It’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.
The Jesters premieres 9:30pm Tuesday September 8th on Movie Extra.