Woolworths Carols in the Domain 2014

This has been quite the challenging week here in Australia.

I tend to be of the belief that everyone deals with these events in their own way and that it is best to get on with life albeit with sensitivity to others.

So in that vein, striking the right tone for this review will be somewhat tricky. Yet, understand that underneath the jibes and puns is a strong degree of affection for the event and the people that put it on.

Before we actually begin, we need the show to actually start at the scheduled time.

Yes, it’s the time honoured Australian television tradition of starting programmes late in order to win the time slot.

(Australian networks are NOT fined for starting shows late.)

The show starts with a very solemn (and understandable) note about this week’s events and Mark Vincent singing “You Raise Me Up.”

This year, the hosts are the entire (Weekday) Sunrise team: [David] Koch (aka “Kochie”), Samantha Armytage, Natalie Barr, and Mark Beretta.

Mark Vincent resets the tone by bringing out a group of opera singers who sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Much rather this than Lorne Michaels asking Giuliani “if we can laugh again?”

It does end in a flurry of glory notes, but at least everyone onstage can hit them.

Adverts: This is being marketed as “Woolworths-Disney Carols in the Domain,” and Big Hero 6 is the new Disney film getting released soon, so I fully expect the ratio to be 50% Disney ads during the break, but surprisingly there’s only one…Woolworths “cheap cheap” ads never fail to make me snicker (“Wow, that’s cheap!”)

And our guests include: A whole bunch of X-Factor people, The Wiggles, and Georgie Parker & Jay Laga’aia. (I’m truly looking forward to that reunion.)

Kochie welcomes the Premier & Police, and it’s rather interesting to note that as part of a Quartet, the HBIC powers of Natalie Barr are diminished.

Nat does get to announce Dami Im (X Factor 2013 winner) singing “O Holy Night.” Dami does an extremely good (and glory note free) version of the song.

Strike that, she did melisma the last part.

Now, it’s Taylor Henderson (who is also responsible the new Sunrise theme song, and a X Factor alumni) singing “The First Noel.” As pious as Taylor is, I question his choice to sound rather nasal when singing about Jesus and looking solemn.

Mark & Nat give a really quick intro to Christine Anu (the first non-reality show soloist) singing “Little Drummer Boy.” As good as Christine Anu is (and she is VERY GOOD), there will always be only one version of this song for me and that’s Vanessa Williams’s Jazz version.

Mark tells us “The kids take over with Jay Laga’aia…”

I didn’t hear Georgie Parker’s name afterwards, which makes me doubt the chances of a reunion of their awkward 2012 duet.

Adverts: So Fresh “Songs for Christmas” surely must be an ironic title as those are some very dated covers…And Disney and Qantas must be using the same advertising agencies.

And we’re back in the Quartet, and now we’re really back because it is all bad puns about Kochie being responsible for Santa Claus.

They intro Jay Laga’aia (sans Georgie Parker). He sings “Frosty the Snowman” and at least his mic is on.

It’s been awhile that I’ve heard the song, but I don’t remember a line about a “traffic cop.”

Mark & Nat come back with the first of several Disney plugs, this time for the live-action Cinderella. Nat does a very obvious segue by saying “Here is are own Cinderella story, [X-Factor 2014 winner] Marlisa.”

Marlisa sings a melisma filled version of “A Dream Is a wish your heart makes,” she is accompanied by a bunch of scenes from Cinderella, of course.

I voted for Dean Ray, and let’s leave it at that.

And we’re back to the quartet, who for people who appear on television 5 days a week, look oddly stunned.

Sam intros Nathaniel [X-Factor] singing “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

There will be no rap break, fortunately.

Nathaniel has opted for a version that veers occasionally close to “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five.

That said, you can only inject so much soul into “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Kochie teases me with another promise of a Laga’aia-Parker duet.

Adverts: I am very happy they finally turned the bloody volume down on that Freeview ad. The whole world has had it in their hands and ears…On Sunrise, no matter what you do, we will make your Christmas feel inadequate.

Mark & Nat finally deliver the goods: The Laga’aia-Parker duet.

And it is as awkward in 2014 as it was in 2012, with the dancing children as a wall between Georgie-land and Jay-Land. At least Jay’s microphone is turned on.

Poor Rudolph, the co-dependent Reindeer.

More woeful jokes about Kochie’s incompetence as Santa introduces The Wiggles.

Santa Claus with a strong Australian accent is something to behold.

Unlike his former colleagues, Anthony ain’t retiring anytime soon.

They sing a song about Emma’s Christmas Bow.

I tune out of sincerity. Though the word “Bow” rings in my ears for several minutes after.

The camera does a closeup of a baby as The Wiggles sing “Silent Night.” The baby looks rather annoyed.

And then it’s the inevitable “Go Santa Go.”

The interesting about Wiggles performances is that the parents tend to be more into it than the children.

That said, The Wiggles do their annual duty and bring in Santa Claus, who is being driven in via golf cart.

When Santa does get onstage, the orchestra greets him with a couple instrumental lines from Jesus Christ Superstar, or it certainly sounds like it.

All and sundry onstage perform a considerably restrained version of “Jingle Bells” considering they are being assaulted by silly string.

Adverts: “This is Aus-TRAL-IA!” Seven is running a serious risk of pissing a portion of the public off with the constant promotion of “Australia: The Story of Us.”…A Crystal Furby?…If you don’t fly Qantas, you have no family…Dear Sweet Lord this Qantas ad is long…I probably could be back in 1990s Wisconsin by the time it ends.

