Sam Brooks reviews Three’s mainstay 7 Days, and finds a show that is still worth the watch, but needs to change.
The first joke of 7 Days in 2020 is a mask joke, followed up by a ball gag joke. Dai Henwood then chides host Jeremy Corbett with this scorcher: “It’s always something sexual with you, Corbett.” It gets better from there, but it’d be hard for it not to.
The stalwart of New Zealand comedy is back, complete with billboards dotted around town featuring its headline three male comedians proudly claiming they’re “not fricking cancelled” (and if anything was tempting fate, it’s that slogan). You know the format, your dog knows the format, your uncle who shares conspiracy theory memes knows the format: six comedians form two teams, captained by Paul Ego and Dai Henwood, and they make jokes about the news of the week. Laughter follows. Credits roll, whatever show MediaWorks wants a ratings bump on follows.
7 Days is an easy show to rag on, but it’s worth praising what it does well. If you’re not someone who follows the news minute-by-minute then it’s an easy way to catch up on the headlines of the week in a digestible format, without any of the weight of, you know, the actual news. It can be easy for the online folk to roll their eyes at Corbett, Ego and Henwood, but they show up, they sell the show, and they nail the punchlines.
Which brings us to the inevitable elephant in the room: 7 Days has been criticised, quite rightly, for being too white, too male, and too establishment. It’s a fair critique, as the show is easily our biggest showcase for both emerging and established local comedians. While it has thankfully moved on from having a panel made up of five dudes and a token woman, being tied to that core trio means there’s only so far it can progress. Being on 7 Days week in, week out isn’t easy, and neither is hosting it, but I can easily think of a dozen or more comedians who could nail it if any of those permanent fixtures moved aside. Put simply: if your current affairs comedy show looks like the past and sounds like the past, you can’t expect it to speak meaningfully to the present.
The first episode of 2020 suggests 7 Days is moving in the right direction, despite producers indicating that the show’s truncated run (32 episodes last year to 12 this year) would not allow them to trial new talent. Last night’s show was led by the aforementioned three dudes, with teams filled out by Melanie Bracewell, Rhys Mathewson, Laura Daniel and Josh Thomson; all returning guests, but all bringing the punchy energy of newcomers doing their first stint on the show. While there are a few old punchlines, and you can forgive a show for circling back to events long devoured and spat out by the news cycle, it feels like a breath of fresh air. In a world where daily press briefings nearly match the 6pm news in length, it’s a blessing.
The guests were, as they tend to be, the highlight, and it’s here that Ego and Henwood show their worth. With few exceptions they’re great springboards for the guests to slam dunk punchlines – like Daniel’s deadpan quip that Ashley Bloomfield has been on TV more than any of them this year – and to get a bit weirder and a bit darker than the show’s core cast can. One exception comes with Henwood’s extended bit about getting chlamydia from hedgehogs, which is about as funny as this sentence.
Unlike many shows in the time of Covid-19 (the worst Gabriel García Márquez novel), 7 Days actually feels right not being in front of an audience, despite sounds of laughter and applause being piped in. Rather than the comedians playing to the room, they played to each other, and it made for a more connected and engaged panel. For the most part, the jokes flew faster, and landed harder. It felt like the platonic ideal of 7 Days: funny people talking about the news. It also led to genuinely delightful moments like Mel Bracewell reciting pi to a truly remarkable amount of decimal places. They’re the kinds of bits that make you feel like you’re part of the funny, rather than a spectator, and it’s a vibe that the show could, and should, lean into.
Ultimately, 7 Days is always a bit smarter and darker than you think it is, but it’s easy for the general impression to dull its rare, occasional edges, like Josh Thomson’s impression of Jacinda Ardern, which sums her 2020 up better than I’ve seen in any media to date. The laugh-per-minute rate is still much higher than you expect, though you wouldn’t miss much if you drifted back to your phone. You could dismiss it as the show with the easy jokes that you watch a little sauced on a Friday night, or in 2020, as a slower paced Have You Been Paying Attention?, but there are few shows that let the air out of the heavy, hot air balloon that is the 24 hour news cycle quite like it. In 2020, 7 Days is never going to get to the jokes before social media does, but to have those jokes put through the filter of comedians who know how to deliver them, rather than tweeters looking for faves (guilty as charged), is a valuable thing.
But, my dudes, and you are dudes, let’s keep working on that panel, yeah?