By Simon Elchlepp
In Part 1 of this article, we scanned some of the Australian Dramas, Mini-Series and Telemovies set to grace our small screens this year. Now it’s time to look at the funny business – Comedy and Light Entertainment – as well as at Reality TV and some kid’s programs we’re looking forward to seeing.
Comedy & Light Entertainment
For many viewers, Wednesday nights are a regular couch-date with ‘Aunty’. This may well continue with the premiere last week (2 May) of ABC1’s new Wednesday night line-up. First there’s the hotly anticipated word-based game show Randling (8.30pm), featuring multi-AFI Award winner Andrew Denton’s return as show host. Following this battle of wits and words, AACTA Award-winning series Laid (9pm) returns in its second series, with Roo’s world turned upside down in another flurry of hilariously awkward situations. It’s all capped off by Agony Aunts (9.30pm) in which Julia Zemiro, Myf Warhurst, Judith Lucy and other high profile Australian women give men advice on how to navigate the difficult terrain of the modern relationship.
Here are some others we’re looking forward to:
Shaun Micallef Is Mad As Hell (ABC1, from 25 May 2012, 10 x 30min)
Satire is notoriously difficult to get right, but Shaun Micallef’s satirical look at Australian news in 2007/08’s Newstopia was one of those shows that succeeded. Now Micallef is back for more in Shaun Micallef Is Mad As Hell, and the Newsfront-inspired title promises a piercing look at how our media report about the world around us and shape our view of it. The ABC calls it “a half-hour weekly round-up, branding, inoculation and crutching of all the important news stories,” and in the absence of any Gruen Transfer this year, Shaun Micallef Is Mad As Hell could be just the media-skewering show we’ve been looking for in 2012.
Hamish And Andy’s Euro Gap Year (Channel Nine, first half of 2012, series)
Some people are lucky enough to enjoy not just one, but two gap years. After Hamish And Andy’s Gap Year unleashed the two larrikin comedians on an unsuspecting USA, in 2012 it’s Europe’s turn to brace itself for a visit from Hamish and Andy. With a disused pub in London as their studio, Hamish and Andy’s Euro Gap Year will screen on Nine leading up to the Olympics. Sport will not, however, be the focus. Instead Hamish and Andy will travel the continent and visit Bosnia, Russia and France, among others, to introduce Australians to the curious yet endearing characters and customs of Europe’s various countries, which apparently include ‘bus pulling,’ ‘ice-swimming’ and ‘festivals of snails’.
Lowdown Series 2 (ABC1, 2012 TBC, 8 x 30min)
There are few things on the telly that are as satisfying as a satire which sets its aims on a mock-worthy target – and hits the spot. And so fans of Frontline and The Hollowmen will greet Lowdown’s second season with open arms. Adam Zwar returns as the Sunday Sun’s star entertainment reporter who compensates for his lack of a moral compass with a keen sense of which stories will drive up circulation. From exposing political sex scandals and violent actors, to outing gay sportsmen and setting up cheating TV chefs, Alex will do what it takes to save the Sunday Sun’s declining figures. Lowdown Series 2 reunites AFI Award winners Adam Zwar, Kim Gyngell (as the Sunday Sun’s editor) and series producer/writer/director Amanda Brotchie to poke fun at the tabloid press.
Sporting Nation (ABC1, 2012 TBC, 3 x 60min)
All those disappointed by the sad news that there’s no The Games: London Calling will be delighted to hear that 2012 will not pass without John Clarke having another go at the follies of organised sport. As has been well documented, Australians tend to be somewhat crazy about sports, so it’s time to find out why we take it so seriously. Meeting legendary sporting heroes, sports fans, sporting sages and sporting cynics, Byron Kennedy Award winner Clarke discovers that the story of Australian sport has all the elements of great drama – a rich golden age, a crisis that threatens its very existence, and a re-emergence against colossal odds. And it’s based largely on fact.
This Christmas (ABC, second half 2012, six-part series)
There’s hardly any time of the year that is riper for comedic potential than Christmas. No matter how far you’ve run to escape your family, the fights, bad gifts, boring uncles, overbearing in-laws and shocking family secrets, it will all catch up with you during the Merry Season. Each episode of This Christmas is set a year apart, as Dan (Ian Meadows) visits his dysfunctional family every year at Christmas. AFI Award winners Phil Lloyd (At Home With Julia) and Trent O’Donnell (The Chaser’s War on Everything, Laid) have mined similar territory before with Review with Myles Barlow – Christmas Special and will know how to milk this comedic setup for all it’s worth to generate plenty of laughter.