Celebrity greeting: Jamie Oliver (Woolworths $pokesperson) tells us to donate to the Salvation Army.

Kochie tells Sam that he’s been eager to host Carols for some time, and proceeds to embarrass his grandchildren and contrive a link to Marlisa.

Marlisa sings “Away in a manger.” She sounds not as polished as previously.

Nat & Mark intro Taylor Henderson and Samantha Jade singing “Happy Christmas.”

Henderson looks startled, whereas Jade looks like she is about to bust out a “Praise Him” at any moment.

Kochie & Sam show us some of the actual programs the Salvos do (which is a pleasant change from just saying “DONATE”) and then introduce Judith Dunham.

Dunham is the grande dame of this year, and first performs a song in round
with The Australian Girls Choir. Then things get seriously ratcheted up to eleven in a very loud version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” that threatens to drown poor Judith out. When they get to the final chorus it gets so brassy, I have expect a chorus line to come out kicking.

Mark promises Adam Garcia next. (Doing what?)

Adverts: My Kitchen Rules: Real People, Real Food? So they were cyborgs all the previous seasons?…When will these Hobbit films ever end?…Australia Post, Please Privatise Us (despite it being foolish to do so)…

And we return with a smiling Nat & Mark introducing Adam Garcia singing (and fortunately dancing to) “It’s beginning to look like Christmas.” Some cruel audio person turned the volume up on Adam’s mic so we hear every last breath.

The audio evens out during his rather impressive tap break with The Tap Pack.

Partial advertising break: Woolworths hardware store refurbishes a house for a youth centre in Blacktown. Though the faux reality show narration does grate.

Sam & Kochie intro Lee Kernaghan & his very gorgeous wife singing a version of “Jingle Bell Rock” with a lot more sex appeal than you’d expect.

Mark mentions Nat’s previous hosting of Carols, and we get a glimpse of the old HBIC Nat. They introduce The McClymonts doing the inevitable-but-meteorologically-impossible in the Australian Summer medley of snow songs which will include “Let It Go,” (as in the Disney film…It’s Showtime, Synergy.)

The camera tries to catch as many children singing along, though it unfortunately captures a boy sleeping.

Mark promises Dami Im and “more.” I notice one thing that is absent this year, and that is the overseas celebrity gue$t.

Adverts: Seven News is omnipresent, in fact, Chris Bath is already filing a report about what you had for dinner…Buy jewellery to make up for being a crap partner…That poor Dick Smith voiceover artist must be still aching after having to speak so fast.

Kochie & Sam again, and they FINALLY tell us how to make a donation via SMS. (It’s been onscreen several times.)

Dami Im sings “The Christmas Song” at a piano. She’s coming across as the real star this year, as her performance is seemingly effortless.

Kochie returns us to the most plug-filled renovation show ever. But it is for a good cause.

Kochie embarrasses Nat (who apparently likes Wicked), with the cast of Wicked singing some of the songs from the show.

I’ve seen Wicked, but I’m rather indifferent to it, or rather the PLEASE-LOOK-AT-ME style of musical theatre.

The cast sings “Joy to the World” with a lot more restraint, fortunately.

Interesting lyric: “He makes the nations prove his righteousness.”

Kochie threatens/promises us with Doug “Hiro Tsunoda” Parkinson and Jubilation.

Adverts: Buy an Apple product and bridge the generation gap…Shut up Meerkat…super synergy is achieved with a Woolworths ad for Frozen…

Another thing this year is missing: Matt “Gnat” White, who has gone over to Ten.

Nat wishes everyone who is watching this on the ashes of the Australia Network, “Australia Plus.”

Paulini (Australian Idol) comes on to sing “Jesus, The Wonderful Child” with Jubilation.

She is gospel-ing it up in a rather risqué evening gown, which makes it rather interesting visual.

Alas, no one onstage gets the spirit.

She then is joined by Doug “the white Australian possessed by an old black gospel singer” Parkinson in a version of “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”

And again, no one gets the spirit.

They try again when Doug starts singing “This Little of Mine,” which I don’t even think of as a religious song, though clearly I’ve never made it past the chorus.

No one gets the spirit and does the spinning chook dance.

Adverts: Australia was made by bullets (“THIS IS AUS-TRA-LIA”)…They really want people to buy that Human Nature album…The Water Diviner has got some howl-worthy lines…Heterosexuals are easily blinded by jewellery…Optus needs to say no to Josh Thomas…Ford apparently keeps Australia “real.” Woolworths is cheap, but the CGI in those ads isn’t, and they’ve got to recoup their costs somewhere

Kochie & Sam introduce Samantha Jade singing a song whose title I wasn’t able to get. Jade looks much more appropriate this year than in previous years, where her outfits were more Mary Magdalene than Virgin Mary.

Though she does a good job, alas this year belongs Dami Im.

And as in years past, Mark Vincent sings “The Holy City,” a song I’ve never heard of until moving to this country.

This has been a very interesting, and dare I say, innocent edition of Carols. It seems stripped back.

While on some level, I miss the madcap craziness, it’s an understandable decision.

Kochie tells us an All-star singalong is next.

Adverts: Give a gift from Officeworks, the gift that says “5 January isn’t that far away”…Mortein, I’ve been slapping all day long, I’d like my money back…Michael Hill, where clueless men are separated from their money…The new Annie is the remake no one asked for.

Christine Anu sings “Silent Night” with the Australian Girls Choir.

The camera cuts to another child asleep…and another…and another.

I should mention it’s now after 11 at night.

Sam finally mention the fireworks, because this show truly needs to end.

