Dvd let­ter­box

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Michael Bodey

I BE­LIEVE we’re ‘‘drama-ed out’’. Too many good Aus­tralian drama se­ries haven’t at­tracted the au­di­ences they de­serve this year. One of them, Power Games: The Packer Mur­doch Story (M, Road­show, 250min, $39.95), is re­leased on DVD this week. An­other lo­cal se­ries, Up­per Mid­dle Bo­gan (M, ABC, 237min, $29.95), per­haps shows where tele­vi­sion pro­gram­mers and pro­duc­ers should head.

This year re­minds me of 2005-06, when we saw a gen­er­a­tional dis­taste for Aus­tralian drama. The in­dus­try got ahead of it­self, launch­ing dra­mas of dif­fer­ing style and bud­get, in­clud­ing The Cooks, Young Lions and Canal Road. There were too many and we turned off un­til new fund­ing led to splashier fare such as Sea Patrol, City Homi­cide and the Un­der­belly fran­chise. There has been a run of suc­cess since.

We over-egged it this year. Ev­ery week, there has been a new Aus­tralian drama, ‘‘an im­por­tant story’’ that ‘‘Aus­tralia’s talk­ing about’’. There is not space for them all.

The ac­ces­si­ble, mid­dle-Aus­tralia space pre­vi­ously in­hab­ited by Packed to the Rafters is now taken by House Hus­bands and Win­ners & Losers. Off­spring man­aged to re­cover from its mid-sea­son mad­ness to take the quirky space while the jury’s out, just, on Won­der­land.

Nine’s re­liance on men be­hav­ing badly through the Un­der­belly and the Packer-fo­cused Howzat and Power Games se­ries is telling. Un­der­belly: Squizzy was com­pe­tent but be­gan timidly. Power Games is splen­did but niche, par­tic­u­larly when Seven’s A Place to Call Home took the pe­riod space not taken by ABC1.

The ABC has had win­ning tele­movies such as Cliffy and Mabo, and played to a for­mu­laic strength with Miss Fisher’s Mur­der Mysteries. But sched­ul­ing The Time of Our Lives against Un­der­belly and House Hus­bands was the kind of hubris that saw au­di­ences shun lo­cal drama.

Which brings me to Up­per Mid­dle Bo­gan. DVD Let­ter­box en­joys the work of Robyn But­ler and Wayne Hope, which in­cludes The Li­brar­i­ans and Very Small Busi­ness. They’re not laugh-a-minute come­dies but keenly ob­served and per­formed beau­ti­fully. Any­one who casts Glenn Rob­bins, Michala Banas and Robyn Nevin, as they did here, knows what they’re do­ing.

Up­per Mid­dle Bo­gan is a rip­per, the kind of nar­ra­tive com­edy we don’t see enough of. It’s a lit­tle big­ger than most ABC1 come­dies with­out over­reach­ing. And it hits a so­cio-po­lit­i­cal mo­ment, the com­fort of mid­dle Aus­tralia, with­out be­ing mean-spir­ited.

I doubt it would have worked on the com­mer­cial net­works but it should raise the ques­tion: why aren’t Seven, Nine and Ten do­ing nar­ra­tive com­edy or sit­coms? They’re happy to air im­ports, and fill panel and re­al­ity shows with co­me­di­ans. So why not risk the Aus­tralian sit­com? It’s not solely the job of the ABC. Is any­one even look­ing at set­ting a sit­com around, say, Anh Do? I’d bank on that be­fore an­other lo­cal drama se­ries.

This week

(MA15+) Road­show (90min, $39.95)

(M) Cu­ri­ous (100min, $32.99)

(M) Trans­mis­sion (95min, $32.99)

(M) Para­mount (126min, $39.95)

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