THE YEAR WE FOUND OUR VOICE

Lo­cally made drama and com­edy led the way dur­ing the 2007 rat­ings sea­son, writes Graeme Blun­dell

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

‘ INOTE that the No­bel prize has never been won by a TV ex­ec­u­tive,’’ co­me­dian John Clarke said re­cently. ‘‘ Television, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, is run by peo­ple who think they are clever op­er­at­ing a medium for a large au­di­ence of stupid peo­ple, when the re­verse is true.’’

Well those car­pet- strollers were this year con­fronted, and con­founded in some cases, by the fact the best and most pop­u­lar shows were lo­cal.

The year also proved the ‘‘ big television is not dead’’ Pollyan­nas to be par­tially cor­rect. But TVby- ap­point­ment is fad­ing fast and ac­cess is frag­ment­ing. There are chil­dren be­ing born who will never know what the ma­hogany box their par­ents called ‘‘ the TV’’ looked like.

But as the in­ter­net be­came more per­va­sive we still spent the year en­joy­ing the wit, hu­mour and, in some cases, bril­liant sto­ry­telling of our writ­ers, pro­duc­ers and direc­tors.

There’s lit­tle doubt the speed­ier, snap­pier, TV­rooted sen­si­bil­ity has taken the artis­tic high ground, its en­er­getic sto­ry­telling and style leav­ing the lo­cal film in­dus­try in the rear- vi­sion mir­ror.

Pay- TV chan­nel Show­time aired a third se­ries of Love My Way early in the year, still deal­ing un­com­fort­ably with the rhythms and com­plex­i­ties of ex­tended fam­i­lies and the unlovely spa­ces of con­tem­po­rary re­la­tion­ships, and as dis­tin­guished as ever. No show so clearly iden­ti­fied the dis­junc­tion be­tween Aus­tralia’s sec­u­lar cul­ture and the con­ser­va­tive so­cial agenda and re­li­gious rhetoric of John Howard’s neo- con­ser­vatism.

More ag­gres­sively con­tentious was the ABC’s Bas­tard Boys . Ray Quint’s ac­count of the 1998 po­lit­i­cal bat­tle for Aus­tralia’s wa­ter­front was com­pelling TV made with com­pas­sion and ob­jec­tiv­ity. Sue Smith’s script was thriller, war epic, buddy movie and court­room drama rolled into one and a re­minder of the sheer power of in­tel­li­gent char­ac­ter- driven drama.

Ge­off Mor­rell’s por­trayal of wa­ter­front boss Chris Cor­ri­gan was the year’s stand- out per­for­mance. Stephen Curry’s Gra­ham Kennedy in The King , TV1’ s much an­tic­i­pated movie bi­og­ra­phy from Crack­er­jack Pro­duc­tions, was also riv­et­ing. Curry was ter­rific and while in­stantly recog­nis­able as the oys­ter- eyed per­former, he didn’t im­per­son­ate him ( though he says he tested pros­thetic eyes) so much as in­habit him.

Seven’s City Homi­cide , the char­ac­ter- based ensem­ble cop drama ex­plor­ing tightly knit tales of de­press­ingly squalid but res­o­nant events, ar­rived stylishly mid- year with a strong cast in­clud­ing the hap­pily ubiq­ui­tous Shane Bourne.

Cre­ated and writ­ten by John Banas and John Hug­gin­son, the writ­ing team be­hind Blue Heel­ers and Wa­ter Rats , the new show be­came part of our lives quickly and idio­syn­crat­i­cally, the way the orig­i­nal Craw­fords’ Homi­cide , with its pork- pie hat wear­ing cops, did 40 years ago.

SBS pro­vided classy drama, too, in The Cir­cuit , a six- parter that trav­elled in a layer of fine red dust ex­plor­ing the hard­ships and is­sues faced by re­mote in­dige­nous peo­ple in the Kim­ber­ley, es­pe­cially al­co­hol abuse, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and the sex­ual per­se­cu­tion of the young.

The se­ries ap­pealed to an al­most in­sa­tiable con­sumer fas­ci­na­tion for le­gal theatre, high­lighted by Ca­tri­ona McKen­zie’s vis­ceral di­rec­tion and pierc­ing sense of place.

Peter An­drikidis’s di­rec­tion has also been out­stand­ing in East West 101 , SBS’s se­duc­tive, highly in­tel­li­gent and of­ten abra­sive new generic pro­ce­dural six- part po­lice se­ries. An­drikidis, and his cam­era­man Joe Pickering ( who also shot episodes of The Cir­cuit ), have pre­sented a more cin­e­matic crime show than seen lo­cally be­fore.