As is always the tradition, it’s “Song of Joy,” performed by the classical singers who opened the show along with all the other singers: Jay Laga’aia & Georgie Parker cling to each other, as do Nathaniel and Taylor Henderson.

A few fireworks half-heartedly spit up in the air.

Kochie still promises us more, and there’s a bit of tiredness/desperation in his voice.

Adverts: Is Kylie Minogue singing 80s covers a bit redundant?…Foxtel is also “cheap, cheap”

Kochie says that it has been a sensational night, though it’s also been a rather flat one.

One by one, they rattle off the sponsors, and close with what seems to be the new “seasons greetings” “Look out for each other.”

And after several false starts everyone sings “Reach Out And Touch Someone’s Hand,” then “We Need A Little Christmas,” and then “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree.” Kochie is completely wooden, the rest of his colleagues are surprisingly not.

Because this thing will not end, they then sing “Go Santa Go,” “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

Why on Earth is this “family” show ending at almost 11:30 at night?

Finally credits amongst a more potent firework display.


The Woolworth’s Carols in the Domain 2012 Post-Mortem

This will be an interesting experiment.

The televised Christmas carols are the closest thing I could find in Australia to the collision between news, light entertainment, and commerce.

Nine has their version on Christmas Eve.

Seven’s was on Saturday night, which, of course, I couldn’t watch live, because I’m having fun on the radio.

So I’m watching this via PVR.

Seven’s “Macy’s” is another name which will be known to some Americans: Woolworth’s.

Yes, Virginia, Woolworth’s is still around. It’s a bit like Braniff or Pan Am. It will exist somewhere on Earth for generations to come.

Happy announcer says that this is the 30th anniversary of Carols in the Domain.

Yes, this is Australia, 30 years is considered long-running for a televised event.

Our singing Carolers include;

Jessica Mauboy (R&B singer)
Johnny Ruffo (2011 X-Factor runner up, he got beat by gapped wunderkind, Reece Mastin)
Georgie Parker (actress from Home & Away)
Jay Laga’aia (actor who controversially left Home & Away under a cloud of alleged racism)
Mark Vincent (popera winner of Australia’s Got Talent)
The “legendary” Doug Parkinson (I find that legendary is often used to hide the fact that someone is beginning to slide from relevant to irrelevance)
Justice Crew (breakdancers who won Australia’s Got Talent, but apparently sing now.)
The Cast of Legally Blonde: The Musical
John Waters (actor from All Saints and Offspring, the latter which airs on another network)
Troy Cassar-Daly (Country Singer)
Some CGI characters from Ice Age.
The Collective (Boyband who placed 3rd on 2012 X-Factor)
Rod Stewart (“legendary” like Doug Parkinson)
Samantha Jade (2012 X-Factor winner)
Santa Claus
and–Welcome to Australia, because they were billed after Santa Claus–The Wiggles

Understandable, because it is the final television appearance of the original line-up.

The Wiggles are like Menudo or Morning Musume. The name matters not the membership.

A warning: This post-Mortem is rated 15+, because I probably will make leery comments about Anthony Field.

And the helicopter shot shows that it’s a hot Sydney night at the Domain in Hyde Park.

Now who will be doing Matt & Samantha duties, and will there be an Al Roker equivalent? Is there a Willard Scott hidden at Seven?

Seven does have a very close relationship with NBC.

OH MY GOD. The hosts are Matt White & Natalie Barr.

Matt White just recently stepped down as presenter of Today Tonight, Seven’s Current Affairs show (in the way that Hard Copy was current affairs. If you remember that period in the 90s when there were muckraking tabloid shows all over US television, this is the nation that spawned that.)

I like Matt White though. Somehow, the presenters of these shows manage to have their images separate from the content.

Natalie Barr is the newsreader for Sunrise, Seven’s slightly misogynist Breakfast show on weekdays which does a 180 on weekends and becomes refreshingly controlled chaotic and smart. Seriously, it is amazing how radically different the two are.

I don’t mind Natalie Barr, she comes across as mildly subversive to the Kochie Kingdom.

Disclaimer: I normally watch weekday Today (AU) which airs on Nine, which has the Howard Beale-esque Karl Stefanovic and the HBIC Lisa Wilkinson. More about them when I tackle Nine’s carols.

Seven has a reputation as being the middle Australian network. So if there’s any wink-wink, nudge-nudge, I reckon Nat is going to go for it big time.

And yes, I am going to call them Matt & Nat, or maybe Gnat & Nat, since as likable as Matt White is, he’s also a bit of cipher. You don’t mind him, but you don’t really notice him either.

Gnat looks like he just left Ocean’s Eleven. Nat looks like she’s just left the National Costume section of Miss Western Australia.

Gnat gives an opening spiel and then his eyes bulge out as if:
A) He seriously can’t believe he got this gig.
B) He realised that white powder backstage wasn’t makeup.

Nat laughs…because she probably put that white powder there. Oh, Nat, if you’re going to be the HBIC a la Katie Couric, we are going to get along just fine.

Gnat says it’s his first time hosting the Carols. It isn’t Nat’s.

Gnat goes on to talk about the view from the stage. Nat smiles (I wonder if she’s humming “White Rabbit.”)

Australians, this may very well be the closest you get to see what the Thanksgiving Day parade was like when Bryant Gumbel & Deborah Norville were doing Today. Bryant didn’t suffer fools nor foolishness, but liked his paycheck. And he hated perky out-of-her-league upstart Deborah.

Nat is Bryant.

She also doesn’t say a damn thing until Gnat compliments her outfit.

