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