"No Pun Intended. Or, Indeed, Delivered." MASSIVE NEWSTOPIA PICTURE SPECIAL

  • 12/06/2008 06:44:00 pm
  • By Mark Gibbings-Jones

Well, it looks like that is that. Shaun Micallef introduced the most recent midweek portion of antipodean lampoonery with the words: "This is the last Newstopia. Let's make it the best one ever." And if the SBS messageboard is anything to go by, he possibly ain't messing. That really is it.

Having cruelly neglected our campaign to raise Britain's standards by allowing Britons to legally view Newstopia without having to move to The Rubbish Hemisphere, we were dismayed to discover that new hard-hitting Dave show "Argumental" aims to improve our satirical lot by attacking such topically thorny issues as "Simon Cowell, is he a bit of a dick?" and "ooh, that global warming, eh?" The time couldn't possibly be more right for a MASSIVE picture special on why Newstopia simply HAS to be shown on BBC Four, or More4, or Paramount, or Dave, or ITV4, or even Open Access 3. Come on, television controllers of Britain. Don't cock this up. You all sat on your hands long enough to miss out on Mr. Show, DO NOT allow that to happen again.

Here are some, or more specifically twenty-six, reasons why Newstopia would go down a storm with the ABC1 demographic who just maybe would rather see something like Yes, Minister on their screens than "Fuck Off, I'm A Hairy Woman". It's an update so packed we haven't even got time to ruminate on the fact that while the most desirable viewer demographic used to be "ABC1 adults", it's now the "25 to 34 year old idiot" market that is now courted most enthusiastically, because it's a lot easier to do so. On with the jpeg-o-rama!

(Editors note: please note that in the following update, we've deliberately avoided including anything from the Final Ever Newstopia, save for a couple of quick bits, because it really is worth building up to. A pre-emptive thank you for your time.)

Reports from Africa Correspondent, Sir John Gielgud. Despite him being a British actor, and all impersonations of him in the early episodes of Spitting Image being automatically hilarious, it's now left to current affairs based comedies from the colonies to provide us with our RDA of Gielgud-based whimsy. Our own home-grown glances of a newsily sideways nature are restricted to hackneyed comments about Amy Winehouse and cramming in any unused Bush/Brown based snickers while they still can. Oh, and Prescott, yeah? He's, like, fat and that! GUFFAW.

A spoof advert about the Dutch government bailing out financial institution ING which allows Micallef to do his excellent Billy Connolly impersonation previously seen here.

A spoof of a German-language canine-based crime drama that is quite improbably broadcast in Australia? Only swapping Germany for Russia, and dogs for ghost fish? But surely we'd want comedy that merely confirms our own prejudices? We'd rather have a naughty little snicker about Polish people being good at plumbing, wouldn't we? Wouldn't we?

A kitchens firm run by the baddies from Superman II? Yes, please!

An interview with Ariel Sharon that gives Shaun a perfect excuse to do a piece in his New York Jewish accent? Heck, yeah!

A during-credits monologue by Shaun, dressed as Pope Benedict XVI but in character as Doctor Strangelove? All of these questions are wholly rhetorical, because all of these bits are brilliant.

The Bunnings Warehouse price cards have now quite wonderfully spiralled out of control, and now pop up throughout episodes with a cocky impunity.

A post-US Election piece where Shaun speaks to the Democratic Party's Campaign Manager Bryte Viper, desperately keen to find out if Barack Obama likes, or has mentioned, Australia yet, or at least if he laughed at Kevin Rudd's joke in the G20 summit.

A song about Australian current affairs, done through the medium of Shaun's Bob Dylan voice. As with any of these selections you may be pulling unimpressed faces in front of, we can assure you it's the performance that truly makes it worthwhile, and it is only our cackfingered ineptitude that fails to do them due justice. Why, we don't even know if "due justice" is a proper phrase.

Post-show instructions on how to find Newstopia on the SBS website, delivered by a hologram.

A piece about the sentencing of British loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone for breaking into the parliament buildings at Stormont while armed, and his subsequent attempted murder of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Hmm. Don't remember seeing much about that on Have I Got News For You.

A report on the latest computer game madness in London by Newstopia's Youth Correspondent, Sir Alec Guinness, delivered "with all the exuberance of Chaucer". But is it too much of an obsession? Ripped straight from the BBC coverage of the World Of Warcraft thing, then given a wry Newstopian sheen.

A brilliant bit (that we're in the middle of ruining for people who haven't seen it yet) where Shaun is joined live by satellite from Buckingham Palace by himself from fifteen years earlier, in a piece recorded for another show on another network that was never used.

