Emily Taheny, Veronica Milsom, Tosh Greenslade

WARNING: May contain rampant fanboyism.

Shaun Micallef is back, and reinforcing the popular view that he deserves a much more regular spot on our screens than once a week. Mad As Hell is entertaining, insightful, distractingly hilarious, obtuse and everything we’ve come to expect from the man who’s been anointed as “Australia’s own Jon Stewart”.

The writing team have delivered Micallef the perfect platform for his absurdist humour, while allowing political commentary and news opinion in rapid fire succession. From making statement about both sides of politics to his turn as Kevin Rudd in a fake ABC ad during the show, to his one on one “interviews” with other cast members including Roz Hammond, Emily Taheny and oft-included sparring partner Francis Greenslade, Micallef drops gags like most of us drop the soap in the shower.

The cast working with him are no slouches either. Veronica Milsom, most recently of Hungry Beast fame, is at home in delivering character acting as either the straight man or fall guy and didn’t disappoint in the sketches in the first show. New faces Taheny and Tosh Greenslade (no relation) join the fray with old hands Hammond and Francis Greenslade to deliver 30 minutes of MUST WATCH comedy every week.

The vox pops that became increasingly bizarre as the segment rolled on, clearly indicating the questions being asked had changed but the answers were tied together as if the same question asked, were an immediate highlight; as was the deliberate wordplay (“Not coming up because we’ve run out of time – Julia Gillard arrives in the US on the first and second legs of her body…”) and character names (“Carrington Mews” and “Paramour Quilt” were but some of the gold); also the moment Shaun stopped to thank those that sent in cards of good luck:

“The first two are from A Current Affair and Today Tonight. As you’d expect they look very similar and contain identical messages. Another one from SBS Late News, made from 100% recycled material.”

Having Shaun seated in the middle of a large circular table with the Yin Yang symbol on it with no obvious way as to how to get out of the desk other than to awkwardly climb over it is just part of the staging inspiration. The set presents as an authoritarian News program with touches of delight scattered throughout, including the goldfish in the portals at the rear, mandatory map and spinning globe and the stairs to nowhere.

The show is recorded in front of a live studio audience (go to the Mad As Hell website to register) and while obviously those assembled enjoyed the taping the mix of audience laughter on playback did make it sound a little like canned laughter. Perhaps a note to the audio team not to push the laughs so loud for future episodes. Burying the program at 8pm on Friday night (the first episode rating 664,000 viewers – 10th for the night and 4th highest non-News program) must surely be the first change by the network as something this good deserves a much better timeslot.

But no doubt the program will hold it’s own. It’s just bloody funny. The sooner Shaun Micallef is given a nightly program with which to lampoon the news, politics and the media, the better we all will be for it. It’s the best 30 minutes of Australian television I’ve seen in a long time.

Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell. Available in Mono.

Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell – Fri 8pm, ABC1.
Repeats – Sat 7:30pm, ABC2; Sun 10:05pm ABC1.