Please Like Me (ABC1, 2012 TBC, 6 x 30min)
This Christmas isn’t the only ABC comedy series of 2012 that will look at all the entanglements and embarrassments that family life brings with it. Well-known to comedy buffs through his stint as Generation Y team leader on Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation, comedian and Logie Award-winner Josh Thomas writes and stars in Please Like Me. For Josh life is just kicking off, now that he lives in a share house and makes his steps towards being an adult and turning twenty-one. But then he’s forced to move back home to care for his divorced mother and grow up a bit quicker than he expected to. For AACTA and AFI Award-winning director Matthew Saville, Please Like Me marks his return to comedy after his work on We Can Be Heroes, while the show’s cast includes Debra Lawrence, David Roberts and Caitlin Stacey.
An as of yet untitled Jane Turner and Gina Riley project on Seven (maybe more Kath & Kim following their upcoming feature film Kath & Kimderella?); ABC2’s multiplatform comedy The Strange Calls about a hapless city cop (Toby Truslove) who is demoted to night duty in the sleepy beachside village of Coolum; Myf Warhurst’s Nice on ABC1, which sees the former Spicks & Specks presenter take a nostalgic journey through popular taste, cultural icons and her own childhood.
If there’s something Australian TV viewers can’t complain about, it’s a dearth of reality TV formats. In only a few years, reality TV has seen a meteoric rise in popularity on Australian television screens. Buoyed by the success of MasterChef’s first season back in 2009, reality TV has now become the most watched TV genre in Australia, bumping sports broadcasts to second place. No wonder then that reality shows have become a crucial part of Australia’s television output. Reflecting this growth, and the industry talent and innovation within the genre, AACTA has announced a new Award for 2013 – the AACTA Award for Best Reality Television Series. Here’s a quick scan of just some of the shows on offer this year.
The Voice (Channel Nine, from April 15 2012)
There have been many talent casting shows in which singing hopefuls try to convince a panel of judges of their musical skills – but very few have been as strikingly successful as the Nine Network’s The Voice. With a jury that includes Keith Urban, Delta Goodrem, Seal and Joel Madden, chances for the show’s success were always good, but few would have predicted that The Voice would turn into the ratings juggernaut that it has become. With the show entering its final stage of live competitions and the start of audience voting, you can expect The Voice to continue dominating ratings and watercooler discussions.
My Kitchen Rules (Seven Network, January 31 – February 23 2012)
Following two successful seasons, My Kitchen Rules truly took off earlier this year and successfully challenged the MasterChef empire. Adding a team from New Zealand certainly increased the sense of competition and you can be sure to see more teams in 2013 turning their homes into an instant restaurant to serve dinner for the judges and the other contestants and aiming to impress with their culinary skills.
Australia’s Got Talent (Seven Network, from April 16 2012)
First screening in 2007, Australia’s Got Talent has truly established itself as one of Australia’s most enduring reality TV shows. Amidst a sea of competitors that focus on singers, dancers or other artists battling it out for the sympathies of juries and audiences, Australia’s Got Talent sets itself apart and gives all self-made performers – be they singers, magicians or comedians – a chance to shine. Judges Dannii Minogue, Brian McFadden and Kyle Sandilands make their return for the show’s sixth season.
Before MasterChef or Australia’s Got Talent, there was The Block, the Nine Network’s reality show for all hobby renovators. After a six-year break, The Block returned in 2010 and has been going strong ever since, and has already been confirmed for another season in 2013. Set in Dorcas Street in Melbourne (just a few blocks down from the AFI | AACTA’s Melbourne offices!), The Block‘s current season once again taps into our national obsession with giving our homes a face-lift and demonstrating our DYI skills.
MasterChef (Network Ten, May 6 2012)
Originating in the UK, MasterChef‘s brand of reality competitions arguably kicked off the current reality TV craze. Much has changed though since those early days when the show dominated the field, and competition is fiercer than ever, not least after My Kitchen Rules‘ success earlier this year. After season 3 of MasterChef came in for some criticism for its tough challenges and tests, in 2012 the show promises to return to its basics: celebrating its contestants and their ambitions.
