If you only watch one (more) Australian television show this year, make it The Last Year of Television. Since 2019 – first on C31, then SBS, now Binge – host and writer Mitch McTaggart has been providing a smart, spot-on end-of-year look back at what the networks have been serving up. Entertaining, informative, educational, hilarious – they’re all words that apply here, even if they rarely apply to the shows being discussed.
Loosely structured around a month-by-month format, The Last Year of Television is both a highlights and lowlights package and a more thoughtful look at the way the same kinds of sordid stories keep on coming up on our screens all year round.
Just to be clear, The Last Year of Television isn’t a sneery smarm-fest relentlessly mocking the dregs of Australian television (which is to say, there’s no game show coverage here). But it doesn’t need to be; simply holding a mirror up to the local product reveals a pretty seedy industry with no interest in keeping its house in order.
While you can argue that McTaggart is focusing on the worst elements – current affairs programs spend a lot of time in the spotlight here – so are audiences. If television is a mass medium, then it’s only fair it should be judged by the shows that attract a mass audience. Even if that turns out to be (in one case, literally) car crash television.
If you’ve ever wondered exactly how we keep getting those endless beat-ups revolving around some ‘outrageous’ comment nobody seems to have actually seen live, McTaggart has the scoop, tracking the life cycle of an ‘X-rated’ (no it wasn’t) joke made on The Project as various online bottom-feeders pick it up, repeat it constantly while claiming to be outraged, and keep the clicks and views coming until the mainstream media pick it up … and make sure to keep the non-story going for another turn of the wheel.
McTaggart is a funny guy and there’s a lot to laugh at here. The segment that’s just people on Under Investigation nodding away but with added grunts is possibly the funniest thing to air on Australian television this year. But what really comes through is that he’s someone who genuinely likes and enjoys and is interested in television. Who else even remembers Seven’s ill-fated attempt at balloon-based viewing Blow Up, let alone the ABC’s leadenly unfunny panel show Tractor Monkeys?
It’s this fondness that gives The Last Year of Television the edge over your typical that-was-the-year-that-was recaps (take a bow, The Yearly). It’s a show made by people who care enough about television to tell it like it is. Coming after yet another year when almost all the coverage of Australian television is coming from media organisations with a vested interest in supporting Australian television networks, it’s nice to have someone saying ‘this is actually a bit shit, isn’t it’.
There’s not a lot of actual review content here this year, and it’s entirely focused on local drama. Those after a verdict on the re-animated Neighbours or whatever’s going on in the world of comedy, sorry – the show only runs for an hour and there’s some truly odious current affairs programming that needs a good kicking.
We do get McTaggart’s take on series such as RFDS, Deadloch, the often puzzled commentary around The Newsreader, the bizarre time vortex that was The Last King of the Cross, and long-form whodunnits Black Snow and North Shore, two series that will forever be united by the always slightly seedy presence of Rob Carlton.
It’s a light-hearted look at some industry stumbles, a salute to the occasional dramas that are doing it right, and a howl of despair at the way time and time and time again our local media finds ways to give Nazis and far-right vigilantes and sex pests and ghoulish exploiters of horrible tragedies the thumbs up, all rolled into one extremely entertaining hour.
And that’s before we get to the Shane Warne biopic, Warnie.
The Last Year of Television premieres December 28 on Binge.