First watch

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell

IT’S been a drought through an­other sum­mer of damned re­peats, saved only by Seven and the ABC, who have shown their re­spect for us by broad­cast­ing new shows and new episodes of favourites. Even pay TV has been dor­mant, ex­cept for the ar­tic­u­late, thought­ful, and con­sid­er­ate film chan­nels.

When en­dur­ing these elec­tronic famines it’s hard to be­lieve TV has come close to colonis­ing the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness, gath­er­ing a pop­u­la­tion and in­ten­si­fy­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of drama in our lives in a way that’s with­out cul­tural prece­dent.

Still, we can be con­fi­dent we are now en­ter­ing an era that will wit­ness the death of the TV chan­nel as we in­creas­ingly take con­trol. What will it mat­ter which net­work car­ries a favourite show when we can pro­gram it when­ever and wher­ever it’s screened? It’s some­thing the tech-savvy younger gen­er­a­tion is do­ing al­ready.

But all of a sud­den there’s al­most too much on. The free-to-airs have launched early in some cases, an­tic­i­pat­ing the rat­ing pe­riod al­most upon us. Des­per­a­tion is al­ready in the air. The ABC has new shows and re­turn­ing favourites such as Fam­ily Con­fi­den­tial, Aus­tralian Story and Artscape and there’s some early in­no­va­tive pro­gram­ming ( Grimm, Kings Cross ER) on pay.

Ten is back with Big­gest Loser and Nine has the seem­ing shame­less copy­cat Ex­cess Bag­gage — both are so-called ‘‘ stripped’’ shows, run­ning through the week — even though we are as­sured Ex­cess Bag­gage is about per­sis­tence, team­work, ded­i­ca­tion and trust. Un­like its ri­val. And we’re told there are no forced di­ets and no lock­down that re­moves the hefty con­tes­tants from ev­ery­day temp­ta­tions. Oh, and no scales.

While these shows do, up to a point, sat­isfy a public thirst for sto­ries of ad­ven­ture, strug­gle and hard­ship, they seem lit­tle re­moved from the Vic­to­rian freak shows, which thrived on pre­sent­ing peo­ple with phys­i­cal ex­tremes. They in­cluded The Fat Boy of Peck­ham and Sacco-ho­mann the Fa­mous Fast­ing Man. Such was the pop­u­lar­ity of fat women shows that five alone could be found at Hull Fair, the largest trav­el­ling fair in Bri­tain in the 1890s.

Seven’s My Kitchen Rules, also re­turned, has a touch of the car­ni­va­lesque about it too. It’s now a sump­tu­ously pro­duced hy­brid of Masterchef and the acer­bic Bri­tish se­ries Come Dine With Me, fea­tur­ing a cross-sec­tion of larger-than-life, rather abra­sive con­tes­tants. With the se­ries still in the early stages they all present them­selves as in­tim­i­dat­ing ex­em­plars of self-es­teem, dis­ci­pline and am­bi­tion. They are smug and as­sured, and we can’t wait for them to re­vealed as psy­cho­log­i­cally frag­ile and de­luded. Just like us when it comes to giv­ing din­ner par­ties.

All these re­al­ity fran­chises are worth dip­ping and delv­ing into just to see what tweaks pro­duc­ers can bring to their es­tab-

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