G&N make the dubious claim that the biggest stars from television, music, and theatre have gathered together for us.

Nine will make the same claim tomorrow night.

Apparently the trades description act doesn’t apply to Australian television.

Nat does the name checking of the choirs and bands onstage who will probably be doing the real work musically than anyone front and centre.

First up the Ten Tenors singing “O Come All Ye Faithful”

They all look like they escaped from a Best & Less Formalwear campaign.

One thing that I find interesting is that in stark contrast to American Christmas televised caroling, where the Christian liturgy is subtle except when performed by a gospel choir. They are going balls out with it here.

This is a nation with one of the highest atheist/agnostic populations in the world,sometimes almost zealously so.

I find this somewhat funny.

For what it is worth, I describe my religious upbringing as Commercialist Christian and I am philosophical Taoist now. So I don’t really have a horse in this race.

Anyway, the Ten Tenors sing and hit those glory notes.

Nat says that this is the most wonderful time of year. Given that I’m writing this on a day when the temperature is 39C (really bloody hot in Fahrenheit), I really dispute that statement.

Anyway, she intros someone from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang singing “The Most Wonderful Time of Year”

Said singer is channeling Kathie Lee Gifford and apparently accompanied by dancers from Dancing with the Stars.

Kathie Lee Gifford she ain’t.

And the pyros nearly take someone else.

Next up: some opera singer and Troy Cassar Daly.

And I continue to wonder if climatologically inappropriate carols will be done with or without any irony.

Adverts: Seven: We’ve got Giaan Rooney now. Suck it, Nine // Melbourne public: We don’t care.

Advertising in Australia is pretty much companies heckling other companies with the public in the middle being largely ignored.

Other adverts: Yes you can do many things with prawns (shrimps) at Woolworth’s/Samantha Jade’s debut album/The Collective’s debut album/A PSA about swimming

In other words, this is mostly Seven talking up Seven identities that we’re going to see later in the programme.

It’s Showtime, Synergy…in more ways than one.

Michael Buble tells us to donate to the Salvos in a recorded message. Can’t be bothered to say your message in person, eh?

Gnat thanks Buble, then mentions that this show is not only airing on Seven, but also throughout Asia on the Australia Network (which is run by the ABC, and features a hodge-podge of ABC, Seven, Ten, and TV3 NZ programming). In other words, because this isn’t going on air purely on Seven is the reason why there isn’t a huge 7 dangling over everyone’s heads.

Nat asks Gnat how they are going to beat having Michael Buble sing last year.

Gnat says with Rod Stewart (he omits to say via satellite or video link or even live).

Nat chides Gnat about his singing, which actually isn’t that bad.

Gnat, you’ve been reading that Scottish play haven’t you?

G&N intro Troy Cassar-Daly with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

For a Country singer, he certainly is singing it like a lounge act.

He duly acknowledges the orchestra which is doing most of the heavy lifting.

Decent performance, but he can’t hit those high notes with that arrangement.

G&N harp on about 100,000 people wishing everyone around the world “Merry Christmas.”

Since this is pretty much going on air in the Eastern Hemisphere and largely ignored everywhere else, I think they’re overstating the reach and influence of the Australia Network.

Nat clarifies, apparently this is all about getting the crowd to yell out Merry Christmas.

The crowd does their dutiful, but it doesn’t have the same enthusiasm as “Happy New Year.”

Gnat looks like a deer caught in the headlights afterwards. Why? I do not know.

Perhaps he was as unimpressed as I was.

It’s a free show, so I reckon the crowd ought to be a little more energetic.

Gnat encourages the crowd to “keep up that energy” (Nat’s stern smile says it all) as an opera/cabaret singer performs “Angels we have heard on high.”

And I think I’m beginning to figure out the Christian liturgy rule. As Australia isn’t exactly chock-a-block with gospel singers, the religious songs are sung by opera singers.

It’s very odd to my ears, because operatic singing strangles any sort of pronunciation in a different way than gospel does.

Still, it’s a good way of addressing the elephant in the room (i.e. religion) without being blatant about it.

And may I make a personal statement here: I say believe whatever you want to believe, and respect that others may have different beliefs than yours. There is much more fun to be had out of life than spending it with a persecution complex.

Adverts: Woolworth’s plays dangerously close with ethnic stereotyping. Really effing close. Let me just say this, some of these Woolworth’s adverts would not get on the air in most US markets. This is not to say that is a good thing, but if Australian media is serious about being multicultural, it’s going to use a smidgen more brain power to find new ways to be funny.

Taking the piss can be done with wit.

I can’t look at that Susan Boyle album without thinking “#susanalbumparty”

Youi: car insurance for people who like to think they’re an iconoclast…like everyone else.

Before the ad break: G&N were promising the big stars were up next (aka Jessica Mauboy, Justice Crew, plus everybody from X-Factor and Home & Away). The length and content of this particular ad break seems to suggest they aren’t kidding, because it is long and low on Woolworth’s & Seven content.

G&N are now off the stage, which allows for a brief weak gag with one of The Wiggles.

However they weren’t kidding about the big ticket talent as Nat intros Johnny Ruffo.

Gnat animatedly adds that the Ruffo from WA will be joined by Justice Crew.

It’s Showtime, Synergy.

Ruffo & Justice Crew–I feel like I need to nickname this collaboration: Seven & The Seventy Sevens? 7 x 7? 7 to the 7th Power? 777?–perform “Santa Claus is Coming to town”

It starts out with the Ruffo doing his best Osmond Brothers doing Bob Fosse choreography.

