The Jesters

jestersIt’s just as well The Chaser has finished up, because The Jesters are on their way.

Movie Extra’s new satire is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of sketch comedy. Sure, we’ve all seen that before. 30 Rock is a delicious and frenetic look at network television. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a dark essay on the compromises of producers. Extras dissected class and vanity.

So it’s impossible not to draw parallels between The Jesters and The Chaser.

Mick Molloy plays Dave Davies, a retired television star who fosters a team of university comedians in their own sketch comedy show. It’s a baton begrudgingly passed between established television and a new generation, and the only way Davies can stay in the game. His dream is of “an Australian Michael Moore, an Australian Daily Show.

The four Jesters of his team are Steve (Ben Geurens), Michael (Christian Barratt-Hill), Travis Cotton (Tony) and Zak (Andrew Ryan). Assisting Davies is Kat (Emily Taheny) as producer, determined to manipulate the best publicity for the newest kids on the comedy block.

Very little of the premiere episode looks at the team “on screen.” Instead it focusses on the relationship between producer and team as they manoeuvre through a minefield of stunts, network pressure, Davies’ ego and finding their comic voice. Michael struggles with Kat’s demands that he lie all the way through a community service advertisement. Steve tries to tell Davies he doesn’t want to be the star of an ensemble show. Zak ambushes a Japanese Embassy dressed as a whale only to discover it’s Taiwanese. And Kat reminds the wide-eyed team, “Television isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship.”

Steamrolling the project is Davies, a jaded, angry star who sits in an office adorned by Logie awards, and signed photos on the wall from Don Lane and Noelene Brown. He yells the same promo spin down the phone line to a string of drivetime radio shows, faking his enthusiasm and promising his Jesters will deliver the unexpected. He tells one of his stars, the radio chats are all an act. “I’m using them and they’re using me. And all their listeners go ‘oh that delightful Dave Davies, he listens to the same radio station as us.’ I am Dave. Temporary radio pal of the great unwashed!”

Given Molloy’s long success in radio, particularly the Martin-Molloy show, it’s a delicious irony. So too is his response to disappointing ratings: “I could take a piss on my lawn to get more people to watch me than that!” -Molloy infamously urinated on the Channel Nine set of his own Tonight show.

Such is the biting subtext of The Jesters, written and produced by Kevin Brumpton and Angus FitzSimons. Molloy certainly works well in a project under someone else’s domain.

Also in the cast are Susie Porter as Julia, a suited (literally) Network Executive and Deborah Kennedy as Di, Davies’ agent. Kennedy will be familiar to many as Yellow Pages’ own “Not Happy Jan” -thank god somebody has given her a comedy role, she should chew this up with great delight.

There are plenty of moral media dilemmas in The Jesters, including questions about the satirical target of a sketch, and how far should one go in breaking the law for the sake of ratings? There’s even a glaring reference to the team as “naughty boys.”

Promisingly, director Kimble Rendall has captured the series with imaginative shots and aesthetic lighting, that pit this series above a notch above its peers. It helps elevate the show from a punchline sitcom to narrative comment on the media, in a way that hasn’t been attempted since Frontline.

Amongst the new Jesters team, baby-faced Andrew Ryan will be the one to look out for. Just like the show itself.

4_starsThe Jesters premieres 9:30pm Tuesday September 8th on Movie Extra.

19 Comments:

  1. Ive seen all 8. preview copies were sent to the media and I got hold of a set. its very very funny. some great cameos in the 2nd half of the series. some great scenes with Mick and Steve Vizard together.

  2. Pab, how have you seen 4 epps allready . I would love to see
    them all pretty soon. But I don’t know where
    to get them. It seems majority of the people love it.
    Can Not Wait big Mick molloy fan

  3. I’ve seen 4 eps of this and it’s very, very average. apart from the chaser references there’s nothing of interest and no laughs. lower expectations now.

  4. its the way of the future. the best shows on TV will hit cable first then maybe make it to commercial. like Mad Men. Movie Extra will have season 3 before SBS even gets season 2. And its channels like this that will be where shows like the Jesters are given a chance to even get made.

  5. This is one of the best Aussie comedies in forever – thank God for Movie Extra.
    The scenes between Mick Molloy and Deborah Kennedy are especially magic, and it’s great to see Ben Guerens in his first proper grown-up TV role (yes, I’m ignoring Home and Away).
    The Jesters and Chandon Pictures are the only truly laugh-out-loud local shows on TV. More please.

  6. @ Andrew, Ben Guerens has been around since he was a Toby Mangels in Neighbours, then he was in The Man From Snowy River (series) been popping up in guest roles in the usual places. Saw him on stage last year too in the History Boys. He’s third from left in the photo.

  7. JM Girl, the finale of ANTM took 342,000 viewers but that was over two screenings (because of FOX8 +2 timeshift channel). It’s rare for a drama to pass 100,000. You can see each week’s results by clicking on the previous week.

    Week 32 These are added every Monday, but to the preceding week so often they get missed….

  8. Out of interest, what does a widely watched show on cable get in overall viewership?

    I recall reading that the Comedy Channel Merrick and Rosso show was a widely watched cable show. What did it rate overall, for example? Could someone tell me? David?

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