A story about a since-banned invention that will assist people in Britain finding out how pissed they are.

On the anniversary of Waco, an interview with the relentlessly cheery FlavorAid salesman who'd landed the contract to supply David Koresh with a really big order. "It didn't really plan out, because of the... thing."

Alien Kitchen, with Barada Nikto. "So too, the banana, offering at first token resistance, then off it comes, the SLUT!"

Funny captions mask the pain of incalculable levels of human suffering.

Hitler's Diet. Again, these comments are our fault, and the performances really do make etc.

Brilliant attention to detail, such as blurring out the CNN logo on a report about obsolete computers in Ludlow, Maine being buried in a pet cemetary once the local landfill is full, leading to undead technology making it's own way home, in a pretend attempt to cover their news gathering tracks. Although we may well have thought about this too deeply as usual, and they've probably just been refused permission to use the CNN trademark after the piece had been put together.

Repeated references to Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, because she's so lovely. At this point you may wish to make your own joke about Sarah Palin. To us, she's like a one-woman political Tatu.

The spoof "tomorrow's headlines" piece including - majestically - The Beano, which according to Shaun is "giving us it's usual crypto-fascist take on events".

A mad commentator woman with foliage sprouting from her nose peers into shot.

Shaun Micallef finally gets to interview Mrs Tymoshenko, and so tries to impress by dressing up as Robert Smith from The Cure.

And yeah, that really is it for Newstopia, or so it seems. With the cast performing a special death dance as the final (and brilliant) episode closes, we're left to reflect on a marvellous little programme. It operated with what seems to have been a fairly modest budget and a small team of writers (50% of the episodes were penned by a core of just four writers, with another six pensmiths contributing to the remainder), from a network which isn't especially popular in it's own country. Having clocked up thirty (thirty!) episodes over three series (three series!) in around fourteen months (fourteen months!), Newstopia really was way better than it had any right to be.

While The Daily Show has vast warehouses full of writing talent on the payroll, and pads out half of every episode with an interview and Jon Stewart's smooth affability, leaving the scripted minutes culled almost wholly from US-centric affairs, programmes like The Half Hour News Hour and This Hour Has Twenty-Two Minutes proved just how difficult a science this sort of thing is. Newstopia is tightly scripted, to a largely agreeable standard, from start to about thirty seconds after it finishes. And beyond that, it will happily spend one-sixth of it's runtime riffing on a story about elections in Africa or Eastern Europe, or three times that on various stories in the good old U of K. And if nothing else, when there are subjects in the UK news being whimsically tickled by a comedy show on the other side of the planet, yet which remain untouched over here in the land of Jonathan Swift, then something is quite wrong. Something which can only be remedied by putting out Newstopia on UK television. Probably at about 11.30pm in a slot usually reserved for repeats of The New Avengers. We're nothing if not realists.

(Readers voice: "Hang on, wasn't Jonathan Swift Irish?")

Ah, shut up, we're busy watching BBC Three anyway. It's just really refreshing to see a new comedy programme from outside the USA making such a concerted effort. See all those bits we've screenshotted above? Those are mainly from the second half of a single series. No single ideas are merely repeated (or at least, in the few places where they arguably are, as with reference to Yulia Tymoshenko, something new and worthwhile is added each time). If a shot could be better served by driving to a boxing club to record ten seconds of Shaun Micallef talking about someone for a spoof trailer, it was done. If an ominous looking subterranian cavern would better illustrate the delivery of a short segment of narration, it would be visited. They didn't need to. They could have blue-screened it in. But they didn't. They cared. They gave a shit.

It's the same sort of work ethic that made shows like Monty Python that extra little bit of special. The "New Cooker Sketch" didn't have to have all those extras queueing up in a suburban street merely to illicit just one more laugh, but they did it anyway, and it improved the bit tremendously. Do you see? Putting in 60% of extra effort to elicit 20% more enjoyment from the audience is a hugely worthwhile endeavour, and (not-quite literally) fuck any beancounter who says otherwise. In this case, it only adds to the alluring majesty of Newstopia. It's this kind of thinking that elevates a show from being "good" to "great". Furthermore, it's this kind of ethic that spurred us on to make this very update another "took way too long to compile" mini-epic rather than the collection of lazily embedded YouTube links you'll be getting tomorrow.

The Pythons giving a shit, even if they do so over the course of a long, sweeping shot, meaning we can't accurately portray their givedness of said shit in a single YouTube screen grab. Bah.


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