I’m liking this.

Did you know that I ate part of Johnny Ruffo’s muffin when he visited the Tuesday Cheek with Wes Snelling on JOY 94.9? Adam Richard of Talking Poofy dared me to, but I would’ve done without hesitation.

That’s right Seven, I got three non-Seven plugs during one of the most Seven-ish segments of this show. Balance has been restored.

Ruffo has now changed from Donny Osmond doing Bob Fosse choreography to Justin Bieber doing Bob Fosse choreography and he’s all about the choreography because he’s practically whispering the lyrics.

Let me say this: I like Johnny Ruffo. I even voted for him, and I think he’s got longevity in the music business (way more than the Gapped Wunderkind), but right now, he is the Jean Seberg.

Why do I say that? Because that was one blink and you’ll miss it performance as he quickly intros Justice Crew, who do various leaps and spins and still sing louder than Ruffo.

And there’s a rap break.

In “Santa Claus is coming to town” with a live orchestra

Marinate on that thought.

Unlike when unexpectedly campy/weird stuff happens on US television, I truly think on Australian television, everyone is stone cold sober and totally unaware of the campiness going on.

Again, a rap and a breakdancing break during a performance of Santa Claus is Coming to Town” accompanied by a live orchestra.

I cannot wrap my mind around this, but it is indeed happening in front of me.

It’s not the rap + orchestra combo (see the UK’s 1995 Eurovision entry which was pretty impressive) , but the rap + orchestra + song.

And then Justice Crew do what all performers do when they need a break, they extoll everyone to clap their hands.

Were this a paying audience, they’d respond “Clap your own damn hands.” However it isn’t, so they do.

By the way, the orchestration has long left the town Santa Claus was coming to, much like John Coltrane’s version of “My Favourite Things” sounds nothing like anything Julie Andrews sang towards the end.

Ruffo comes back and his whispered vocals are the signal that sanity has returned.

Well, partial sanity, as Justice Crew dancing manically in the background to an increasingly frenetic orchestra makes them look like some large clam or plant that is about to devour Ruffo.

To quote Gwen Stefani: “This shit is bananas.”

The gauntlet has been thrown, and I don’t think anything ahead will beat 777 on this programme.

Nat is all alone. (This is why she’s the HBIC) She thanks 777 (although her face indicates that she really wasn’t watching).

Seven doesn’t really do irony. Nine does. Ten does it, in fact almost too much. So my expectations for Nine’s carols are really raised now.

I’m thinking drunk Karl Stefanovic in a speedo barely holding onto a XXXX with Lisa Wilkinson being carried in by the Kangaroos dressed as Santa Claus with David Campbell singing “How would you like Christmas on Christmas Island?”

Only that would beat what I just saw.

Now we have the slightly uncomfortable moment: Georgie Parker & Jay Laga’aia singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here comes Santa Claus.”

Uncomfortable not because they can’t sing (well, I don’t know about Parker, but Laga’aia has a niche career doing children’s music), but because Laga’aia didn’t leave Home & Away in the most friendly way.

They’re accompanied by kids from some showgroup, so this is going to be a serious perform-off: Parker v. Laga’aia v. Moppets.

Parker is dressed like she just left the set of the remake of All About Eve. She’s smiling but if one of those tykes gets close…you get the feeling that she’d be more Joan Crawford than Bette Davis backstage.

There’s a lot of distance between Parker & Laga’aia, probably because she is very petite and he’s very much the opposite, and the Moppets form a sort of Red & White Berlin Wall between the two.

And you can really hear Parker and barely hear Laga’aia.

Conspiracy theorists, I leave that to you, but I did say he didn’t leave Seven under the best circumstances.

Dance break: Parker & Laga’aia do a very awkward waltz and the camera wisely focuses in on the Moppets throwing themselves about.

It’s not quite a car crash, but far from a smooth ride.

And it ain’t over yet!

A poor soul in a Rudolph costume–remember this is Sydney in December on a brightly lit stage–prances around with several somewhat risqué dressed female dancers.

And again, Parker is coming in loud and clear, Laga’aia could be mouthing the words for all I can tell.

Hold on, Laga’aia actually gets a solo line…and he makes the most of it.

Then it’s back to more awkward dancing as everyone does a two-step.

Laga’aia holds his own. Parker, not so much.

Why they don’t send Kathie Lee Gifford down here, I don’t know.

(A plug–which I’m not receiving any compensation–for the 4th Hour of Today. Hoda Kotb (reporter) & Kathie Lee Gifford (the American Kerri-Ann Kennerley who manages to be pious and raunchy simultaneously) basically get progressively smashed on champagne and kvetch about the news for a half-hour and then try to do a hour’s worth of late morning television interviews and stories in the last half-hour.)

They eventually finish, but that was one of the most passive-aggressive performances of caroling I’ve ever seen.

Those poor traumatized kids.

Gnat’s back, and they’re back with that Gnat can’t sing joke, but as he seemingly really can (probably Hugh Jackman calibre), it really is getting tired.

They address the eternal climatological question: How do you make it snow in the Australian summer?

Answer: with CGI animated characters from Ice Age.

It’s Showtime, Synergy.

Except they aren’t CGI, but poor souls in costumes accompanied by pirate singer/dancers.

They do a synergised knock off of “Jingle Bells.”

Adverts: Woolworth’s claims those are real people in those adverts. I stand by my previous comments.

And we’re back. G&N tell us that the first Wiggles performance at the Carols was in 1991.

3 of the Wiggles are calling it a day, so technically this is a “where were you when…” moment.

