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WTFAQ on ABC review: funny, factoids, fair enough

Trying to entertain while educating is an ABC mainstay, and this new show is no exception.

At this stage it’s debatable whether the internet has done more harm than good. One thing it most definitely has done has made it a whole lot easier to answer questions.

Before the internet, finding out about things was a pain: maybe you had an encyclopedia at home, maybe you had to go to the local library and hope they had some books on the subject – or even a clipping file, where they’d have collected recent newspaper articles on important topics because most of the books they had were years old and out of date. But now, the internet! And also, it seems, WTFAQ.

WTFAQ is the latest in a very long line of ABC infotainment programs that aim to entertain as well as educate and occasionally manage to do both. You know the format: a host or hostess wanders around a topic, speaking to experts and possibly doing stunts, all in a quest to find answers to the kind of slightly colourful questions the ABC assumes we all have.

Checkout

The best example in recent times was The Checkout, because people actually do want answers to questions about business scams and shonky companies (one question not answered: why the ABC axed it out of the blue). Other examples include but are in no way limited to: The War on Waste, Luke Warm Sex, How Not to Behave, Growing Up Gracefully, Unbelievable (hosted by Lawrence Leung, who shows up here), Reputation Rehab (co-hosted by The Checkout’s Kirsten Drysdale, who shows up here), review program Screen Time, and plenty more we’ve probably forgotten.

Where WTFAQ differs from all the rest is that the audience – that’s us – are the ones providing the topics. Obviously, in reality the producers are still picking which questions to answer (and possibly throwing a few of their own into the mix), so to all intents and purposes this in no way differs from any of the previous attempts. It’s just the same show done yet again, featuring many of the same faces.

Those faces also include Win the Week host Alex Lee, Fresh Blood finalist Cameron James, Lou Wall (best known for her live show That One Time I Joined The Illuminati; considering the opening credits’ promise to answer the question ‘is the Illuminati real?’, we can guess one segment she’ll be handling), and host Chas Licciardello, who is an old hand at this kind of programming.

Chas

Of all the former Chaser team members hanging around the ABC, Chas has been the one who’s best balanced comedy with being informative, thanks in large part to a clear commitment to being informed about the things he’s talking about. Unfortunately, he’s not in this all that much, handing off vital questions like ‘should you keep the tomato sauce in the fridge?’ to the rest of the cast.

This is basically a collection of attempts to answer questions like, ‘Does feeling cold make you more likely to catch a cold?’ In this particular case, it seems a number of studies have been held but ‘the results have been inconclusive’. Case closed? Obviously not. But after a few more minutes of factoids that don’t really go much beyond ‘cold germs breed better in cold weather and your nose is less effective at blocking germs when it’s cold’ … yeah, case closed.

Solid, but …

It’s solidly made but like almost all of these shows it’s not quite funny enough to work purely as comedy, and not really informative enough to be worthwhile if you’re looking to learn anything. It’s a kind of light entertainment designed to keep current viewers from changing the channel rather than luring in a new audience. As such, this is a decent version of that kind of thing; whether this is something the ABC really should be investing their limited resources into is a question this show seems unlikely to answer.

The real question here is ‘what kind of programming does the ABC think its audience wants to watch?’. The answer isn’t hard to figure out. They keep on making this kind of show – often with the same cast members – and every time one version fizzles out there’s another one not far behind. WTFAQ indeed.

WTFAQ airs Wednesdays at 9pm on ABC TV and ABC iview

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.