Sunday’s Bingefest commenced for me in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, in what is the second, smaller main sail of the Opera House. As a kid, I’d always referred to the Opera House sails as “the monster’s eyes”, because heading south over the Harbour Bridge and looking left revealed two sets of gargantuan white peepers peering out of the cusp of the Botanical Gardens. Years later, standing in the Opera House, I realise I was wrong.
One of my favourite aspects of Bingefest was the Redfern Convenience Store, situated just outside the Joan Sutherland Theatre. It was a pop-up 7/11, with all kinds of sugary, carby, artificially enhanced goodies you would typically pick up around the corner from your friend’s house where you’re about to spend the next 10 hours getting through “Stranger Things”. So with snacks stocked up, people headed in for the Writers’ Room, the first event of my evening (to be followed by an A.V. Club hosted review of the TV shows that need to be watched immediately, and a live podcast show of Dan Harmon basically talking shit for 2 hours on “Harmontown”).
The Writers’ Room
“Hosted by Gretel Killeen.” I was immediately concerned. We were about to see 4 individuals who had all written their own shows, in some cases produced their own shows, even acted in them, with Gretel Killeen at the helm – all before a packed Joan Sutherland Theatre. Specifically, Dan Harmon, creator and producer of comedy series “Community” and co-creator of “Rick and Morty”, would be on the panel. I love Rick and Morty. It’s an irreverent sci fi comedy about the intergalactic, multidimensional adventures of a genius scientist grandpa, Rick, and his nervous, submissive but oddly loyal grandson, Morty. Brilliant.
And Gretel asks Dan “so Dan, you’re show Rick and Morty-…” ***me sliding to edge of my seat in immense excitement and anticipation*** “…-or is it Rick and Marty?”.
Did Gretel seriously just ask Dan Harmon, the creator of Rick and Morty, what the correct name of his show was? Had she not done her research? Had she never watched an episode of the show co-created by the biggest name on the panel? The crowd booed and there was no further follow up or discussion about Rick and Morty. She also managed to ask Dan Harmon what year Community started (2009). Good thing he was there to answer these poignant questions about his shows.
But that was the worst of an otherwise outstanding panel session. Gretel did well to keep the panel structured and to steer the discussion toward exploring exactly what it’s like in the writer’s room. Also joining the panel were the likes of Celia Pacquola, Tom McGregor (co-writers and actors on “Rosehaven”) and Josh Thomas (creator of “Please Like Me”). The panel’s conversation explored a “wide” range of topics from gender and racial diversity in the writers’ room (which in some ways is about age and class diversity too), to deep penetrative anal sex (seriously, in depth discussion was had on this), to just fixing a show by “putting a dog in it”. Josh Thomas was very much the star of the session and was both hilarious and blunt in his comments about the industry and his own experiences.
Dan Harmon had apparently just come off a long flight, and appeared to be downing glasses of water, ice and vodka for most of the session. To his credit, he had the crowd in his hands as he took us through how he would write a show 1) starting at 8:30pm; 2) on free to air TV; 3) positioned between a game show and a footy show; 4) with a funeral home sponsor; 5) trying to wrestle over a younger audience from rival channels. His approach, diagrammatically speaking, was to draw a circle, divide the themes of the show into two hemispheres (life at the top, death at the bottom – hence funeral parlour sponsor), then divide those hemispheres into 4 quadrants and move clockwise through those quadrants as the show progressed:
- The north east quadrant represented a character who was displaying “honest chaos” – in this instance an individual who genuinely believed it was right to throw dead bodies in a pit and burn them rather than bury them with dignity in a coffin – the “gasoline corpser”.
- The south east quadrant was a phase of “dishonest chaos” – the “gasoline corpser” has now died (moving from life in the top hemisphere to death in the bottom) but still maintains (perhaps with doubt) that all bodies should be burned.
- The south west quadrant becomes a period of “dishonest logic” – the “gasoline corpser” begins to see the sense in burying bodies over burning them but still hasn’t moved to a genuine realisation that this is the right thing.
- The north west quadrant (and final phase) was of “honest logic” – the “gasoline corpser” perhaps returns to life with an appreciation that coffins are the best way to bury the dead.
It was an incredible privilege to see Dan in his element, applying a tangible structure to an impossible scenario. Dan closed with some advice to aspiring writers – now is the golden age of television, so write TV that is personal and fills a space that hasn’t been filled. That made me want to start writing!
