Green Guide 7 Jan 2010

I am doing some work for The Age in their Green Guide TV section, looking back on the week in television.

Unedited copy follows.


The Melbourne/Sydney rivalry is never more evident than on New Year’s Eve, when all we see on television are the fireworks from Sydney Harbour (this year, hosted by the prematurely mumsy Leila McKinnon and the attractively dull Cameron Williams). Sure, Sydney has a spectacular harbour, made even more dazzling by explosives, but Melbourne has all-night public transport! A trip on the number 86 tram along Smith Street is, on any given weekday, like an interactive Jerry Springer show on wheels – the 2am NYE version is both fascinating and terrifying.

I live in the ‘burbs, where the 86 tram terminates, and the thought of spending half of New Year’s Eve sitting on it, in a thunderstorm, just to have a couple of glasses of domestic sparkling wine, filled me with the kind of dread you only feel upon hearing the words “a special encore presentation of The Spearman Experiment.” So I ended up celebrating New Year on the couch, flicking around between Richard Wilkins playing Lady Gaga songs on Nine’s ARIA Countdown, dwarves fighting over jewellery on Seven’s Lord of the Rings finale, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on the ABC wondering how they got roped into playing backup to Human Nature (who have decided to spend the rest of their career dressed like The Wiggles at a wedding).

All the flicking stopped, however, when I discovered Shaun Micallef’s New Year’s Rave. Making a show for the ratings black hole of 10pm on December 31st is a decidedly expensive proposition, which may explain why the rest of the week on Ten appears to have been programmed using films from the “7 weekly releases for $1” section of the video shop. (The ‘Massive Sunday Movie’ was Die Hard 2.  Had somebody already rented out the first Die Hard?)

However they funded the ‘Rave’ it was a welcome relief from the usual self-important, end-of-year retrospectives that bob up as the calendar reaches its final page. Micallef’s foray into seasonal programming was hysterical. From his look back at the people that are “sadly, still with us,” (Paris Hilton, David Koch, Kyle Sandilands, among others), to the reappearance of familiar characters and segments like Milo Kerrigan (Full Frontal) and The High Horse (Micallef Tonight), and hilariously inept “live” crosses to the cast of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation (Josh Thomas, Amanda Keller, Charlie Pickering) in Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

Also on display in Micallef’s ‘Rave’ was entertainment harking back to the demented nostalgia that we all got swept up in watching the Hey Hey reunion specials. There were guest stars who did little else but sit around; Patti Newton, John Safran and Laurence Leung doing essentially what we have come to expect of Wilbur Wilde, Livinia Nixon and JoBeth Taylor – not much. In place of surreal elements like a talking pink ostrich, schoolboy head-on-a-stick, or a human-sized duck, Micallef has employed a blind, mute panda (complete with dark sunglasses and white stick) to assist in the obligatory wheel segment. The most obvious parallel, however, would be the desperately awkward interviews, an area in which Daryl Somers has long excelled. Micallef blundered through some truly cringe-inducing moments with mandated Network Ten stars Brad McEwan (Sports Tonight) and Jolene Anderson (Rush). The pinnacle of orchestrated awkwardness came when Micallef insisted the entire cast and crew switch the lights off and hide to prevent a visit from the increasingly ubiquitous Dave Hughes.

It was nice to see Micallef reunited with his frequent collaborators writer Gary McCaffrie and actor Francis Greenslade, and one hopes this is not a one-off or only an annual event. If Hey Hey is coming back for 20 weeks this year, surely we can have a regular dose of Micallef’s take on the variety format? Given that the show is called a New Year’s ‘Rave,’ Ten could just drop it into the schedule on a Sunday night without too many people noticing the difference, it’s only one letter away from the previous incumbent in that timeslot…

I think Micallef should take on more of Ten’s ailing programs. Imagine Shaun Micallef and Francis Greenslade hosting Australian Idol; the shots of Micallef reacting to the inane comments from the judging panel; the obtuse questions that would be asked of contestants too young to have developed a personality; and the sight of an uncomfortable Greenslade co-hosting from the rafters, surrounded by glitter-adorned placards.

Micallef could be the new host of 9am, his deranged interrogation of self-help gurus would be a delightful counterpoint to David Reyne’s grumpy schtick. Imagine his inspired introduction of the shopping segment with Maryanne and the ladder dude. A Micallef cooking segment, however, terrifies me somewhat.

Ten’s most disastrous show of 2009, and the one that could have had the most benefit from the input of Shaun Micallef, is The Spearman Experiment. Magda Szubanski should never appear as Magda Szubanski, she is much better as other people. Imagine the hilarity that would have ensued if, instead of also-ran celebrities banging on about the contents of a contrived countdown, we had some of Micallef’s and Szubanski’s many alter-egos. Even better, put Micallef and Szubanski out in the field, and rather than the opinions of alleged celebrities like Mike Goldman or Zoe Naylor, they could canvas the views of people far more unpredictable than any celebrity: the passengers on the number 86 tram. That is an ‘experiment’ I would have watched!