No home for satire

Gonzo Meets the Press #24 September 15, 2011

The week after 9-11 Tom Krause tried to settle down with Julia at home, and
discovered you can’t go home again when there’s no frontline to take you there,
or a minister to say yes to when you do.

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone
has sat except a man.

That was how I started my first column as a TV critic for The Australian nearly thirty years ago in a review of a
political satire series called Yes, Minister. The poem by e.e.
cummings, my favourite poet (who spelled his name — and wrote — in the lower
case), summed up his views about politicians and was written during World War
Two (a bit about cummings here: http://bit.ly/rsvKPE)
The brilliant BBC series of the early 80s tore politicians apart, with the bungling MP Jim Hacker,
played by the late Paul Eddington, and his permanent secretary, Sir Humphrey
Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne), authentic comic portraits of a politician and his
civil servant.
Hacker, who became Prime Minister in a later series, knew
that the civil service could bring him down as he pointed out in this political
axiom: “In private industry if you screw things up you get the boot; in the
civil service if you screw things up I get the boot.”
The creators of the series (a stage version is coming to Australia next year), Jonathan Lyn and
Antony Jay, also knew that since the episodes were written a year before
transmission, they had to be generic, and not about specific political leaders –
though, of course, since they were about real political issues and dripping with
satire, they were genuinely funny.
At Home With Julia is about a real leader and her partner, and more of a sitcom than a political satire, and
therefore less funny. The humour is also supposed to lie in actress Amanda
Bishop’s impersonation of Julia Gillard – which is too broad and not very
accurate, and again, less funny.  The portrait of Tim Mathieson as a bumbling
fall guy is also way off the mark, and not funny at all. The Tim of this series
bears no relation to the Real Tim, and I guess that’s what the writers intended.
It doesn’t work for me. Perhaps they were trying to emulate the Mike Moore
character played by Rob Sitch in Frontline. Hmmmmmm … Now there was
an ABC series with satire!
Much of the show is cringe material, and even when
you do find comic moments, for example, the three independent MPs as the three
amigos, the humour drifts into slapstick. In fact, the second episode was more
slapstick than satire, as the Prime Minister managed to lock herself into the
Lodge bathroom; Bill Shorten the dog then chewed up her mobile; she had to climb
out a window, catch a cab driven by a Muslim, which led to a couple of
questionable ethnic jokes, and a Tim Mathieson leap onto the migrant driver
carrying scissors to help cut the prime-ministerial hair, ending in a Julia
Gillard one-liner: “He’s not a terrorist, he’s my cab driver.” Oh dear.
If I were Julia Gillard and Tim Mathieson, I would refrain from watching At Home
with Julia
at home or at work lest they be tempted to throw a shoe at the
TV set, which would probably be the most appropriate political gesture to be
made toward this ABC series.
Last Chance
Given my backing of the Eighties’ BBC series, over the 2011 ABC offering, my next topic
might make you think this week’s blog is especially aimed at Old Farts. Okay, I
can hear regular readers (all five or six of you) say: most Gonzo blogs are
aimed at that particular demographic.
Yes, there is some truth to that, but in this case, the message is to tell your family and friends you love them while
they are still alive. Gonzo Meets the Press has been going to too many
funerals and memorial services lately, and realising he didn’t have time to say
goodbye in person.
Colleagues and friends and their spouses have shuffled
off this mortal coil long before their normal allotted life span, and you wish
you had taken time to say hello, before it was time to say goodbye.
And to make matters worse, you read the obits of those who died in 9/11 – many of whom
didn’t even have time to start a family, or have a career – and you hear about
the plaintive mobile calls, with a husband or wife or mother or father being
told by their loved ones, trapped on a floor high up on one of the Twin Towers:
“I love you” as many times as they can in the short time they have left on this
planet.
A number of former staffers on the defunct Channel Nine Sunday
Program
had lunch this week, prompted by the memorial service for another
former Sunday reporter, Paul Lockyer, who died in that terrible helicopter crash
in South Australia, with his ABC colleagues. We saw each other at the service
and somebody suggested a lunch, and after a few emails, nearly 20 people turned
up at a hastily-organised gathering at one of Paul’s favourite restaurants, the
Sentosa, in the Sydney suburb of Crows Nest. More would have been there, but
couldn’t make it (just as well, as the restaurant was bursting!).
Sunday was always like a family to those who worked on it.
After all the bad news and unexpected deaths of friends and family members, we just
wanted to have an opportunity to have a bite to eat and a chance to say: “Nice
to see you again,” without having to add, “sorry it’s under such sad
circumstances.” We were thinking of friends who were absent, but they were also
with us — in spirit.
So that’s the message of this blog to readers of a certain age: don’t miss the opportunity to see an old mate for a beer; it might
be your last chance.
I can think of no way better to end than with e.e. cummings, and an excerpt from another one of his poems (an apt one for the
topic, I think):
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
— the best
gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which
says
we are for eachother: then
laugh, leaning back in my
arms
for life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no
parenthesis

Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press; his views are his own, always have been.

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