Tele­vi­sion Graeme Blun­dell meets new Bon­nie and Clyde

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

IN the movie City Slick­ers, Mitch Rob­bins, the char­ac­ter played by Billy Crys­tal, sadly reaches his 39th birth­day and finds he’s go­ing nowhere fast. “Did you ever reach a point in your life,” he asks, “where you say to yourself, ‘This is the best I’m ever go­ing to look, the best I’m ever go­ing to feel, the best I’m ever go­ing to do? And it ain’t that great?’ ”

This might be the premise of The Time of Our Lives, the pop­u­lar ABC se­ries — its 13 episodes each played to just on a mil­lion view­ers last year — which re­turns this week, im­mers­ing us once more in the lives of the mess­ily ex­tended Tivolli fam­ily. They’re presided over by pa­tri­arch Ray (Tony Barry) and ma­tri­arch Rosa (Sue Jones), who have a lot to deal with in a show pithily de­scribed by cre­ators Amanda Higgs and Judi McCrossin as about “set­tling in with the one you love; still try­ing to find the one you love; get­ting away from the one you used to love”.

Pro­duced with great em­pa­thy and acted with con­vic­tion by a cast of stel­lar per­form­ers, it’s done at a high level of imag­i­na­tive en­ergy, so in­volv­ing at times you want to weep. There are some scenes in the first episode of the new sea­son that make for ex­cru­ci­at­ing view­ing, es­pe­cially if you have had any re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence of deal­ing with frail, el­derly par­ents.

If you missed the first sea­son, an ex­tended recap suc­cinctly in­tro­duces the char­ac­ters and their tra­vails and re-es­tab­lishes the ma­jor plot lines. It starts with a shock­ing ac­ci­dent when Ray, an “If you put your tools away, you know where they are” kind of bloke, is al­most killed when his car falls on him while he is la­bo­ri­ously re­pair­ing an axle. Pre­car­i­ously jacked-up in his garage, the ve­hi­cle col­lapses on his leg, trap­ping him as obliv­i­ous passers-by wan­der along the street, un­aware of his weak­en­ing cries and the pool­ing blood. His leg is ir­repara­bly dam­aged, and the shock­ing ac­ci­dent ir­re­versibly changes the lives of ev­ery­one in the Tivolli fam­ily.

It’s not as if they haven’t al­ready got their fair share of woes, ei­ther. Ber­nadette (Jus­tine Clarke), the mother of twin daugh­ters, step­mother to 13-year-old Ge­orgie and part­ner to Luce Tivolli (Shane Ja­cob­son), is wait­ing for the re­sults of breast cancer gene test­ing, hav­ing lost her mother to the dis­ease when she was 15. Luce, knock­about and a bit te­dious, is a largely un­em­ployed mu­si­cian seem­ingly de­ter­mined to some­how make a more se­cure liv­ing to sup­port his fam­ily.

For­mer bar­ris­ter Caro­line (Clau­dia Kar­van) is re­turn­ing to the work­force, hav­ing left the law to be a full-time mother, and wants to fi­nalise her set­tle­ment with Matt Tivolli (Wil­liam McInnes), from whom she is now sep­a­rated, with­out los­ing her home. He’s a pro­fes­sional sports agent, el­der son of Ray and Rosa, brother to Luce and adopted sis­ter Chai Li (Michelle Ver­gara Moore) and left Caro­line for Alice (Cheree Cas­sidy), who is now preg­nant. Matt strug­gles to ful­fil his many dif­fer­ent roles as an agent, fa­ther, ex-hus­band, lover and son.

If you haven’t seen the show this ge­neal­ogy sounds hor­ri­bly com­plex, but plays with be­guil­ing sim­plic­ity. There’s more, too.

Chai Li re­turned to Viet­nam at the end of the first sea­son to live with her birth mother and is still ro­man­ti­cally in­volved with Herb Ire­land (Stephen Curry), Luce’s best mate from pri­mary school, now run­ning his com­edy bar — The Wise­crack. There’s a lot go­ing on in this fam­ily that cov­ers many area codes but, for all the im­me­di­ate dis­as­ters, the se­ries sug­gests that, as An­ton Chekhov said, “Any id­iot can face a cri­sis, it’s day-to-day liv­ing that wears you out.”

It’s an ap­peal­ing, of­ten con­fronting se­ries that starkly re­flects the new can­dour about liv­ing ar­range­ments when it’s in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand just what con­sti­tutes fam­ily. Where we keep our clothes these days is not al- ways the only place where we main­tain our com­mit­ments. The show imag­i­na­tively kicks off from the re­al­ity that roles and obli­ga­tions can’t be rigidly pre­scribed in re­spect to kin liv­ing in dif­fer­ent house­holds, that people de­fine their own fam­i­lies. It deals with con­flicts that can hap­pen when fam­ily mem­bers have views or be­liefs that clash, es­pe­cially when it comes to par­ent­ing, frus­trated lives pal­pi­tat­ing in con­cert.