And for the first time in the entire programme, there is a legitimate cheer from the bludgers–I mean, crowd.

Not knowing any of The Wiggles back catalogue, it’s a bunch of songs that mean nothing. (I’m 33 and childless, but I work in media, so I know they exist.)

Nonetheless, I ponder the possibility of Anthony Field having a long lost identical gay brother.

I can see why 3 of them are retiring: you must reach a breaking point performing children’s music where singing upbeat silly songs would bring on dementia and arthritis.

And we don’t want one of the Wiggles winding up like Natalie Wood at the end of Inside Daisy Clover

This segment is particularly arduous for those indifferent to The Wiggles, but it’s their last televised performance with the original lineup.

The Wiggles sing some song about reindeer and Santa Claus, and at the end of it they bring out the 3 new Wiggles. (Apparently Anthony is staying, so I need never bother learning any other names.)

The new Wiggles are very photogenic. Wiggles Co. are no fools. Sex sells even in children’s entertainment.

Oh dear sweet lord, make. this. end.

The Wiggles form a human pyramid. Yep, the retiring ones are thinking “we are too old for this shite.”

They start singing a song about “Go Santa Go.” First you say he’s coming and now you’re talking about him going.

Now at some point, Santa Claus would come out and were this the Thanksgiving Parade, it’d be time for credits and the Westminster Dog Show (yes, I’m serious, and would you believe that it gets decent ratings).

But we’re at the Domain, and Santa pops out of cake during “Happy Birthday”

Was it smuggled from Christmas Island?

(NB: I am really surprised at the relative lack of Christmas Island jokes in the Australian media
landscape. Tourism WA is certainly lightly emphasizing that Christmas Island isn’t all one big detention centre.)

And we’re reaching the hour mark. Santa Claus has appeared, The Wiggles have said their goodbyes. What more can be done?

Oh, the 7x7s, aka everyone from X-Factor this year, and Rod Stewart.

This last hour is going to be a hard slog.

After another absurdly long advert break, we return to find that Nat has changed into an outfit that matches what Georgie Parker had on earlier.

Hint, hint.

They plug WA like mad. (This is Seven, remember. It’s effectively the official broadcaster of Western Australia.)

Naturally this is way to promote Westralian Samantha Jade, this year’s X-Factor winner, who will sing “Away in a manger.”

This might go against my theory about religious-themed carols, but “Away in a manger” is more about Jesus as an infant, so it’s not so much about Jesus as a He Who Died For Us, but a notable birth.

Samantha Jade enters wearing A Very Skimpy Miniskirt, a train, and bustier! Controversial!

Not even Vanessa Williams would attempt that.

When I say that people really don’t think about the lyrics they are singing, this is what I mean.

She’s singing about a child while wearing hooker’s outfit.

Yes, she’s got a decent voice, but really!?

It’s also over in no time at all.

G&N promote Airwick’s new candles as Little Mary Magdalene from Perth is rushed off the stage for Troy Cassar-Daly to sing “Jingle Bell Rock.”

There’s an obvious climate-based disconnect here.

He does manage to hit the notes though.

Gnat asks us to show our candles. (Plug!)

He then begins the hard sell for Doug Parkinson who will sing “The First Noel.”

Not being familiar with Doug Parkinson, I am tempted to call him the Australian Hiro Tsunoda.

Hiro Tsunoda, has a good voice but his annunciation is well…interesting.

I recognise the tune, but I understand every 5th word.

The captioners pretty much give up by the 2nd verse.

Gnat promises The Ten Tenors and the other part of 7×7: The Collective.

Adverts: My Kitchen Rules is coming…when ratings season returns.

I find it hilarious how Australian networks just don’t care about maintaining market share outside of ratings.

Ska music to encourage Australia to use Freeview? Ok.

And we’re back.

Nat mentions that this whole do is being simulcast on Smooth FM.

She then mentions the next act needs no introduction.

It’s Showtime, Synergy.

Here comes The Collective singing “Last Christmas.”

The Collective are dressed like The Brat Pack circa 1987, and this is such a throwback that for a moment, I think George Michael is straight.

Actually of all the 7 x 7 performances this is the most impressive and cohesive until..,

There’s a rap break.

FFS, not every song needs one.

It’s not as weird as the one during “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” but if George & Andrew got through the original without rapping, this lot could as well.

The one most likely to go solo a la Robbie Williams restores some sanity. He also looks like a young Denham Hitchcock. Read into that what you will.

And for a group called The Collective, the song eventually disappears into a glory note battle, much like a certain show on another network.

I got two Nine plugs in! Balance has been restored.

Now I don’t know if the choreographer decided to play a little bit of a joke on the lads or vice versa, but during the lyric “a man undercover” two of The Collective lads hold each other very tightly.

Glory note battle over, they harmonise and stare steely-eyed over the Domain as if singing “Last Christmas” to a bunch of screaming teenage girls was the most butch thing ever.

By the way, they got more stage time than Samantha Jade, and were on par with 777’s slaughter of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

G&N plug of Parental Guidance, the new Bette Midler & Billy Crystal movie.

Yes, a plug for a Bette Midler & Billy Crystal movie during a Christmas Carol show.

It opens on Boxing Day, however, on Boxing Day, there’s something else you can do beforehand.

They plug, I plug.

They do an extended plug about what Australian kids think of their grandparents.

It’s so milquetoast and poorly executed, that I think the movie studio should ask for their money back.

Gnat tells us to get out our “Sun Herald” songbooks.

