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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Seran­goon Road, An­thony Bour­dain: Parts Un­known,

equi­lib­rium at each episode’s con­clu­sion.

As yet, though, O’Brien’s script­ing lacks pur­chase; the edges of the story don’t re­ally bite. I think many of us are too jaded by binge­watch­ing the new Scan­di­na­vian noirs and the tough, morally com­plex nov­el­i­sa­tion-style dra­mas from HBO. But there’s a long way to go and I’m not sure an ABC Sun­day night au­di­ence is ready for con­frontingly, of­ten in­fu­ri­at­ingly com­plex nar­ra­tives and dark an­ti­heroes in sto­ries that seem to have no end. Then they do, like life.

Hany’s per­for­mance is a knock­out and, as in East West 101, it is a kind of col­lab­o­ra­tion with his char­ac­ter, an in­sep­a­ra­ble fu­sion of fact and fic­tion. ‘‘ He has a strength of fo­cus which the gen­uine stars have; the au­di­ence trusts him — and that’s be­cause Hany will mine his soul to get the scene right,’’ says An­drikidis, this se­ries his tenth drama with the ac­tor. ‘‘ He is my De Niro; he just un­der­stands what film act­ing is.’’

The se­ries is a stun­ning or­ches­tra­tion of per­for­mance — the Asian ac­tors are out­stand­ing — spe­cial ef­fects, stunt work and fluid cam­era skills. It is as­tutely guided by the di­rec­tor and his cinematographer. They build their dis­tinc­tive aes­thetic around mul­ti­ple cam­eras and the use of long lenses, usu­ally mounted far away from the ac­tors.

An­drikidis en­joys play­ing with their shal­low fo­cus, com­pressed space and the nar­row an­gle of view, and likes to stack his fram­ing with a kind of painterly flat­ness. Long lenses are used not only to try to lessen the hard­ness of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, where ev­ery wrin­kle and im­per­fec­tion can be seen, but also to al­low the ac­tors to for­get about the pres­ence of the cam­era. ‘‘ It is a doc­u­men­tary tech­nique: ac­tors speak at a nat­u­ral level as op­posed to pro­ject­ing for the cam­era,’’ An­drikidis says.

He and Pickering were in­flu­enced by the work of the great Amer­i­can cinematographer Gor­don Wil­lis, known as ‘‘ the prince of dark­ness’’, and his pho­tog­ra­phy on The God­fa­ther movies, their painterly look sug­ges­tive of nos­tal­gia and dread. ‘‘ We are a big fan of The God­fa­ther, Part II, the con­trast, colour and com­po­si­tions used in that film were def­i­nitely a big ref­er­ence — even when he is do­ing his lush pe­riod work there is a soul of grit­ti­ness and re­al­ity.’’

It’s all very well put to­gether and Bar­ron and his pro­duc­tion team have come up with a se­ries that has an au­then­tic feel to it, the Asian char­ac­ters in­te­gral to the sto­ries on all lev­els, some­thing that rarely hap­pens in Aus­tralian shows. Bar­ron says he wanted Seran­goon Road to be a Sin­ga­pore story, ‘‘ not just about some ex­pats in an ex­otic lo­ca­tion’’, and he’s suc­ceeded with style, em­pa­thy and con­vic­tion. EX­TREME TV is one of the more dis­turb­ing gen­res. It’s been around for a while and I can still re­call Dan­ger Freaks in 1975, in which the in­trepid Aus­tralian stunt­man Grant Page trav­elled the world to meet stunt peo­ple and take part in their spec­tac­u­lars. He crashed cars, climbed burn­ing build­ings and was at­tacked by wild an­i­mals. Then there was Who Dares Wins in the late 1990s, an Aus­tralian game show in which con­tes­tants were am­bushed by lo­qua­cious ex-crick­eter Mike Whit­ney and dared to per­form stunts such as rid­ing a mo­tor­bike across the back of an air­borne plane, swim­ming a la­goon filled with croc­o­diles or jumping a row of cars while tow­ing a car­a­van. Whit­ney, mean­while, never seemed to stop yap­ping.

