interesting, but it always feels so scripted that the sincerity/spontaneity is off (it would help if he could develop the ability to read an autocue less obviously). Similarly, Kitty can be hilarious, but in the banter with Pickering, they were both so obviously reading off autocues last night (e-cigs) that it felt fake. We don’t have comedic talent that can do improv (or remember their lines) in a show like this?

  10. You couldn’t get away with what The Daily Show did under an ‘authoritarian govt regime’ that is not used to be treated as mere equals in a debate.
    They prefer a Murdoch cable TV outlet which is proficient in talking over people that don’t toe the line……the ‘right’ line, so you can understand why Charlie’s product is bland.

  11. I thought it was pretty good, especially Kitty Flanagan who has great delivery. I think it will probably warm up after a few episodes, maybe just a slow start? I also think it could be improved by making Tom Gleeson’s segment a sketch rather than a chat across the desk, as this format forces Charlie to interact in a forced manner, for example, laughing falsely at jokes that don’t quite make it. And I agree Trudy, the Jimmy Fallon show is horrible, the worst, most sycophantic interviewer I’ve ever seen!

  12. At least The Weekly is better than the appalling Jimmy Fallon’s nightmare show. I can’t believe that My ABC actually pays money for that, rather do I hope that they are paid to air it.

  13. A show like this needs to be *compelling* rather than ‘just fine’.

    To be compelling it needs to take more risks. Be fresher, do less in advance. Maybe even be live. Get more people onto the panel maybe. Pack more in. Newer, younger comedians. Something!

  14. Kitty is certainly the best of the show. Overall it has high and low points – the lowest being consistently the unfunny and uncontroversial “Hard Chat”. Get rid of Gleeson, more of Flanagan, and about the right mix for Pickering. As for the comparison with Micallef’s “Mad as Hell” – what a weak, unfunny, self-indulgent and self-important piece of froth! Dump Micallef and give Pickering and Flanagan a shorter daily show. BTW, “its return begs the question . . . ” No it doesn’t – it may raise the question, but there’s nothing logically inconsistent in its return.

    1. “logically inconsistent” oh dear, it is meant to be comedic, nothing to do with logic or consistency…I far prefer Micaleff, but even his show is a bit weak,…they all need a bomb under them

      1. comedy needs to be logically consistent, but the writer was referring to the mis-use of the phrase, ‘begging the question’, which involves circular reasoning and does not mean ‘raising or bringing up’ the subject . . .

  15. Sorry, don’t agree. I can see that if you are a little “thought challenged” the Weekly may not be for you. But otherwise it’s very good and a welcome change from all that reality TV drivel.

    Based on the review I think the reviewer may find anything more complex than “Tom and Jerry” a challenge.

    PS Kitty is great

  16. I have never watched it. I have seen the promos thousands of times as I watch the ABC quite a bit. But, I have never seen anything on the promo that I found funny enough or interesting enough to inspire watching the show. Charlie should have stayed with TEN. Bonehead play of the year

  17. Agree that Charlie Pickering’s show misses the mark. The format just doesn’t work and I’m surprised too that they didn’t tweak it for this year. I find that Tom Gleeson’s segment, ‘Hard Chat’ just doesn’t work and is quite irritating. Some of the video montages the show have done are funny – Tony Abbot’s ten flags skit from last year comes to mind. I really like Charlie so wanted it to work.

    Bring back Shaun Micallef’s “Mad as Hell” with Darius ‘girly man’ Horsham and Rear Admiral Bobo Gargle.

  18. Sorry, but I disagree. I have enjoyed every one of the Weekly series, including this year’s season opener. Sure it’s patchy but I like Charlie and his stuff, I love Kitty, her piece on Anal sex last year was hilariously presented for such a touchy subject and I generally like Tom Gleeson though Hard Chat leaves me cold now, sort of Norman Gunston without his wit. Anyway I am glad to have it back.

  19. Slice ‘n dice the news! This is where nice guys will come last, last, last if they don’t find some slicing attitude. Agree with you Ben! ‘Likable’ just doesn’t cut it – maybe check out the sneers on MKR for some much needed knifing.

  20. I clicked, expecting to be outraged at some attention seeking review but found myself mostly agreeing. Generally the laughs are good, the monologues are good (moreso than the review suggests, in my opinion) and Kitty is always the highlight with Tom’s chats worth a giggle.

    The main problem for me is the jarring between gags and sincerity, and Charlie seems to be stuck not quite making those switches in tone. I didn’t even know it was back on, but thankfully there’s iview!

  21. Great critique Ben Neutze. All this needed to be said. I often find the show banal too. Whilst I kinda like Tom Gleeson, Hard Chat irritates me, especially the tired joke about how its a show within a show with ambitions.

  22. PS I am glad that Daily Review has twice given it the reviews it deserves. I guess this year that Helen Razer refused to review it again, and seems like she was wise to pass the buck for there is nothing new…

  23. Its astonishing that this show has been renewed. I just don’t get it, its all over the place. Charlie Pickering was funnier on the Project and was able to get serious there when required… The big problem is though that it does just not generate laughs.

  24. So you’re disappointed in it, but you don’t exactly think it stinks. You have praise for each segment you mention.
    Personally, I liked the episode, and it certainly encourages me to watch more. I grew to like it last year, despite being unhappy that it looked like it was going to replace Micallef.

  25. I’ve watched two episodes of The Weekly, and only the first until the end. Dire stuff. I agree that Kitty Flanagan is the biggest asset.

    I’d suggest they team up with The Conversion to get academics on with complex analysis of issues. The Daily Show often had intellectuals of various sorts. It would give Charlie a chance to show off his brainpower, and let the gag stuff be more focussed with the lower time allotted.

    In general, Charlie needs to stop being so ‘conservative’ and start challenging his lefty ABC audience.

    1. Very disappointed in the first new episode especially after having persuaded my son (of 44) to switch from My Kitchen Rules! He wont be tuning in next week!

    2. Agreed with most postings. Very disappointing opener, but let’s hope they sharpen up. Pickering’s interview with Harrison Ford in closing last year was very good…

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