For a second I think he says “Herald Sun,” and imagine what an Andrew Bolt Christmas Carol would be like:

“How’d you like Christmas on Christmas Island…you strange dark coloured boat people?”

“I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, except for all the Aboriginals that I have to pay restitution for since I racially vilified them.”

Balance restored. (Note for overseas readers: The Sun Herald is a Sydney based newspaper owned by Fairfax. The Herald Sun is a Melbourne based newspaper owned by Fairfax’s rival News Limited. No one in Australia seems to find that ironic or even an amusing coincidence .)

Gnat then tells us to put the books away since the Ten Tenors will over sing us anyway with their version of Hark The [Sun] Herald [Sun] Angels Sing.”

So really that was just to get a mention for the [Sun] Herald [Sun] then, Gnat?

The Ten Tenors appear, but against my expectations there are no Angel costumed dancers holding a Sun Herald logo.

Nor is there an appearance by Joe Hildebrand.

Balance restored.

One of the Ten Tenors looks like Tim “Rosso” Ross. There is not a Merrick doppelgänger counterpart alas.

I tell you, trying to be balanced with these plugs is tricky.

There’s a cut to G&N where Gnat is mouthing the words and Nat is holding her ears in feigned pain.

Again, the joke would work if it was not already known that Gnat can sing. (He also can dance, as he placed 3rd on Dancing With The Stars, and possibly could’ve won it except for all of his talent, he really is Mr. Cellophane.)

I don’t think Seven did any tie-ins to Chicago: The Movie, so that counts as a counter-plug.

We’re approaching the 90 minute mark, so that means Rod Stewart and Mark Vincent are going to be somewhere in a half-hour segment.

I suspect said half-hour will include 10 minutes of Vincent, and 5 minutes of Stewart before the Satellite link becomes too costly.

One of the tenors looks like Stav from another network.

Damn, there’s not a Tom Ballard counterpart. Wait, I do see one that looks like him from Warrnambool.

I don’t remember any version of “Hark the [Sun] Herald [Sun] Angels” going on this long. Christ was born, declared persona non grata, crucified, risen, and returned by the time this mob finished.

G&N finally mention that this about this being an appeal for the Australian Heilsarmee. (That’s a Swiss Eurovision plug.)

Nat compliments Gnat on his singing, and we’re back to that joke again.

Why do I get the feeling that Lisa & Karl are going to beat that dead horse all the way through Nine’s?

G&N remind us that there’s still lots of songs left.

Now Troy Cassar-Daly had two goes, The Ten Tenors had two goes. It would be a violation of the Trade Descriptions Act to have The Wiggles again, so who’s going to be the padding between Mark Vincent & Rod Stewart?

Let’s have Georgie Parker drown out Jay Laga’aia again!

Nat gets the crowd involved with the Gnat can’t sing joke.

It. Makes. No. Sense.

The cast of Legally Blonde save us by performing “All I Want For Christmas”

Is Rob Mills still contracted to Ten? If so. Counterplug!

One of the cast members looks suspiciously like Justin Hemmes.

Apparently in Australia, this is the only hit Mariah Carey has ever had.

Speaking of other stars in the Ten constellation, isn’t John Waters supposed to be appearing?

Wait, he was on All Saints! I think it counts as both.

As for what is currently transpiring onstage, there are songs which should stay solos and this is one of them.

Everyone is trying to outdo each other and it sounds like a shouting match: “ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU [TO NOTICE ME CAMERAPEOPLE]”

That was mercifully short.

Gnat promises Rod Stewart & Jessica Mauboy.

There’s 20 minutes left, Mauboy better get the lion’s share.

We get a very blatant and monotone “I’m being paid to say this” Holiday message from Billy Crystal. I’d rather have Bette Midler, who could at least put a spin on the “you didn’t pay me enough to come down and say this in person.”

Adverts for mostly non-Seven/Woolworth’s things. Something big is coming up then.

And we’re back, G&N intro someone called Emma Booth who performs “Mary’s Boy Child.”

It is NOT the Boney M version.

I wonder if Nine execs pour over the Seven broadcast and try to counterprogram against it.

“Right, Callea, in case they have a crap version of Santa Claus is coming to town. So you’d better sing the day lights out of it.”

I do know that they’re both Pre-recorded, but I doubt at the same time.

Although that would be funny: imagine Seven PAs hidden in Melbourne sending frantic calls to Sydney and vice versa.

“They’ve got Deni & Marcia Hines!”

“No need to worry, Ruffo did not strip. Tell Manpower their services are NOT needed.”

Gnat finally gets to that satellite link with Rod Stewart.

Stewart is even less engaged than Billy Crystal.

Sore throat, Rod? Really?

Gnat asks Stewart about how he spends Christmas and we get all the logistical details of how jacked up his personal life is with all those divorces and marriages.

Should I ever interview Rod Stewart or Ronnie Wood (I think they’re the same person, frankly), I will NOT ask them about their personal life.

It’s just too boring, when we all know the answer is “I’m a dirty old man with money and access to Viagra.”

Now despite his sore throat, Rod Stewart is going to perform.

Because he’s still getting paid. (You think Viagra is free?)

Gnat throws to Nat who intros Jessica Mauboy.

FFS, what was the point of that Rod Stewart interview?

We already know he’s a dirty old root rat.

Jessica Mauboy performs a Motown classic for the troops (a link that conveniently reminds people that The Sapphires DVD is now available in stores).

Mauboy is appropriately dressed. (I’m sorry, but Samantha Jade really looked like a Trollope.)

She’s technically a Ten star, but she’s transcended network affiliation.