And th­ese days Bear Grylls’s many se­ries fol­low the for­mer mil­i­tary man as he con­tin­ues to be­come one with na­ture, bridg­ing the gap be­tween au­di­ence and sub­ject, rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing what can be done in the wild un­der a cam­era crew’s sur­veil­lance.

And swash­buck­ling ex­is­ten­tial New York­based chef An­thony Bour­dain is also still trav­el­ling the globe search­ing for ex­treme cui­sine and rant­ing about culi­nary mat­ters in Parts Un­known, his lat­est trav­el­ogue se­ries. The self-de­scribed ‘‘ loud, ego­tis­ti­cal, one-note ass­hole’’ is no longer with ca­ble TV’s Travel Chan­nel, hav­ing been poached as the new face of CNN in May last year. The se­ries is part of a big push by the ca­ble news net­work to boost its orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming in ar­eas away from war and pol­i­tics.

Bour­dain started his quirky ad­ven­tures back in 2002 with the fa­mous A Cook’s Tour in which he ate a still-beat­ing co­bra’s heart, fly lar­vae cakes, veiny lamb’s tes­ti­cles, iguana tamales and soft-boiled duck em­bryos. Then in No Reser­va­tions he trav­elled the globe en­coun­ter­ing the weird, wild and out­ra­geous per­son­al­i­ties and places be­hind the tra­di­tional gas­tron­omy of dif­fer­ent lo­cales.

Matt Pre­ston — he’s not sim­ply a TV clown but a great food writer — once wrote Bour­dain ‘‘ built on his rep as a sort of Chan­dler-es­que fig­ure of the Amer­i­can kitchen sod­den in a life of guns, crazy Puerto Ri­can chefs and class A drugs, an im­age formed by his book Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial’’. He wasn’t wrong and the ex­tro­verted chef sel­dom dis­ap­points.

The new show, the sec­ond sea­son of which started last week, is about Bour­dain look­ing for an in­sider’s take on the prac­tice, cul­ture, pol­i­tics and his­tory of cook­ing in ex­otic places. And, of course, he’s es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in a di­verse range of lo­cales that may be more known for their eth­nic strife and po­lit­i­cal con­flicts than for any rich cul­tural his­tory.

Last week he was in Is­rael, the West Bank and Gaza, and this week ex­plores An­dalu­sia dur­ing Se­m­ana Santa (Holy Week, lead­ing up to Easter), a time filled with pageantry and an­tic­i­pa­tion and, it seems, al­most end­less pro­ces­sions of crush­ingly heavy floats, led by men in hoods that look like shrouds.

He re­luc­tantly dis­cov­ers taber­na­cle bars where the ago­nies of Christ can be con­tem­plated with wine and plates of sausages. ‘‘ I’m get­ting a nice af­ter­noon buzz and I don’t want im­ages of Je­sus look­ing at me from, like from every­where,’’ he mut­ters.

He seeks out the po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of the places with which he en­gages, oc­ca­sion­ally show­ing anger and dis­gust, in­dig­na­tion, sad­ness or re­gret at things he sees. He also likes to par­tic­i­pate where he can, hop­ping into a pri­vate bull ring and tak­ing on a young beast with a pur­ple cape, be­mused at later eat­ing a steam­ing bull braise.

His in­sights are hon­est, di­rect and oc­ca­sion­ally funny. The win­dows on for­eign so­ci­eties that he opens are re­ally mir­rors that throw some com­plex light back on his own con­trar­ian val­ues, and they of­ten come at you un­ex­pect­edly and spon­ta­neously.

This is TV travel at its best, re­veal­ing that it’s all about talk­ing back to a place quickly, en­gag­ing with it, drawn com­pul­sively to the ex­pe­ri­ences it of­fers.

Con­trar­ian foodie An­thony Bour­dain

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