Tackling loads of topical issues in quick succession, Australian sketch comedy series The Moth Effect (now streaming on Prime Video) made Travis Johnson laugh like a loon.
There’s a fearlessness to this show, and it has a clever way of tackling big topics without playing to the cheap seats or punching down. We need more of that. Comedy, like horror, is an extremely subjective genre and as such it can be hard to review; what’s funny for one viewer can be a total misfire for another. All I can really say is this: I laughed, sometimes like a loon, and I had a good time.
Seeing other corporations profit from promoting social justice issues, an ice cream company’s marketing team brainstorms an ad campaign built around the military industrial complex. A Noam Chomsky-like intellectual author who’s losing his audience gets a conspiratorial make-over from the Q (as in QAnon) Eye team. Tired of his conservation message being ignored, Sir David Attenborough grows to kaiju size and threatens human civilisation.
The thing about sketch comedy is it allows you to spread a wide net and—as these examples show—the new series The Moth Effect takes great advantage of that, tackling all kinds of topics in quick, bite-sized chunks of comedy. The other advantage is that by not being tied down to one scenario or concept, you get to throw all kinds of stuff at the wall and see what sticks.
If one gag or conceit bombs, there’ll be another along in a few minutes. Ideally, you have to be tighter and more focused as a creator to get your ideas across as quickly and effectively as possible—but you also have the ejector seat button handy.
Happily, in the two episodes provided for review, none of The Moth Effect’s skits are duds, but you’d expect a decent hit rate when the creative team is headed by Nick Boshier (Bondi Hipsters) and Jazz Twemlow (The Roast). Add into that a solid cast and you’re halfway home. Maybe it’s the pandemic leaving a lot of notable names with time on their hands, but The Moth Effect boasts a singularly impressive guest roster: Bryan Brown, Vincent D’Onofrio, David Wenham, Jack Thompson, Miranda Otto, Ben Lawson, Peter O’Brien, Kate Box, Zoe Terakes, Miranda Tapsell and Jake Ryan all crop up in various scenes (Brown, as the aforementioned ersatz Chomsky, is a hoot).
Sadly, we’re only getting six 18 minute episodes so far, and they appear to be all in the can. Sketch comedy doesn’t just need to be tight, it needs to be timely, riffing on the issues and outrages of the day. It’s built for broadcast TV—and ideally live broadcast TV—rather than streaming.
These things have a pretty short shelf life. You only have to go back and look at some old episodes of, say, The Comedy Company or Fast Forward to see how quickly topical comedy becomes unfunny or simply nonsensical, if you’re not directly engaged with the subject matter at hand. In an ideal world, The Moth Effect would be a weekly soup to nuts production to stay right on the bleeding edge of current events, but a quick look around at the state of things shows why that might not be doable right now. Still, perhaps in future seasons?
And hopefully there will be future seasons. There’s a fearlessness to this show, and it has a clever way of tackling big topics without playing to the cheap seats or punching down. We need more of that. Comedy, like horror, is an extremely subjective genre and as such it can be hard to review; what’s funny for one viewer can be a total misfire for another. All I can really say is this: I laughed, sometimes like a loon, and I had a good time. What more can you ask?