It began with a newspaper – an eponymous, satirical newspaper called The Chaser – and their goal, first and foremost, was to entertain. In an essay for The Citizen, Charles Firth, a founding member of the group, recalls jamming “all the embarrassingly earnest opinion pieces up the back of the rag.”
The tradition continued during the comedy coalition’s War on Everything: extravagant stunts like the APEC prank overshadowed their indefatigable prosecution of current affairs journalism (‘What Have We Learned from Current Affairs this week’). Though, it was the latter that seeded the group’s next project: The Hamster Wheel, a more focused production with its eye squarely set on the gaffes, foibles and hypocrisy of the mainstream media.
The team’s most recent offering, The Checkout is their most earnest outing yet.
The Checkout occupies a weird niche in modern television. It’s that much reviled blend of entertainment and information, ‘infotainment’, but somehow it manages to do both justice.
The half-hour program takes the subversive wit and transgressive punch-lines that brought Chaser heavyweights Julian Morrow and Craig Reucassel fame and infamy and applies them to a weekly campaign against the everyday unconscionable conduct of our corporate overlords and the sycophantic agencies that try (and fail) to regulate them.
New faces Kate Browne, a consumer affairs journalist for CHOICE Magazine, and Kirsten Drysdale, a writer and former host of Hungry Beast, join Morrow and Reucassel each week. The four are invariably flanked by industry experts and relevant academics – who proffer their straightforward but dry advice, often to the contrived annoyance of the presenters.
And there lays the show’s appeal. Familiar with the much-maligned genre of consumer affairs programs The Checkout satirises marketing tropes to reveal the emotional manipulation lurking beneath. The recurring segment “As a guilty mum” involves Browne dissecting, with saccharine earnestness, the invented obsolescence of baby wipes, vitamin supplements and safety equipment.
Over nine episodes, the team has probed the mystery of milk permeate; the efficacy of electric cars; the deceptions perpetrated by alternative-medicine balrogs and the ineptitude of their regulators; new, tech trends like peer to peer financing and collaborative consumption; and the proliferation of predatory smartphone apps.
As a fledging newspaper, the team subsisted on $6,500 in their first year of printing; Firth remembers being approached by a dot-com investor who offered them $350,000 for a valuation of $1m. The Chasers passed “with the smug knowledge that [they] were worth far more” – and we should all thank our gods for their egos.
The Chaser has always been a disruptive, comedic force. They’ve become increasingly didactic, without sacrificing their humour or edge. The show’s entire first season is available to watch on ABC iView; so really, there’s no reason not check out The Checkout.