New ‘Onion’ Fake News: Actually Fake, Not So Funny

Here’s the remarkable thing about the Onion News Network, the satire stalwart’s first foray into video content: It’s the first televisual product to literally fit the wrongheaded moniker “fake news.” The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which are regularly saddled with that descriptor, don’t fake the news; they fake the format. ONN — as of this writing, less a network than a Web page with four clips and a Dewar’s ad — finally takes that extra step. Its news items are, indeed, mocked-up rather than simply mocked. This means that both the anchors and the subjects are played, hammily, by actors, and the “news footage” is as scripted as the banter around it. Sadly, though, it is not particularly well scripted, nor particularly amusing.

What the Madison transplants have produced is a strange subspecies of sketch comedy (which is itself a suddenly resurgent genre, with two other offerings coming down the pike: MTV’s Human Giant and Fuse’s The Whitest Kids U’ Know). ONN’s central conceit, which requires the cast to impersonate generic “types,” fails so spectacularly it almost makes one forget Fox News Channel’s The 1/2 Hour News Hour. In the flagship clip, inspired by Lou Dobbs’s fear-mongering on CNN, a Mexican migrant worker becomes a major corporation’s CEO and reduces his Waspy predecessor to bussing tables. Beyond the obvious flaws — some dude’s pale imitation of Dobbs, a setup so broad it could have come from medieval puppetry — the piece is guilty of one huge, and symptomatic, missed opportunity. We don’t get to see the guy, who speaks no English, run the company. That would, of course, (a) be funny and (b) require visual thinking. As it stands, it’s an Onion print story, mirthlessly pantomimed. Never thought we’d say this, but we’d much prefer some footage of the real Lou Dobbs.

Immigration: The Human Cost [Onion News Network]
Earlier: They Reportedly Tell Jokes, You Decide Whether to Laugh