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Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Ben Elton started out the second episode of Live from Planet Earth by apologizing for the first one. Youch. I always think it’s a better option, if your show has been hammered in the press, to just ignore that and do a better show the next time around. Actions speak louder than words and all that. The show rated shockingly last time, but I wanted to give it a chance, so I'm back for round two and hoping for improvement.

The main criticism of the show last week that Elton responded to was that there was a prevalence of knob and vagina jokes that bordered on the pathological.

That was not what I saw the main criticism to be. The main criticism of the show, from myself and all the other reviewers I read, was that Ben Elton: Live from Planet Earth wasn’t funny. Knob and vagina jokes are fine if they’re funny – but improving the show isn’t about making it less crude, it’s about making it wittier and less obvious.

So this week Elton opened up with a Julia Gillard impersonation from Paul McCarthy that could have been brilliant in the right context but was killed by bad writing, framing and staging with a half-assed ‘The King’s Speech’ reference. Hey, we’re off to another cracking start!

Elton followed that up with ‘Bit of satire, ladies and gentlemen.’

No, that wasn’t satire, Ben. That was parody. Satire has a point. Also, there’s not much more insulting than someone explaining what kind of a joke the audience has just seen to the audience.

Then Elton decided to have a crack at Twitter. He actually hit on a fairly funny idea – what if Twitter had been around in Shakespearean times? Maybe Hamlet would have never got off the ground? That’s a funny idea – though he didn’t really take it to its extreme – but I want to address the theory.

Twitter has no effect on whether a show is successful. Sure, it can be a very annoying outlet where Average Joe can have a crack at anything he wants for no reason, but bad shows have been successful and good shows have failed, and vice-versa, since THE BEGINNING OF TELEVISION. Twitter is not to blame for your show not getting out of the blocks – the quality of the show and its ratings will always be the most determining factors. I don’t like Twitter much either, but having a go at it on national television just seems petulant.

Other cringe-worthy moments include Ben Elton pointing out to us that which was painfully obvious – that PEOPLE WHO WERE IN THE SKETCH YOU JUST SAW WERE TOTALLY OMG THE PEOPLE WHO WERE IN A SKETCH TEN MINUTES EARLIER IN A DIFFERENT WIG. THE MAGIC OF LIVE TELEVISION IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN CANNED LAUGHTER AMERICAN COMEDIES. It just got painful after a while.  Especially given that Two and Half Men is Channel Nine’s most popular show.

Other thoughts:
-                Girl Flat was just as messy as last time, though occasionally more funny than the first time around. I really like Veronica Milsom’s Lady Gaga, as it actually feels like a character rather than a caricature.
-                Elton continued begging for the audience to stay tuned after the break, next week etc. It’s bordering on the desperate. Also desperate, describing his one successful sketch from week one (Elaine Front) as ‘celebrated’, only to watch it groan under the weight of Kris Smith’s charisma vacuum.
-                Most of Ben Elton’s stand-up material isn’t new, but that’s not a bad thing. If you’ve read his books, you’ll have heard most of it before. It’s more suited to Grumpy Old Men than groundbreaking live sketch comedy.
-                Apart from the last line, I don’t think there were any laughs at the Big Miner sketch. The singer/rapper one was better but suffered from being a sketch that would have been current in 2001.
-                Tim Minchin was amusing, which was an improvement over most of the show.

Overall, the show was a mild improvement over last week, mainly because there were less sketches and they were given a bit more time to breathe. I still didn’t laugh though, save for a mild giggle at Elaine Front.  Less knob gags, same amount of laughs. Last week I was kind because I thought this show was doing good things and I want to give live Aussie comedy a chance. But that live Aussie comedy should be Adam Hills in Gordon Street tonight. It’s much, much better.

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