Frontline tops list of Australia’s all-time TV comedies

Aussie TV Critics list their favourite sitcoms & sketch shows ever.

The critics have spoken.

Frontline is Australia’s all-time best TV comedy.

TV Tonight has asked some of the nation’s top TV critics to choose their favourite Australian comedies* -either sitcoms or sketch- with Working Dog’s 1990’s satire on current affairs emerging at #1.

Michael Lallo from The Age said, “A quarter-century after its debut, this note-perfect satire of TV current affairs – and Australian journalism in general – still feels remarkably relevant.”

Co-creator and star Rob Sitch said of the honour, “That’s very gratifying. I still have PTSD from the pilot screening. The ABC were expecting something a little more Mrs Brown’s Boys and we delivered a laugh-track-free vérité style office satire. There’s silence and then there’s silence that needs a defibrillator. Credit to them for still rolling the dice.”

In second place was Jane Turner & Gina Riley’s suburban homage, Kath & Kim, which screened on ABC from 2002 – 2004 and Seven in 2007, as well as spawning a telemovie and feature film.

Debi Enker, also from The Age, said, “Crowd-pleasing, iconic characters seen in the context of Australian suburban life and its values.”

In third place was hit Seven sketch Fast Forward.

“Was this the greatest collection of Aussie comedy talent ever?” asks James Manning from Mediaweek.

Here is the Top 10 list. Did they get it right?

    1. Frontline
    2. Kath & Kim
    3. Fast Forward
    4. We Can Be Heroes / Please Like Me
    5. Utopia
    6. Mother and Son / The Norman Gunston Show
    7. The Chaser’s War on Everything / Summer Heights High
    8. The Letdown
    9. The Aunty Jack Show
    10. Big Girl’s Blouse / Rosehaven

Runners-up in no particular order:

The Moodys, The Late Show, The D Generation, CNNNN, The Paul Hogan Show, The Mavis Bramston Show, The Last of the Australians, Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, Grass Roots, The Comedy Company, Wilfred.

Participating critics were:

Graeme Blundell, The Australian
Andrew Mercado, TV historian
Debi Enker, The Age
Colin Vickery, Herald Sun
Peter Ford, Entertainment reporter
James Manning, Mediaweek
Wenlei Ma, news.com.au
Michael Lallo, The Age
Michael Bodey, ABC
David Knox, TV Tonight

* Scripted comedy: sitcom or sketch, incl. variety or improvisation elements where scripted is predominant.

32 Responses

  1. The top three must include Mother and Son, The Games & Frontline. They’re our Fawlty Towers in terms of quality and excellence of execution.

    But ordering the rest of them? That’s a bit rough.

    There’s got to be a special grouping of The Micallef P(r)ogram(me) / Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell / Newstopia / Micallef Tonight (for obvious reasons).

    Then the great comedians: The Adventures of Lano and Woodley, DAAS Kapital, The Aunty Jack Show, Norman Gunsten, The Big Gig, Australia You’re Standing In It, D-Generation Late Show, The Chaser’s War(s), and surely we could include Bargearse here.

    Aside from Frontline, Working Dog should have their own subset: Utopia / The Hollowmen.

    Where do we list the indisputable classics: Kingswood Country, Wilfred, Let the Blood Run Free.

    Should we include panel / ensemble cast shows: Spicks & Specks, Good News Week, Talkin’ ‘Bout…

  2. i feel like maybe they should’ve had 2 lists, one for sketch/live/standup comedy & another for scripted comedy. I was disapointed that Upper Middle Bogan is not in there, although having said that i could see how it would not age well. It does seem the mark of a great show is something like Frontline that you can watch 25 years later & its still entertaining or even painfully relevant to current times.

    I started watching the Letdown by accident (since i don’t have kids i wasn’t sure i’d relate), & was pleasantly surprised, its a very well produced & bloody funny show.

  3. Nobody has mentioned Comedy Inc and the Late Shift version of it? They were absolutely brilliant! Even though it’s from the mid 2000’s it still has relatable skits. They also didn’t skimp on sets etc, with their spoof music videos (comedy Inc Channel loud), animation like Ernest the Engine Car, Bodgy Builder etc. Impersonations of Who wants to be a millionaire, sunrise etc. No other skit show came close to the effort they put in. There are many clips on YouTube, but only a fraction of the good stuff.

