• Mitch McTaggart looks back at how 2020 unfolded on our screens. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Much as we all want to see the back of 2020, make time for this cynical deep-dive into the best bits of the worst year – as seen on Australian TV. (SBS VICELAND, 23 December)
By
Dan Barrett

21 Dec 2020 - 6:46 PM  UPDATED 28 Dec 2020 - 6:16 PM

Airing this Wednesday night on SBS VICELAND is your new end of year tradition: The Last Year of Television (2020). Host Mitch McTaggart has spent the year watching the world through his television, and boy does he have some thoughts on what he has seen.

The Last Year of Television is a look at the way Australian TV framed the events of the last year. Expect jokes, relatable indignation, and just the right level of snark aimed at Pete Evans (Question: How much is the right level of snark? Answer: A lot.)


We wanted to find out more about the show and get to know Mitch McTaggart, so we wrote down ten questions (most are about his show), picked up the phone, and had ourselves a bit of a chat.

"We kind of lean into the more niche moments."

SBS: You start the show talking about the Australian bushfires and end with Pete Evans being fired for saying a bunch of nutso stuff on social media. Obviously there's a big pandemic right through the middle of that. Did 2020 being so very 2020 make it easier to find material for the show, or more challenging?

MITCH MCTAGGART: More challenging, and the show is a bit longer than what we first thought. The year was actually quite conveniently chaptered, which I think is an odd thing to say. January obviously had the bushfires and then by March you're gearing up with coronavirus, and then by July it's Black Lives Matter.

It kind of made us more concise about stuff – initially we didn't want to be.

We didn't want the whole special to be, say, about coronavirus, because that's just exhausting. We've already lived it. No one wants to see a recap of that. Instead it's just little parcels of stuff, without kind of getting too drab about everything. And so we focus on the Pete Evans bullshit and all that kind of stuff. 

It's very easy to hate on Pete Evans. I'm not sure if that's a question.

It's a question, it's a statement – it's just he is so wonderfully low hanging fruit, I think, for anybody. We're almost united. There's this unity about how baffling Pete Evans is as a human being and it actually made the year a little easier for us to write. When you need to add a joke, make it about Pete Evans. 

There really is a benefit to society that, in all the shit that's happened, someone like Pete Evans has continually done just stuff that's so questionable and bizarre that everyone is: “Oh, well, at least I'm not thinking about a shit thing. I'm thinking about how just weird this is, which I think is also the tone of the show – not exclusively Pete Evans stuff, but hopefully there's that balance between: 'Yes, here’s a depressing bit, but here's an odd quirky bit as well to make up for it'. 

In making fun of the news and events of the year it's always a tightrope:  There's real people involved, often involving tragedy, so you need to be sensitive. But you also need to keep it funny. What has your approach to it been?

I think a lot of the stuff that we've stuff that we've touched on hasn't involved the extreme end of tragedy. There's so much news on, all the time. And the majority of it isn't that type of super-depressing, awful death news that we didn't go anywhere near, anyway.

[In the special] There's a whole lot of strange advertising disguised as news – it is presented as news and it's baffling. There's also the strange choices of people interviewed, some with obvious ties and conflicts of interest to the story that's being discussed. I think we've done our best at pointing those kinds of things out rather than just putting a funny spin on something that is blatantly tragic – which we have not done. 

There isn't any real appetite from us or the audience to see a funny spin on something that is undeniably sad. 

You keep it funny in the presentation rather than the subject matter…

Absolutely. The show is all about world events or just television itself – specifically through the eyes of Australian television. It's kind of like “How did Australian TV go about presenting the Black Lives Matter movement?”

"There isn’t any real appetite from us or the audience to see a funny spin on something that is undeniably sad." 

Why does Australia have a love affair with Bluey and not Doctor Doctor?

That is a great question. I never got into Doctor Doctor

I think because Bluey is so undeniably wholesome... I don't think it ever falls off the tightrope into that kind of vat of saccharine or anything like that. It's always wonderful. It's always a treat to watch. Whereas Doctor Doctor is more your conventional modern commercial drama... 

To compare [Bluey] to Doctor Doctor, that's a dinner party conversation. For discussing over wine.

How did you come to host the show? Was it something that you brought to SBS?

So I did a special for Channel 31 in Melbourne in 2019. It was pretty much born out of finding something to do. I just wanted to make some content and thought a review show sounds fun. The Channel 31 show was, in terms of the SBS one, like a test run. A pilot.

The whole project for this year was born entirely out of the lockdown. We were in March or April when it started to get really grim. I was thinking, 'I want to do something'. I had already gotten sick of making pasta and I'd cleaned every portion of my tiny apartment. Without the pandemic, it wouldn't have pushed me to reach out to SBS in the first place. 

Do you watch a lot of television or do you have more of a quality-over-quantity philosophy?

Oh, how do I even answer that? I've watched a lot of Australian television this year (for the show). For example, breakfast television, which I watched quite a bit of, is pretty gargantuan in terms of a genre. Each network is putting out 15 hours of television a week and just an insane amount of content. And so, a lot of that is obviously not going to be that great.

Karl Stefanovic. Thoughts.

I think he's very good at his job. People working on any commercial network... it can be hard to be the face of something to put your face on a thing, because like I mentioned before, because of the amount of content that you're doing. Everybody involved in those kinds of shows do a pretty amazing job at delivering all of that content week to week.

I was going to lean into a 'but' there, but I don't think I have anything diplomatic enough.

Scott Cam was paid $345,000 to post four social media posts earlier this year. Do you remember hitting like on any of them?

I didn't even see any of them, so I don't know if the algorithm is against me. I'm obviously not the TAFE type, although I used to work at Bunnings. That was my first job. I don't feel like the Internet is going to know that in terms of pushing Scott Cam content onto my phone.

That section [of Last Year of Television] is my favourite. Just the footage of him asking the interviewer how much she gets paid and he's just so stumped.

This is very much an Aussie take on the end-of-year specials Charlie Brooker had been doing for the last few years. How conscious were you of it? How much did you lean in/lean away from it? And further to this – how good is Charlie Brooker?

Charlie Brooker is great. Obviously I would watch his year-in-review stuff and the weekly wipe series. It helped that he stopped doing them, which meant that there wasn't so obvious a comparison with what we're doing.

Obviously, in no way am I comparing myself directly to Charlie Brooker.

The benefit is that no one's doing an Australiana take on exclusively Australian television, and so that’s the point of difference. A year-in-review format is so niche and obviously previous things existed, like Charlie Brooker, Clive James, even The Yearly with Charlie Pickering, which we're up against in the time-slot. It can be difficult to set yourself apart from it.

We kind of lean into the more niche moments. We do a deeper dive into weirder obscure things. Because we're sticking to Australian television, we also don't do world events or politics or anything like that, because that is being well and truly mined by all those other shows. 


 

The Last Year of Television is now streaming at SBS On Demand.

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