Nice Guys Finish Last


We Australians have always derived an enormous amount of justifiable pride from the quality of our native television industry. Even in the face of sporting decline, artistic anonymity, political irrelevance, and military inadequacy, we have always been able to hold our heads high on the world stage knowing that our TV shows are second to none.

From The Don Lane Show, to Hey Dad!, to Andrew Fyfe and Alison Brahe’s iconoclastic call to arms Guess What?, Australians knew they could strut about, chests swelling with patriotic pride, because their nation was a byword for innovative, gutsy, outrageously entertaining televisual banquets. Even our failures were gold. Remember Daily At Dawn? The star power of Robert Hughes, Julieanne Newbould, AND Paul Chubb, lighting up the screen like a 5000-watt lightbulb, trading whipsmart one-liners and navigating labyrinthine plots for a weekly half-hour that ripped open the belly of the mass media beast and made us laugh, even as it made us think.

Sadly, it is this very history, this very honour-roll of magic and glamour, that makes today’s Australian television landscape so very depressing. The repellent state of Aussie TV might be more bearable if we didn’t have superlative memories like Wedlocked and Off The Dish to compare it to.

And what is it that makes today’s Australian TV such a cesspit of vomiting snakes? One word: sanitisation.

You will no doubt have read much in the media about how TV has moved towards "niceness". Apparently, some people think this is a good thing. Some people, apparently, consider it a positive step in Australian cultural life for our major source of home entertainment to become dominated by MasterChef and Packed to the Rafters, for our sophisticated and daring small-screen landscape to degenerate into a meaningless morass of sweaty mouth-breathing stove-monkeys and Rebecca Gibney.

And look, it’s not that I don’t admire Packed to the Rafters. It has many wonderful attributes. I admit that the day I heard about this ground-breaking new program, and after some hours’ thought realised that "Rafter" was the family’s surname, and "Packed to the Rafters" is a well known colloquial expression, I rushed to my window and bellowed "I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE" to the world, and collapsed on the couch, exhausted from contemplating the awe-inspiring innovation that was clearly being brought to bear.

I love that kind of stuff. I lobbied for years to have Mother and Son renamed The Beare Necessities, and for All Saints to be renamed For Better Or For Nurse. Both suggestions, alas, rejected, and both shows now cancelled.

No, what’s wrong with Packed to the Rafters isn’t that it’s got the guts to pursue a good pun, it’s the show’s utterly revolting niceness. It’s a "positive" show. It’s a "feel-good" show. People rabbit on and on about how it entertains without the need for senseless violence, explicit sex or depressing themes like drug addiction, child abuse and the fashion industry. And the amazing thing is, they don’t say this with a sneer in their voice — they say it with love and admiration! To me, saying "it’s a feel-good show" is akin to saying "it will cause incurable itching in your nether parts".

For a demonstration of what I mean, let us look at what scientific testing has determined is the best TV show of all time: 24. 24 is not only good beyond the dreams of our forefathers, it gets better and better with every season, so that the latest box set is actually considered a suicide risk for viewers who dread the inevitable downhill slide their life will take after watching it.

Now, what is it that makes 24 such a powerful, virile, lion of the televisual jungle, and what makes Packed to the Rafters a sort of dying pox-ridden stoat? Two words: broken fingers.

Oh yes, explosions and evil Arabs and shooting people in the thigh all play their part, but the real magic ingredient that separates the two is that in 24, people break other people’s fingers, and in Packed to the Rafters, they do not. They don’t even threaten to. I watched one episode, and Rebecca Gibney was annoyed with her husband, and she didn’t so much as grab his pinky and scream, "Talk!"

What the hell kind of "entertainment experience" is that?

Because you see, extreme violence really makes a show go with a zing. Underbelly, the only good Australian show of the last 20 years, showed that. People were getting shot, bashing each other with pool cues: it was classic showbiz magic. Finally, it seemed there was a chance for Aussie families to once again gather around the telly and share a cultural moment.

Unfortunately, the second season came along and Matthew Newton was in it, and that was the end of that — but for a brief shining moment there was hope. But the moment passed, the feel-goodies invaded, and the rest, as they say, is garish cravats. Take away violence from TV, and what do you have? Ordinary folks dealing with everyday problems with wry humour and homespun family wisdom in shows that are full of heart and easily relatable situations, that’s what. What a load of old crap.

Not that it’s all about violence, of course. Gratuitous lingering nudity and vigorous explicit sex can do just as well to make television worthwhile. This used to be something we excelled at. Remember Number 96? How Abigail so famously "got it off"? No, of course you don’t. It never happened. "Number 96" never even existed, and neither did "Abigail". They’re just folk tales invented to give us a sense of community. "Number 96", indeed! Ha ha ha — it’s just a random number!

But we always liked to tell each other it happened, and it spoke well to our strong belief in the power of naked women. A belief that if only we followed in "Abigail’s" footsteps and whipped out our breasts at every opportunity, we’d be all right. A belief we seem to have lost forever. If you examine closely Julie Rafter, Julie Goodwin, and Gary Calombaris, none of them have yet gone full frontal, and it seems they may never do so.

And don’t get me started on Hamish and Andy. Seriously, don’t get me started. If I hear one more thing about how nice their humour is, and how they get laughs without demeaning anyone … for god’s sake guys, give it a rest! Make a paedophile joke! Don’t let the feel-goodies win!

But I fear it’s possible they already have. Packed to the Rafters rates its tasteful sweaters off. MasterChef has already spun off into Celebrity MasterChef, and plans are afoot for Kids’ MasterChef, Animals MasterChef , I’m a MasterChef Get Me Out Of Here!, and MasterChef of Hard Knocks, in which homeless people cook horrible meals before being thrown back out on the streets while their wealthy overlords fight over the profits. It’s even more feel-good than the original MasterChef, which made more people feel good per minute than Andre Rieu and vibrating love-eggs combined.

I say it’s time to stop it. I say it’s time to cease the endless smiling, the interminable uplift, the nauseating warming of hearts. I say it’s time to open up our hearts and let loose the sadistic sex maniac that lurks within all of us, neglected and unloved, but ready to burst forth in a beautiful bloom of confronting adult entertainment, with fake blood and nipples for all.

It’s time to take up our machine guns, our machetes, our axes and our revealing lacy underpants, and strike a blow against the smarmy feeling-fascists who would transform our beautiful world of TV into a stultifying Kingdom of Isn’t-That-Sweet? It’s time to fight back, Australia. Send the kids out of the room, and let’s go get ’em!

First, we take out Adam Hills. Then, cry havoc.

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