  4. It’s awful, but I can’t help but smirk at a lot of funerals I have attended after the orange scene from ‘Mother & Son’. So inappropriate but so hilarious at the same time.

    1. I dare say that it wouldn’t even classify as a comedy as it is so out of place when compared with all of the other programmes listed here, and from what I had seen of it, it never struck me as a show that actively tried to be funny. It felt more like a teen drama, except with young adults who have no goals or ambition whatsoever. And regardless of genre, it was hardly a “great” show, let alone one deserving of top 10 of anything.

  5. I would have liked to see The Adventures of Lano & Woodley, Review With Myles Barlow and A Current Affair being in there somewhere. ACA is surely the most successful comedy show Australia has ever produced.

  6. Frontline is hilarious! Rob Stitch or Santo Cilauro should appear on Have You Been Paying Attention. Full Frontal should be paired with Fast Forward.

    1. You make a valid point about pairing. It seems that the first season of Full Frontal was titled Fast Forward Presents Full Frontal so it may not have been an oversight in the list. I think Full Frontal should be acknowledged along with Fast Forward as Full Frontal had mostly a different cast and Full Frontal had won many Logies in its own right.

  7. To cheer me up I often go to Stan and watch an Ep of Frontline. The show is 25 years old but the subjects they covered still are current today. News programs really haven’t changed that much. Working dog productions have had a huge influence on australian comedy.

  8. A well-deserved win for Frontline. One of the iconic images from the opening titles was Brooke Vandenberg (Jane Kennedy) lampooning the “serious blonde” look so popular with commercial news and current affairs at the time. A few months ago I nearly fell off my chair laughing when a young ABC News reporter, doing what was obviously her first stand-up for the national news, emulated the same look – same hair, same red jacket, same walk-and-talk, same hand gestures. Maybe the news department is using episodes of Frontline as training videos for its new journos?

  9. My top 3 would be:
    The Late Show, Chaser’s, Good News Week.
    But a lot of good shows in the 80’s / 90’s before Australia lots its identity to become an ‘airport’ polyglot nation.

  10. With comedy being very subjective, I expect a lot of people may disagree on the inclusions, exclusions, or order of this list. I personally agree with the list.

  11. Some classic Australian comedy in that list for sure, but some slightly unexpected choices. Some of them I would’ve rated as more-or-less good to varying extents, but one of the ten all-time best? That’s a big call for some of them. Plus, despite two of the top three being 25-30 years old now, the list generally is all a bit too current-century for my liking, given more than 60 years of Australian television to work with. With that said, I’d be interested to see how different the list might look from a public vote, still with an emphasis on ‘best’ rather than ‘favourite’. I suspect it would be quite different, were the survey to be undertaken outside of the TV Tonight target audience 🙂

  12. I know it’s tainted because of Robert Hughes but Hey Dad should be on that list. And All Together Now & Acropolis Now were great comedies too.

  13. Am incredibly surprised to see that Full Frontal doesn’t make the list at all. Surely Full Frontal should be up there as it was one of the most successful in both ratings & humour. Having said that, the comedy shows I can remember that are listed are very good & worthy of being listed.

    Some Australian comedy shows on television from the past that may or may not fit into the scripted comedy category that I really liked were Life Support, Jimeoin, Thank God You’re Here, John Safran’s Music Jamboree, House Gang, Acropolis Now, The Adventures of Lano and Woodley, The Glasshouse, Good News Week, The Micallef Program, The Mary G Show, In Siberia Tonight, & Sit Down, Shut Up.

  14. The Games not making the top 10 or runners up is very disappointing. Still my favourite Aussie comedy of all time and holds up very well today.

    1. I guess depending on what generation you are from and your personal sensibilities this will be a particularly subjective process as my learned fellow commenter Gaz has mentioned. Mavis Brampston, Aunty Jack, Norman Gunston, Kingswood Country all pioneers in their forms. Sketch, farce, sitcom. Mother & Son for me would be at or near the top. Fast Forward too. Even within comedy there’s satire, light entertainment programs that also register as comedies.

      1. The Games was terrible. I thought it was shameful that in the leadup to the Sydney Olympics when the country should have been proud and patriotic we had this program on the ABC. It wasn’t funny at all. I know that plans for The Seekers to sing The Carnival Is Over at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics had to be abandoned after The Games lampooned it. I didn’t like John Clarke or Brian Dawe at all. I kept writing to the ABC and to this blog urging an end to their segments and I was delighted when it finally had to end and we were free of them.

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