Ep 337: Utopia and Sketch Comedy

There’s a UK show from Channel 4 that aired earlier this year called Utopia. We review it at the risk of being discovered and chased through England.

Also, is sketch comedy still as relevant as it used to be? We make a clumsy attempt to answer that question.

Notes

Did we miss something?

News

We almost never link to the news of the week. We should. Here’s what we covered this week:

  1. Starz to trial audio-syncing second screen app
  2. Nepalese presenter has longest on-air talk show (sorry but the ABC link for this article stopped working.)
  3. Channel 9 dumps Days of our Lives

And if you’re interested in watching Da Vinci’s Demons, it’s currently on Foxtel a lot!

15 Comments

  1. Ben Harris-Roxas says:

    Utopia suisiskjrbhdhsm lxljsjsnnshjskh kzk

    I can’t even listen to podcasts without being trolled by Courteney. Well played.

  2. courteney says:

    Just a small correction on the show this week, by the way – the ratio of male:female comedy writers on the ABC is SIXTEEN to one, not 12:1 as I said in the sketch comedy segment. Sorry about that folks.

    • Josh Kinal says:

      Courteney, do you want to provide us with a source for that number?

      • Well, we may as well use the imdb as source (barring alternatives) for a couple of comedy programs to get a start.

        Tractor Monkeys has NO female writers credited. (a show with 5 writings credits)
        Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting has NO female writers credited. (a show with 7 writing credits)
        Mad as Hell has NO female writers credited. (a show with 6 writing credits)
        The Hamster Wheel has ONE female writer credited (Zoe Norton Lodge) on a show with 11 writing credits.
        The Checkout has 3 female writers (Zoe Noton Lodge again, Kate Browne and Kirsten Drysdale) on a show with 9 writing credits.

        So, with a sample of five shows, that’s 4 female writers out of 38 credits – one woman for every eight and a half men.

        I think the IMDB might be a flawed model as it doesn’t always list every credit… but it’s a start.

      • And yes, I’m double posting, but … to add a few more samples:

        Woodley had no female writers (one writing credit)
        Please Like Me had one female writer (Liz Doran) out of three writing credits.
        Laid has either three or four female writers (Marieke Hardy, Kirsty Fisher, Celia Paquola and the ambiguously named-and-I-don’t know who they are Jaime Browne) out of five writing credits (Phil Lloyd got his name in there too)
        At home With Julia had one woman (Amanda Bishop) out of the three writers
        and of course Outland has no female writers out of the two writing credits.

        That gets us up to nine or ten women out of 55. Which … is not quite the one in thirteen or one in seventeen claimed by Milgate. The ratio is still pretty poor, though (and incidentally, to get a job Courtney should probably befriend a Chaser, Josh Thomas or Marieke Hardy, or develop a pretty convincing impersonation of the Prime Minister)

      • Glenn Peters says:

        Top work Fred.

  3. courteney says:

    Gabby Milgate (actress/comedian/”you’re terrible, Muriel” sayer) informed me of this. When I find her article, I will link to it.

  4. Okay, I gotta ask Josh … why isn’t “Mad as Hell” sketch comedy? Because all through the sketch comedy section, I was thinking “when’s he going to mention Mad As Hell”… and he didn’t during the sketch things. So I was planning my comment here… and then he mentions it during One Thing.

    Are you just trying to break my brain here? Cause you’re succeeding.

  5. I love this podcast so apologise in advance for the wave of negativity below; I just had a couple of disagreements this week.

    I’ve got to say that I could not disagree more on The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting. I’ve been finding it a pretty excruciating watch so far. Part of this is, of course, subjective; I just don’t find its style funny, clearly other people do. Most of the sketches, to me, seem to revolve around one character getting pissed of at others, and repeating that theme sketch after sketch makes the show suffer from diminishing returns and eventually leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. But I do also think it has objective problems.

    Too many of the sketches announce their premise in the first thirty seconds, and then just repeat that premise until they end two minutes later. They don’t build it, or twist it, or add anything new; the sketch just continues with that premise for a while – usually too long – and then ends. They’re all very dialogue-based which is fine, and if you find the dialogue funny I suppose that’s enough, but I do think it’s bad sketch writing to not build and explore your premise. Take the Amish IT guy one from the first episode. The foil needs IT help. His boss calls the Amish IT guy; the foil is angry, the Amish IT guy is no use but no one else understands; the foil is angry, the Amish IT guy continues to be of no use, the foil continues to be angry; he is fired. The end. There was no depth to it, no building, no crescendo. On to the next sketch, which will do the same thing.

    In regards to other issue raised, Knife Fighting does have a good mix of men and women in its ensemble, but going by IMDb the writing staff is entirely male. It’s not surprisng, then, that most of the big comic roles are given to male cast members, with women quite often playing either meek characters, or admonishing schoolmarm types, or they’re just sidelined. When they have people like Robin McLeavy in their cast, who can do spectacular and over-the-top comedy – look to twisted black comedy/horror movie The Loved Ones for evidence – this is a waste.

    I’ve gone on too long so I’ll be quick on my second point: I’ve now watched one episode of Utopia and quite enjoyed it, but can’t compare it to Black Mirror. Black Mirror’s intent is to be a series of parables; Utopia’s intent is to be a comic mystery thriller. I don’t think they’re trying to do the same thing as one another, and can’t see much of Black Mirror’s influence in Utopia. I look forward to watching more of it, though.

    Sorry to comment with nothing but negativity; I genuinely love what you all do! Looking forward to the next episode!

    • actualchad says:

      Totally agree re “Knifefighting”.
      See comment from last podcast.

      Also: Utopia – Great. Black Mirror – Also sometimes great.

      The online marketing for Utopia seemed to focus very much on the use of technology to easily locate and identify individuals.

      I don’t have a problem talking about these two shows in the same sentence, because they both have that “modern unease” about them, “this is a story about what could happen in our modern, technologically-drowned/savvy society.”

      I wouldn’t mind Utopia being a single season. I’m happy with where it ended, but if there is a second season, I will definitely watch it.

    • Simon, you’ve hit the nail completely on the head. Comedy takes the dramatic form, which means it needs to conform to the principles of drama, albeit in a compressed form. Once the premise has been established, comic beats need to be utilised to increase the stakes and the conflict, which is what drives comedy. If you look at the shorter form of sketch (standup) and the longer form of sketch (sitcom), they both contain strong elements of drama. Sketch comedy is not exempt from those dramatic principles.

      Elegant Gentleman’s Guide is yet another example of just about all Australian film making. It suffers from Second Act Syndrome. When was the last time you saw an Aussie movie with a decent second act? If the second act is crap then the ending is also crap.

  6. Darren Boxcutter says:

    I reckon they use plastic cutlery in the Knife Fighting show. To put it politely its dismal. (Maybe it needs more women writers).

    Talking of Sketch Comedy. Australia You’re Standing In It was one of the first and best “Australian” sketch comedy programs. John Faine (ABC Melbourne) recently caught up with the team catch it here. Gives a great incite into how sketch comedy is done well.

    http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2013/04/02/3727927.htm

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