SBS gra­ciously of­fered the best doc­u­men­tary se­ries, Great Aus­tralian Al­bums , from pro­ducer Martin Fabinyi, a classy ex­plo­ration of the cre­ation of four Aus­tralian mas­ter­pieces across four decades. Fabinyi mixed ob­ser­va­tional doc­u­men­tary prac­tice with archival footage, homevideo ma­te­rial and art­fully shot in­ter­views ( sump­tu­ous pho­tog­ra­phy by Si­mon Chap­man) with the bands and those cre­atively con­nected with their mu­sic.

And, like all good rock do­cos, Great Aus­tralian Al­bums brought to­gether doc­u­men­tary’s tra­di­tional fo­cus on ac­tu­al­ity and the fic­tional cin­ema’s em­pha­sis on stars, spec­ta­cle, con­flict and pain. It was my favourite piece of TV this year; al­though I also found Fox­tel’s s Thanks for Lis­ten­ing , a cap­ti­vat­ing and de­fin­i­tive doc­u­men­tary look at ra­dio in Aus­tralia, a nos­tal­gic de­light.

The with­er­ing irony and in­tel­lec­tual mis­chievous­ness of Chris Lil­ley’s Sum­mer Heights High was the stand- out of the year’s scripted com­edy, not­with­stand­ing the out­ra­geous­ness of The Chaser ’ s me­dia jam­ming. ( Or the undi­min­ished out­ra­geous­ness and good fun of Kath & Kim, which sur­vived the tran­si­tion to the Seven Net­work, hu­mour in­tact.) Lil­ley’s tal­ent dis­plays an ap­peal­ing and lethal ma­tu­rity, his cre­ations ran­sack­ing pop­u­lar cul­ture which he fuses into his own il­lu­mi­nat­ing, epi­gram­matic style.

Lil­ley works off sim­i­lar themes to those in Ricky Ger­vais’s The Of­fice , in par­tic­u­lar so­cial faux pas, ta­boos, frus­tra­tions, des­per­a­tion, ego, and the awk­ward­ness of so­cial sit­u­a­tions. But in Sum­mer Heights High Lil­ley went back to school, mer­ci­lessly send­ing up pre­ten­sion, in­tel­lec­tual van­ity, po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness and do- good­ism.

He cap­tured some of the won­der and most of the hor­ror of life in the con­tem­po­rary public­school sys­tem, a for­eign con­ti­nent of cor­us­cat­ing slang, bru­tal bul­ly­ing, pro­fan­ity, delu­sional teach­ers, re­cal­ci­trant stu­dents, racism, ho­mo­pho­bia and crushed in­no­cence. Lil­ley is pure comic spirit, an­gry, imp­ish and ar­tic­u­late.

Less an­gry but equally funny was Ten’s Thank God You’re Here , watched by al­most two mil­lion Aus­tralians on Wed­nes­day nights for most of the

year. It was a com­edy show founded on the sim­ple idea of a bunch of well- known ac­tors walk­ing through an omi­nous blue stage door into an im­pro­vised scene be­fore a rowdy live au­di­ence.

This kind of im­pul­sive hu­mour rep­re­sented a charm­ing at­tempt to re­cap­ture, if fleet­ingly, that child­hood state of spon­tane­ity when an ap­petite for laugh­ter is not sub­servient to what’s right or proper. It didn’t al­ways work and some­times you had to wait for the magic light­ning strikes. But when it ex­ploded this was TV at its most creative.

The un­bri­dled suc­cess of the lo­cal prod­uct this year was a de­light­ful slap in the head for the TV ex­ec­u­tives who con­tinue to treat their au­di­ences with dis­dain. I hate the way pro­grams are al­lowed to run over time, or just turn out to be re­peats. And those un­wanted in- pro­gram com­mer­cial lo­gos, pro­mo­tions and ex­ces­sive brand­ing sym­bols are ma­te­ri­al­is­ing more brazenly on our TV screens, a con­stant ex­pres­sion of con­de­scen­sion.

Hunter S. Thompson once called TV ‘‘ a long plas­tic hall­way where thieves and pimps run free’’, but at least this year some of our creative loonies found a few hours to en­ter­tain us when the bad guys’ backs were turned.

Suc­cesses: Clock­wise from top left, Stephen Curry in The King ; Tom Gleis­ner and Shane Bourne in Thank God You’re Here ; Chris Lil­ley as Ja’mie in Sum­mer Heights High ; Kath & Kim cast with Lit­tle Bri­tain s Matt Lu­cas; Lil­ley as Ja’mie; and the Chaser team

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