CRI­SIS CLINIC

Af­ter a shaky start, Nine’s new mys­tery drama- soap Canal Road may yet de­liver, writes Graeme Blun­dell

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

‘ ALL we have is lan­guage and depth of char­ac­ter, the abil­ity to take you through a life,’’ crime great Den­nis Le­hane ( Mys­tic River ) once said of the mys­tery writer’s craft. Canal Road , Nine’s new med­i­cal- le­gal drama, lacked all three of Le­hane’s bench­marks when it opened last week. If it had been a novel, the reader would not have turned to the sec­ond page. The show may as­pire to what Le­hane called ‘‘ fiction of mor­tal event’’ — sto­ries in which crim­i­nal stuff hap­pens and the price is high — but, ini­tially at least, it was all over the place.

An­other char­ac­ter- based ensem­ble drama ex­plor­ing tightly knit tales of squalid yet res­o­nant events, it presents a rather un­con­vinc­ing med­i­cal and le­gal ad­vi­sory cen­tre in Melbourne. Ac­cord­ing to the pro­mo­tion, this is where the lives of in­ner- city pro­fes­sion­als and their pa­tients en­twine in sto­ries of mys­tery and med­i­cal in­trigue. Canal Road is ob­vi­ously genre ori­ented, with touches of med­i­cal shows, le­gal dra­mas, soapystyle do­mes­tic en­tan­gle­ments and the in­evitable po­lice pro­ce­dural- style in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

But to be­gin with it sim­ply plopped down some of the usual sus­pects, all a touch way­ward and un­ful­filled, in­jected them with con­flict and dreams of hap­pi­ness, and watched as the bub­bles burst.

The char­ac­ters are too young, ethe­real and im­pos­si­bly hand­some. And in the first episode, the tone, tex­ture and ac­com­plish­ment were all too wob­bly to kick off a new se­ries. The act­ing was ten­ta­tive, ner­vous and of­ten pedes­trian.

The show sim­ply didn’t cre­ate a be­liev­able world, un­like the open­ing episodes of re­cent se­ries such as Un­der­belly , The Cir­cuit or East West 101 . In those shows you knew quickly where you stood and what you could ex­pect. Canal Road had me think­ing of the less suc­cess­ful MDA and even Chances as it pot­tered around its pretty lo­ca­tions look­ing for an iden­tity.

‘‘ Style is know­ing what show you are in,’’ act­ing great John Giel­gud fa­mously said. Last week, Canal Road seemed nei­ther po­lice pro­ce­dural nor med­i­cal drama.

But judg­ing from the more suc­cess­ful sec­ond episode this week, it may yet prove to be an en­gag­ing mys­tery soapie with el­e­ments of both cop and doc­tor shows and a touch of the le­gal thriller.

The mys­tery, which took up most of the first episode, has to do with the death of the wife and son of psy­chi­a­trist Spencer McKay ( an un­per­sua­sive Paul Ley­den). When con­fronted by the killer, he sets out on a jour­ney of re­venge that will im­pli­cate ev­ery­one else in the show.

This was han­dled clum­sily and

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lit­tle hys­ter­i­cally. How do the other char­ac­ters tol­er­ate this sham­bling man des­per­ate with grief? Would any­one re­ally stom­ach his sul­len­ness?

We know this will be the re­cur­ring big plot­line. I sus­pect we are in for one of those se­ries where the cen­tral plot me­an­ders, van­ishes for long pe­ri­ods, then re­turns to make baf­fling leaps.

Vi­o­lent deaths will fol­low and lots of racy sex­ual es­capades with lash­ings of nu­dity. Peo­ple’s pasts will be a theme, pos­si­bly false or mis­un­der­stood. There will be haunt­ing old se­crets, ter­ri­ble mis­for­tune and im­pos­si­ble re­demp­tion. It could be great fun.

McKay is still hunt­ing his killers this week, as he re­ceives se­cu­rity cam­era pho­tos from an anony­mous source. Women may love this lead­ing man but the voice is off- putting; there’s some­thing too pre­cious about him.

As an ac­tor he’s out of kil­ter with most of the oth­ers, too; it’s as if he’s think­ing too hard, stuck in mo­ments look­ing for mean­ing while the plot has moved on.

Hap­pily, most of this week’s episode fo­cuses on com­mu­nity cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer Holly Chong ( Peta Sergeant), forced to con­front the fears of her past when she be­comes the tar­get of a psy­chotic stalker who just may be one of her parolees.

The writ­ing is tight and con­cen­trated, and Sergeant an­nounces her­self as a great new

pres­ence on weekly television: vul­ner­a­ble, tightly coiled and seem­ingly with no drama school bag­gage. She is one of those rare ac­tors who looks as if she has come straight from the street, rough edges in­tact. And while the bow- lipped brunette does not trade on her ob­vi­ous sex­u­al­ity, she ap­pears to be si­mul­ta­ne­ously mock­ing and pout­ing, like An­gelina Jolie.

Un­like some of her col­leagues, she has a nat­u­ral ac­tor’s in­stinct of know­ing where the cam­era is and what it is do­ing in re­la­tion to her. TV act­ing re­quires a spa­tial aware­ness, a sense of the three di­men­sions of each cam­era shot, es­pe­cially in a show as fran­ticly styled as this.

Th­ese days many direc­tors are more than ca­pa­ble of copy­ing TV’s Jerry Bruck­heimerin­spired look, with its twitchy cam­era aes­thetic, but seem to have lit­tle time for the ac­tors. In the group scenes ac­tors are poorly chore­ographed and of­ten seem un­mo­ti­vated in their ac­tions.

The new style of cam­era move­ment is dif­fi­cult for ac­tors, who con­ven­tion­ally have lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for re­hearsal. The mise en scene is not quite a blur, but a buzz of steady stim­u­la­tion, a ride of zooms and pans, fo­cus pulls and mov­ing cam­era shots rock­et­ing the viewer around the few static se­quences.

It’s a trippy, speedy style, well- han­dled here by cam­era boss Jaems Grant and di­rec­tor Kevin Car­lin. Only ac­tors who think like tech­ni­cians will sur­vive the waste­land of mul­ti­ple cam­eras and their ap­pa­ra­tus, scur­ry­ing tech­ni­cians and shift­ing pho­to­graphic points- of- view.

The women in this ensem­ble seem more ca­pa­ble than the men; hope­fully the se­ries will be dom­i­nated by them and the de­mands of their worka­holic char­ac­ters for em­pow­er­ment and good shag­ging.

Canal Road is edg­ing to­wards be­com­ing a more ap­peal­ing com­mer­cial pack­age, a pacy so­cial se­rial, nicely com­pli­cated and dif­fuse.

This sec­ond episode de­vel­ops the nec­es­sary melo­drama, the creep­ing hys­te­ria, and the well de­fined vil­lains and he­roes that make for plea­sur­able view­ing, even when the sit­u­a­tions de­picted are un­pleas­ant and con­fronting.

The prob­lem is, as is so of­ten the case with lo­cal drama, the viewer can still hear a small voice echo­ing Hitch­cock’s words that all that mat­ters is the script, the script and the script.

Canal Road, Wed­nes­day, 9.30pm, Nine.

Edge of hys­te­ria: Diana Glenn and Paul Ley­den in Canal Road ; the cast, right

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