On the positive side, there were some great laughs to be found in Open Slather.
The Comedy Channel has assembled a strong cast of established and emerging comedians for its ambitious new sketch comedy. The Gen Y cast slipped in with ease alongside Fast Forward veterans in this mix of popular culture, social and political humour. Comics such as Ben Gerrard, Emily Taheny and George H. Xanthis made impressive debuts showing off their versatility and timing.
On the less-positive side some of the sketches struggled (a dating couple dropping farts, an All New Gavin workout prop) whilst others made me uneasy that they were trying to recapture Fast Forward‘s magic with a tone stuck in the 80s (Downton Abbey).
But therein lays the challenge of producing new comedy: it can take time to hit its stride. The point is in having a go.
Thankfully there was much to like. Magda Szubanski’s Gina Minehart is an instant classic: stroking her pet rock and giving us her definition of ‘mining.’ “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is also mine,” she revealed. The chameleon Szubanski also resurfaced as Clive Parmigiana in a Downton sketch, cleverly edited alongside her own Mrs. Fatmore and Gina Minehart.
Stephen Curry was priceless in a Lord of the Rings sketch, as a minion telling his leader to cut back on the excessive, classical language. “Next time just yell ‘Duck!’ I reckon.”
Gina Riley also donned the costumes as lawyer Gina Liano in Rack, calling everyone in court the “C” word, and impersonating a pointed Liz Hayes in a 60 Minutes report about too many refugees arriving by boat (it turned out to be washed-up Reality TV judges: Redfoo, Geri Halliwell, Mel C, and Ricky Martin). Although it felt like it dragged on one sketch too many.
A sketch parodying The Bridge with a dead body on the NSW and Victorian border was clever and a sketch about racial abuse on public transport, shot to resemble mobile phone footage, had genuine bite. “I am as thrilled for you as I am intimidated,” yelled one woman to a young Asian man studying medicine.
The sting was left for the closing credits with actual footage of refugees in Africa and Christmas Island complaining on Facebook about the quality of Domino’s pizzas. “Just letting you know I have had the worst experience through you. The Waterford store didn’t have the toppings I wanted then I ordered a different one.” Brilliant.
There were also sketches on Masterchef, Random drug testing, Jeeps, Australian Story, Catholic priests (no, it wasn’t about abuse), Bear Grylls, the weather bureau and a child protection unit checking up on parents using social media. Some were running gags that were given variations as they reappeared.
George H. Xanthis made for a killer Vince Colosimo in a send up of The Slap, even if the material didn’t really go anywhere. I also didn’t laugh much at the sole song parody Ellie Goulding’s Love Me Like You Do, reworked as Whip Me Like You Do in an apparent 50 Shades of Grey nod.
Some of the veterans barely appeared: Jane Turner and Marg Downey were under-utilised. The promised studio audience sketches did not surface amid rumours the quality did not match the location sketches. The upside is the look of the location sketches was excellent, nicely lit and photographed and avoiding looking el cheapo. Big tick there.
The marrying of generational comics as a way to bring in an instant crowd has worked rather well. Whether the veterans are too scarce, or can deliver comedy beyond impersonation remains to be seen. I confess to a nostalgic affection for such parody but the comedy with bite lays in the contemporary social sketches, mostly from younger comics.
With TV sketch largely confined to niche audiences on 7mate’s Kinne and ABC’s Black Comedy, a broadly-appealing format is long overdue. Unless networks and producers take risks like this we’ll be stuck with more Reality. On that front Open Slather wins the encouragement award of the night.
As the the titles tell us ‘The revolution will be televised.’ Perhaps it’s already begun.
7:30pm Sunday on Comedy Channel.