Next Stop Hollywood (ABC1, 2012 TBC, 6 x 30min)
Next Stop Hollywood puts a spin on the format that is bound to appeal to film and TV fans. The show follows six aspiring young actors from Australia as they try to make their mark during pilot season – the frenzied period in LA when network television pilot shows get the go-ahead and casting begins. All of these young talents will have to fight to make it in the cutthroat US system. Produced by AFI Award-winning production house Matchbox Pictures, Next Stop Hollywood finally puts the cameras of reality TV onto the industry itself and promises to deliver captivating insights.
Bollywood Star (SBS, from June 2 2012, 4-part series)
The popularity of Bollywood movies has exploded in recent years and more than a few have filmed in Australia. There’s no question that the films’ exuberant and colorful dance numbers and songs make for enthralling viewing. To deliver not just another singing and dancing competition, SBS had the bright idea of tapping into our fascination with Bollywood movies with their new reality show Bollywood Star. The show will follow the search for an Australian Bollywood star: an unknown who will go on to win the prize of a lifetime – a coveted place in the next movie by renowned Bollywood producer and director Mahesh Bhatt.
The Flamin’ Thongs (ABC3, 2012 TBC, series)
Whale Bay is home to Australia’s least visited tourist attraction, the Giant Thong. But that may be about to change, for all the wrong reasons. Behind this animated series are AFI Award-nominated director Colin South (Dogstar, The Circuit, Stone Bros.) and writing team Bruce Griffiths and Simon Dodd, both veterans of Good News Week and each with four AWGIE (Australian Writers’ Guild) Awards to their name.
In Your Dreams (Seven Network, 2012 TBC, series)
Noel Price, one of Australia’s most prolific producers of first-rate children’s television, returns with In Your Dreams. Having produced children’s TV classics such as Blue Water High, Don’t Blame the Koalas and Spellbinder, two-time AFI Award winner Price sets In Your Dreams in both Australia and Germany. Price’s previous series, the country-hopping A gURLs wURLd, already looked at cultural differences and In Your Dreams takes this one step further, as Australian teenage twins Samantha and Ben Haselton discover what ‘culture shock’ is all about when they spend the summer with some eccentric, aristocratic and accident-prone relatives who live in a remote German castle.
Conspiracy 365 (Movie Network Channels, Family Movie Channel (FMC), 2012 monthly, 13 x 60min)
Conspiracy 365 is an action thriller adapted from Gabrielle Lord’s best-selling young-adult book series. It follows the life of teenager Cal Ormond (AFI award winner Harrison Gilbertson) as he ‘searches for the truth behind a deadly family secret’. Joining Harrison on the Melbourne shoot are Marny Kennedy (The Saddle Club), Taylor Glockner, Rob Carlton (Chandon Pictures, Underbelly), Julia Zemiro (Charlotte’s Web, The Wedge), Kate Kendall (Stingers), Ryan O’Kane (City Homicide) and David Whiteley. With the story unfolding as monthly instalments over the course of 2012 and the final episode to air in January 2013 now is still a perfect time to join the fun.
Mako Mermaids (Network Ten, TBC, 26 x 30min)
Reef Doctors (see part 1 of ‘On The Box’) isn’t AFI Award-winning producer Jonathan M. Shiff’s only new show to be shot in the tropical waters of Queensland. After three successful series and an AFI Award win in 2008, H2O: Just Add Water see a continuation of sorts with big-budget spin-off Mako Mermaids. The $12.3M series focuses on three mermaids who are charged with the task of protecting their magical Mako Island from trespassers, only to be thwarted by the arrival of 16-year-old land-dweller Zac, who forms a special connection with the island and is granted a fish-like tail and amazing powers. Filming on Mako Mermaids has only begun this week, so we’ll have to wait and see if this promising new adventure series will air this year – but in any case, we’re looking forward to it already.
That’s it for our quick wrap-up of Australian television. Feel free to tell us below what you’re looking forward to most. And if there’s a particular show you think we’ve missed out on, tell us that too or email our editor (editor [at] afi.org.au) with details.
You may also be interested in On the Box: Australian Television 2012 – Part 1.