Why is “I Can’t Help Myself” considered an appropriate Holiday greeting to the troops?

Or is it that The Sapphires plot is based around Motown classics?

Mauboy is done as soon as she starts.

Gnat promises Samantha Magdalene & Doug Tsunoda are coming back. (I knew they weren’t going to let The Collective have more time than Jade.)

Adverts: Look at what just happens to be conveniently available for Christmas? The Sapphires DVD.

There are 10 minutes left, but then again, this is Australian television where everything is allowed to run over EXCEPT sport.

It’s the most bizarre thing given the obsession this country has with sport.

Oh crap, I think there actually is a half-hour left.

We come back to hear Rod “Sore Throat Root Rat” Stewart perform The Christmas Song.

I have no concrete proof, but I think this was recorded way before his “interview.”

His voice shows no evidence of a sore throat. And yes, I know Rod Stewart normally has a raspy voice.

It’s a decent version by a “legendary” performer.

Bing Crosby nor David Bowie he is not.

Back in reality: Nat has changed outfits again. She intros Samantha Jade and “Jubilation” singing “Joy to the world”

Why is she getting religious songs?

And it’s back to hooker wear, because her left breast is nearly exposed.

There’s a subtle message being communicated here that I suspect I may be the only one getting: She doesn’t want to sing religious songs .

Otherwise, she does the gospel version of the song full of melissma and glory noting.

By the way, her outfit is in red.

They are going to hammer the Mary Magdalene point home, aren’t they?

The crowd is totally indifferent.

And on comes Doug Tsunoda to massacre “This Little Light of Mine”

And now we are into full on REVIVAL mode!

See, here this man’s mangled singing works. We just need several people having convulsions to really complete the stage picture.

The camera cuts to a kid in the audience totally taking the Mickey out of Doug.

Jubilation appears to be the gospel choir from Jetstar based on their orange & black outfits.

The Salvos choir in the back is so out of their depth.

Gnat says John Waters, Mark Vincent, and Jessica Mauboy are next.

And yet, I want Georgie Parker & Jay Laga’aia back. I don’t know what other songs are possibly left, but I could watch that fight to upstage each other again and again.

And we’re back after Taylor Swift wishes us a Happy Holiday with more emotion than Billy Crystal or Rod Stewart.

And I doubt she got paid.

G&N thank the choir, the orchestra, and the Musical Director.

I note that man’s name down as the man who assisted in the massacre of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

Apparently he was Gnat’s old school music teacher.

And yet, you can sing, Gnat.

G&N intro Mark Vincent singing “The Holy City.”

I have never heard of this song.

Mark Vincent performs it as if he’s an overseer.

That is hectoring in the highest, Mr. Vincent.

And now G&N intro John Waters singing “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” which they also contrive a veiled link to the recent Newtown shootings.

Not cool, G&N, not cool at all.

I actually like John Waters, and I hope he didn’t suggest that link.

John Waters performs decently, but linking it to Newtown was a HORRIBLE ILL-CONSIDERED idea by people who just thought “John Lennon died by a gunman in the US,” and “there was a recent mass shooting by a gunman in the US” ergo…

(Disclaimer: I’m about to rant.)

One of these days, Australian news will endeavour to actually interview the myriad of opinions about mass shootings in the US, and why they occur, but I suspect that is quite far off.

My own personal opinion: It is about engagement and communication. Reaching out to people who are socially excluded and finding out WHY.

The tone that I have heard from the Australian news coverage has been: We got rid of our guns and gun deaths dropped, why don’t you do the same?

Well, we raised our legal age for alcohol consumption and there aren’t as many fights in US cities as there are in places where the age is 18.

I’m from a city and a state that celebrates alcohol (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), and there aren’t half as many alcohol related violence issues compared to those seen here in Australia.

I actually support gun control, but the sheer “We know better than you about how to run your own country” rhetoric coming from the Australian media makes me want to be silent on the issue, because it is insulting and ignorant.

I was horrified by Columbine. It scared me to the core. And I, like many other Americans of my generation did not see it as a gun issue, inasmuch as a “we have got to start talking to each other” issue and not AT each other.

Yes, it’s sad that it has not changed, but nothing in the US changes overnight. The country’s government is NOT DESIGNED THAT WAY. That change starts in the states, and if it works in one state, and possibly another, then it MIGHT become national law.

Regardless, we can go on playing this game of “holier than thou” or we can actually sit down and seriously try to understand that the problem with both issues of alcohol-fuelled violence and gun-related violence is a lack of engagement.

No one is better.

(End rant.)

Ad break.

There are less than 15 minutes left. And I suspect most of it will be taken up by this extremely long Woolworth’s advert featuring their new campaign song.

Gnat intros Jessica Mauboy performing “Silent Night.” The way he bills it makes me think that this is the end.

But you never know.

In a rather odd dress, Mauboy glory notes her way through “Silent Night.”

This is a slight misstep, but in lieu of what transpired earlier, I give her a MAJOR pass.

She does order the freeloaders in the Domain to sing along.

Nope, that is not the end. There’s fireworks!

And apparently, Mark Vincent, Ali McGregor, and the Salvos Choir ordering us to do something again with “Song of Joy.”

It’s oddly secular for a hymn.

And Vincent meekly orders us to sing along while he is drowned out by the fireworks.

But it’s not over yet.

Ad break.

Honestly, what’s left? Kochie on a Catherine Wheel? Grant Denyer flying?

I’ll never know because the PVR gave up.

See, Australian networks, it pays to run your shows on time.