StarsStarsStarsStarsStars

The Betoota Advocate Presents review: irreverent explainers surprise and delight

The Betoota Advocate's pivot to TV may not be bringing the laughs like its news headlines do, but that doesn't mean it's not worth watching.

Australia-wide pretty much everyone – well, everyone online, which if you’re reading this includes you – knows The Betoota Advocate. Famed for its satirical headlines, and occasionally for the articles underneath, it’s been one of the big local success stories in the cutthroat online comedy field.

Just one example of your typical Betoota headline. Image: The Betoota Advocate

So why the move to television? Hasn’t the internet all but killed off Australian satire on TV? Yes it has – which is why the content inside The Betoota Advocate Presents is something of a surprise.

Each episode in this four part series looks at a relatively recent Australian scandal. Out now is a history of the rise and fall of the Hillsong Church, and in coming weeks (episodes go live on Paramount+ on Wednesdays) is the story of Super League, the Cronulla Riots, and the Fine Cotton scandal.

Sorry Melbourne, you’ve missed out on the Betoota examination this time. Guess you’ll have to just watch old episodes of Underbelly for your local scandals. And as one of the hosts puts it, ‘anywhere’s better than Adelaide’.

Find the funny

Also mostly missing from the line-up: comedy. Yes, there are some snarky asides, the occasional visual gag, and snippets of animation which are used to fill in gaps or to make a point. No, it isn’t an endless scroll of quippy headlines, or a sketch show, or a sitcom, or a fake news show, or a comedy take on historical events like the recent local version of Drunk History. It’s not even a hands-on satirical look at a topical issue, like John Safran used to do at the ABC.

Read: The Weekly with Charlie Pickering: bring on the AI chatbots

It’s basically what they call ‘an explainer’ – a mix of narration, archival footage, and talking heads giving viewers the rundown on what the deal is with an issue that’s in the news. In this case, the news is a few decades old, but the idea still stands: it’s an online format brought to television. It’s just not the online format you may have been expecting from The Betoota Advocate.

As such, the approach they take (let’s call it irreverent) works pretty well. The topics are well chosen – religion, sport, politics and gambling – with a collection of famous and not-so-famous characters at their centre. If you’re across the issues you’re probably not going to learn much that’s new; this isn’t a 60 Minutes special promising viewers shocking new developments. But the information is presented in a sharp, effective fashion, with just enough bite to keep things memorable.

Their take on the Hillsong Church in the first episode is a little atypical, as later topics give them a little more room to be sarcastic than they get with a money-sucking mega-church founded by a self-confessed paedophile. Look, ‘At its heart, this is the story of two families measuring their dicks’ is how the Super League wars are summed up, and honestly they’re not wrong.

Is Betoota getting astute…er?

Australian satirical sites have a bit of a tradition of moving into serious news commentary. The Chaser’s commentary site, The Shot, made a name for itself during the dregs of the Morrison government for repeatedly pointing out that the Morrison government was often a bit rubbish. This isn’t that, because there’s nothing particularly controversial being said here. It’s more of an extension of the brand, a way to present Betoota as the face of a certain kind of blunt, cut-through-the-crap, tell-it-like-it-is Aussie story-telling.

If there’s a weak link it’s the narrators. Clancy Overell (site co-founder and writer Archer Hamilton – the one with the beard) and Errol Parker (site co-founder and writer Charles Single – the one with less of a beard), can come across as a bit stiff at times. But while they’re not natural television material, their job is basically to sit behind a desk and narrate in a slightly bombastic tone while wearing hats. You don’t need – or want – Roy & H.G. handling this kind of thing. Overell and Parker don’t add a lot to proceedings, but they don’t drag them down either.

What you get with The Betoota Advocate Presents is engaging and informative factual entertainment. From the website that gave you headlines like ‘Uni Student At Stage Where They Think It’s Time To Host A Dinner Party’ and ‘Balding Guy At Least Quite Tall’, maybe it is on brand after all?

New episodes of The Betoota Advocate Presents appear on Paramount+ Wednesdays

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.