And the way that peace­ful res­o­lu­tion in dis­putes re­quires skills in two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ne­go­ti­a­tion, com­pro­mise and re­spect for the other per­son’s point of view. Not skills of­ten on dis­play in this com­plex ex­tended fam­ily, and prob­a­bly not in all that many mar­riages, for that mat­ter; there is an un­der­stated but painful re­al­ism on dis­play in this cap­ti­vat­ing show.

Once again it’s all quite subtly done; eight more episodes of finely ob­served char­ac­ter­based drama with un­ob­tru­sive but ex­pres­sive di­rec­tion in the first episode from Jonathan Brough. (Other di­rec­tors in­clude Tori Gar­rett, Sian Davies and Fiona Banks.) Di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Jaems Grant re­turns as well, with that dis­tinc­tive voyeuris­tic, sub­jec­tive cam­era feel, and McCrossin script for episode one is crisp and witty, ex­pressed in short, sharp scenes, and re­ly­ing on sug­ges­tion and im­pli­ca­tion. BRUCE Beres­ford is among the most pro­lific and pro­fi­cient of the first gen­er­a­tion of film­mak­ers in the 1970s Aus­tralian re­vival. He’s a man not eas­ily per­turbed, easy­go­ing, rather lit­er­ary, gre­gar­i­ous, in­quis­i­tive and highly in­tel­li­gent. I once asked him why he wasn’t part of the new wave of Aus­tralian TV drama, a golden age of sto­ry­telling re­ally, and, in his phleg­matic, quizzi­cal way, he just shrugged his shoul­ders and said, “Well, no one has ever asked me.”

Well, he’s found his way into Amer­i­can TV with a two-part, four-hour fac­tu­ally based and imag­i­na­tively fab­ri­cated nar­ra­tive for the His­tory Chan­nel, a co-pro­duc­tion with sis­ter net­works Life­time and A & E. It’s a reimag­in­ing of the tale of Bon­nie and Clyde, the leads played con­vinc­ingly by Hol­l­i­day Grainger and Emile Hirsch, and like ev­ery­thing Beres­ford does, it’s un­abashedly its own self.

As you would ex­pect, al­most half a century down the dusty Louisiana trail, it’s to­tally dif­fer- ent to Arthur Penn’s 1967 film. Beres­ford calls it “a some­what more his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate take” on the ex­otic cou­ple who blasted their way across the south­ern states, killing 14 people in the course of their mostly inept rob­beries.

It seems that the truth has been a lit­tle elu­sive since these rather shabby ban­dits met their grisly end in 1934, and even in Beres­ford’s ver­sion the clos­ing cred­its con­tain the dis­claimer, “This story is based upon the lives of Bon­nie Parker and Clyde Bar­row”.

Well, in the end great sto­ries are about imag­i­na­tive worlds, great char­ac­ters, re­ver­ber­at­ing events, and res­o­nant themes; they tell us about calami­ties and treach­eries, ter­ri­ble blun­ders and re­demp­tions. They’re not about facts. But Beres­ford does con­tain his ill-fated love story within a con­text of au­then­tic­ity with a chrono­log­i­cal metic­u­lous­ness, with ti­tles, Ken Burns-style, giv­ing the dates and places of sig­nif­i­cant in­ci­dents, and old pho­to­graphs, news­pa­per pages and news­reels in­cor­po­rated for doc­u­men­tary ef­fect.

Beres­ford’s writ­ers, John Rice and Joe Bat­teer, be­gin at the end; at the very point the leg­end was born, the blood­ied corpses of its ti­tle char­ac­ters towed into the lit­tle town of Gipp­s­land, Louisiana, on May 23 in their bul­let-rid­dled car. School­child­ren ogle the corpses, and pull the shroud off Clyde’s de­stroyed face.

It’s a story about their jour­ney, nar­rated by Clyde, seem­ingly pos­sessed of the power of sec­ond sight, en­abling Beres­ford to in­dulge in some por­ten­tous flash-for­wards, es­pe­cially Bon­nie traips­ing to­wards her soon-to-be lover in a glit­ter­ing white dress be­fore they em­bark on their killing spree.

Bon­nie is the celebrity-ob­sessed mas­ter­mind, Clyde the man she both loved and used for her vain­glo­ri­ous pur­poses. “He Held the Gun. She Called the Shots”, the pub­lic­ity tagline goes, and the two-parter is nicely ele­giac, though Beres­ford hardly ven­er­ates the vi­o­lent per­pe­tra­tors. There’s also a stand­out per­for­mance from Wil­liam Hurt as an obdurate re­tired Texas ranger who can’t wait to put bul­lets in the heads of these star-crossed lovers.

The cast of ABC1’s

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