A.V. Club – All The TV You Should Have Watched
This session was effectively a cross between friends showing you their favourite clips of TV shows on YouTube and an award ceremony for TV. Hosted by the A.V. Club, the internet’s premiere pop-culture review site (an offshoot of the satirical “The Onion”), the audience was treated to a high level review of a number of TV shows in the comedy and genre (sci fi, fantasy etc) categories that the panel hosts believed everyone should have watched by now. Each panellist would put forward a show for each category and an audience member judge, Jasmine, would then decide which panellist’s show was the “winner” for that category.
I liked that we were able to see snippets of each of the shows during the session, to give colour to the (often very passionate) descriptions of each of the shows. In comedy we witnessed portions of “Archer”, “Thick Of It”, and “Arrested Development” (Arrested Development won, but that’s cheating, everyone knows how good that show is). In genre we explored “Firefly”, “Hannibal” and “Leftovers” (with Leftovers winning it).
Having hosted the “Buffy Binge-athon” the night before, there was again a lot of love on stage among the A.V. Crowd panel and in the crowd for Buffy The Vampire Slayer. In addition to Buffy, the other shows I apparently should have watched included “Atlanta” (Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino), “Community” (duh) and “The Wire”. The list of “must sees” continues, but having experts confirm some of the shows on my list was reassuring.
Harmontown (Dan Harmon & Friends)
I had no expectations for my final Bingefest event, and I think that was the best approach. I had never witnessed a live podcast recording, and was curious as to how it would translate as a stage show. Do they just speak about anything? Would there be guests? Is it ultimately pointless? The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes, but hear me out, because it’s great. Harmontown is basically Dan Harmon talking shit for 2 hours. It works so well because of the terrific dynamic between the three main voices on the podcast. You have:
- Dan Harmon, a fiery, egotistical, explosive ideas guy who basically propels the show and pours into it whatever spills from the top of his bursting brain (or whatever he reads from the notes on his iPhone);
- Spencer Crittenden (far left in image below), a bearded, glass-wearing World of Warcraft/board game stereotype (he’s actually a huge D&D enthusiast), with a penchant for reserved yet blunt, concise and honest delivery that cuts to the core of whatever the topic subject matter is; and
- Jeff B. Davis (far right in image below), improvisational guru (has featured on Whose Line Is It Anyway), who basically hosts the show and gives it some direction when things go way off topic (which they often rapidly do).
Dan invited Josh Thomas as a guest on the show, which was a brilliant decision, because Josh provided an energy and cheekiness to the show that, I think, caught the whole cast by surprise and made for great entertainment. By the end of the show, Josh had successfully stumped Dan (asking whether, if Dan was gay, he would want his boyfriend to have a larger or smaller penis), accused Spencer of abusing animals and being a pirate, and insisted that Jeff had broken Josh’s iPhone during a horrible improvised rendition of Othello, only to reveal it was already cracked.
One audience member had requested the show incorporate more of a gender balance, and so Josh asked if Pam, an Opera House usher, could come up on stage (see above in white second from the left). Perhaps where Harmontown comes up short is in its “bro-talk” – it’s a show by men that doesn’t necessarily pride itself on political correctness. Pam was asked all manner of questions about penises in her first 20 minutes on stage, but thankfully we eventually heard more about Pam’s background as a teacher and some of the life decisions she’d made that brought her to the stage that night.
One of the better moments of the show saw Spencer spend 30 minutes describing the process by which he used to catch seagulls on the beach as child, before performing the greatest stage exit (crawling in reverse on his back under the table in the image below) and returning to his prior seat.
Even an aural medium proved entertaining on stage. My cheeks hurt for most of the night and I would certainly return for another live podcast (it’s basically a less formal talk show and works really well as a sort of live theatre). I’ll be tuning in for more Harmontown in the future too!
In my opinion, Bingefest was a total success. The theatres were packed. The content was addictive. I learnt so much. It was fun, insightful, crass, poppy and elevated spectacularly by the superb venue. It was an experience that will stay with me. The Opera House knows how to run a smooth festival, and I thank all the people who clearly worked immensely hard in the lead up to (and during) Bingefest (including my good friends Teresa and Julia!). I hope it gets another run next year -it would be great to put all of the Bingefest events on Viva and get even more people out to see this strange and wonderful homage to 21st century culture.