Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Off the Planet


So as a professional television thingummy, what do I think of Ben Elton Live From Planet Earth?

Having missed the first episode because of urgent recreational demands, I tuned in to the second, having heard mostly terrible things. Not surprising things, mind: somehow, from everything I'd read, it just sounded like it wasn't quite going to work.

And so it came to pass.

Because gee, I mean, it's a bad show. Like, really bad. It's a show that has a strong feel of having been written by a TAFE scriptwriting class during their first-day workshop. It's so bad it makes Comedy Inc look...well, not good, but it makes me think about Comedy Inc, which is unforgivable.

I didn't get to the end - not, I should note, because I couldn't stand anymore, though it was a close-run thing, but because of a prior commitment that meant I had to leave - but presumably the show was pretty heavily back-ended with guests, since Tim Minchin and Fiona O'Loughlin hadn't been on yet. Canny move - had they been on in the first fifteen minutes I doubt anyone would have been watching by the half-hour mark.

Ben Elton apparently writes all the scripts for the sketches himself. I can only assume that with such a workload, he has resorted to writing scripts as follows:

Two people enter.

They talk in funny voices.

The end.

What we were served up was a succession of sketches on the following themes:

Doesn't Julia Gillard talk funny?

Don't teenagers talk funny?

Don't wealthy snobs talk funny?

And for a bit of variety: Isn't young people's music terribly hard to understand?

This is correct: comedy legend Ben Elton, the daring comic innovator of years past, now cannot summon forth any better than funny voices and the odd bit of half-hearted Grumpy Old Mannery.

It even permeates his stand-up - whining about Twitter in the manner of an OAP trying to program his VCR. The rest of his stand-up seemed to be fixated mainly on Shane Warne. Who, you know, has quite a lot of sex which is funny.

Not that the stand-up was THAT bad. Just...average. Which is what was to be expected because truth be told Elton's always been an average stand-up. To make a great show he needs to offer Elton the comedy writer at the peak of his skills. Which he has not.

"A little bit of satire," Elton informed us after the Gillard "King's Speech" sketch, which was nice of him, given there's no way we would have known otherwise. I certainly wouldn't have known it was satire, I would have thought it was a lame sketch about the prime minister's accent, mashed together with a sort-of-but-not-really movie parody written by someone who didn't actually know anything about the movie he was trying to parody, all creating the overwhelming impression that the entire production team had overslept and woken up five minutes before airtime with no idea what to do.

Following this was the sketch about teenagers talking funny, which was apparently predicated on the idea that Australian audiences felt that Kylie Mole left our screens too soon; and the one about some other people who also had comical voices and were no doubt making some scathingly satirical point.

Then there came the one with the R&B singer singing about how hard her rapping partner was to understand, which was the point at which it became clear that Ben Elton Live From Planet Earth was aspiring to comedic heights rarely seen outside the world of the Year 8 talent show.

Good Lord but it was dire. Every joke had me wincing as it burrowed deep into my flesh before unfolding its iron barbs of badness. The tired unoriginality of each concept thumped dully in my skull, a suck-migraine of nauseating proportions.

I think it was a mistake for him to write it all himself. At the very least it was a mistake for him to channel Ian MacFadyen while doing so.

Then there was Elaine Front. I had heard she was the one bright spot in the first week, and after seeing her...I guess? Sort of? I mean she wasn't very funny, but I suppose she wasn't as UNfunny as everything around her. Basically Elaine Front is a sub-Norman Gunston stab at comedic celeb-interviewing, raising an occasional smirk and a constant musing on how much better Gunston, Pixie-Annne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Steven Colbert and any number of others do it. The twist with Elaine is that to be honest the celebrity is superfluous to her process - although the concept is Gunston, the execution is Edna Everage - essentially what the character does is talk about herself. In, of course, a funny voice. Ha ha.

So it's true, Elaine Front is the best thing about Live From Planet Earth. It is also true that if Elaine Front is the best thing about your show, you are in desperate, desperate trouble.

It's sad, but true. This is not The Young Ones. It's not Blackadder. It's not even The Thin Blue Line. Ben Elton is a mighty name in the annals of TV comedy. Every minute of Live From Planet Earth diminishes that name just a little bit. I tweeted while watching that it was like the day you realise you can beat up your dad. Oh well.

So anyway look, Live From Planet Earth is a dreadful show and it was a painful, painful time in my life that I spent watching it. But let's not dwell. Let's look back to happier times in the life of the energetic Mr Elton.


David Horton said...

Ben, I didn't see Mr Elton's show - I thought the promo ads were so bad they would put most people off watching.

I did, however, see Adam Hills and wonder what you thought of that? I regret an hour of my life that ain't coming my way again. I think Adam is a nice fellow, and Spicks and Specks, in its early days, a good show. I can imagine having him round to dinner and spending a pleasant hour having a bit of a joke in a good humoured sort of way. What I can't imagine doing is filming our after dinner chit chat and putting it on prime time television.

Hell, on that evidence, if Adam can have a chat show, why can't I have a chat show? Why can't you have a chat show?

clawsout said...

I have missed both episodes of BELFPE (rolls off the tongue, innit!?). But with so many scathing reviews of just how awful it is, I have this weird contrarian impulse to make sure I see the 3rd.

Damn my all too human nature
*puts calendar alarm in iPhone*

Christy said...

If the descriptions of Ben Eltons' writing (as provided in Stephen Fry's latest book) still stand true, I suspect that this latest show is a result of the removal of all fart, vomit and poo jokes by the censors. Once these have been removed, apparently there is not much to his comedic writing. Although the Blackadder reference does prove otherwise.

squib said...

I didn't see it because I am still trying to watch every single episode of Star Trek on DVD and there's no way I'm swapping Spock for Ben Elton

sean melville said...

Thanks Mr Pobjie (how do you pronounce that?). I couldn't quite work out how to articulate the shows absulote shitfullness but you've summed it up well.

I reluctantly sat through the teeth pulling, thanks to some liquid anaesthetic, and was finally rewarded with a great number from Minchin - who obviously returned a favour by appearing on the show.

If Ben Elton came down under to retire then he should stick to his plans.

ernmalleyscat said...

It seems we did a tag team type thing and I tuned in just as you tapped out. I'd heard it was crap, and the rapper sketch confirmed that, but then we had Fiona O'Loughlin who was OK, and then Tim Minchin who was OK, and then a standup from Ben that was OK, and I sort of dozed off.

But I'd give the show a resounding 'qualified, sort of OK, if you miss the crap bits'.

My hope is that, as axing becomes inevitable, the writers from Chances are employed to show how to go out with a bang.