Tractor Monkeys - E01 cast
I spent a bit of time googling what a “Tractor Monkey” is. Lots of hits for other (glowing) reviews of this new ABC1 show, and lots of photos of monkeys on tractors. Funny, sure, but once you get over the gag it’s just a monkey sitting on a tractor. ABC1’s new comedic panel show Tractor Monkeys treads a very fine line between being funny/entertaining and Merrick Watts hosting his own TV show.

The show itself has very strong ‘bones’ – the core cast (host Merrick Watts; team captains Monty Diamond and Dave O’Neil) have years of experience in comedy and radio, as well as a number of other guest appearances on other/similar comedic panel shows, to know how to make this show work. Adding layers of comedians and interesting guests in the right mix (people like Sams Simmons, Genevieve Morris, Adam Richard, Denise Scott, HG Nelson, Ronny Chieng, Lawrence Mooney, Frank Woodley, Ella Hooper, et al) fleshes out the program that is a humorous look through the ABC archives reflecting on our past and how we may or may not have not changed from a time when creepy old men walked up and down the beach staring lecherously at women in swimwear… back then they were called “Beach Inspectors”; now they’re called “Surf Lifesavers”.

The comedic panel show is a format that’s familiar (particularly to ABC audiences) and is in this instance delivered well. The guest cast are great. Merrick, Monty & Dave are solid & step up with great jokes. It’s just too familiar. Recycled. It’s Spicks and Specks renovated by Changing Rooms, replacing music with nostalgia. It’s a Mondo Thingo game show.

It’s not unusual for a panel/chat show that’s pre-recorded to be edited. Heavily. That’s part of the challenge in post-production for this kind of show – to make the edits seamless and sweep the viewer up in the fun with gag after gag after gag. It makes everyone look good. The editing in Tractor Monkeys is a problem because it’s obvious. I’m all for the hilarity – though when the very first segment billed as a “quick fire round” covers only two questions something is amiss.

And if I hear Merrick say “Here’s a game we like to call [insert game name here]” one more time it will only add to the 16 or so times I heard him say it across the four episodes I previewed.

Each episode contains a tacet plug for the new ABC Companion app suggesting people can play along with the show on the app – but why? What’s the benefit of drawing the audience into a second screen experience that detaches them from the other people in the room that a show like this used to encourage them to engage with – nay, even laugh along with and compete with. Why should I be playing with my iPad when I should be watching and listening to the funny people on my TV?

Tractor Monkeys is a funny, relaxed, enjoyable show that a lot of people will and should watch – it just didn’t engage me. There’s nothing offensive about it and all involved on camera do a great job of bringing the laughs on the nostalgia related subject matter. We’ve just seen it all before.

Tractor Monkeys – Wed 8:30pm, ABC1.