Graeme Blun­dell and your TV picks for sum­mer

The paucity of watch­able TV at this time of year is now a thing of the past

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Graeme Blun­dell

‘No hol­i­day is ever any­thing but a dis­ap­point­ment,” Al­dous Hux­ley wrote in Crome Yel­low, and he might have been talk­ing about sum­mer tele­vi­sion view­ing, the sea­son when we have more time to watch but there of­ten seems to be noth­ing on.

The com­mer­cial net­works dis­dain­fully dump shows be­tween the rat­ings months, “new episodes” of fal­ter­ing se­ries jet­ti­soned in haste as they gear up for a sport­ing sum­mer of big bash­ing cricket and big grunt­ing ten­nis. This is know­ingly char­ac­terised in the in­dus­try as zom­bie pro­gram­ming; no won­der peo­ple get the hol­i­day blues (aka sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der) when there no TV to di­vert us.

This year, though, is dif­fer­ent be­cause, well, ev­ery­thing seems to be on — and avail­able on count­less screens and out­lets. Stream­ing ser­vices have changed the land­scape com­pletely, offering vast li­braries of movies, docos and TV shows of all kinds.

It’s even pos­si­ble to watch a half-dozen shows more or less si­mul­ta­ne­ously, and if you want to play around af­ter a day at the beach and the fourth gin and tonic, you can take con­trol of mon­tage and turn your TV re­ceiver into a bot­tom­less pit of footage. Of course, nearly all of it has been on be­fore, much of it tucked away on Fox­tel — it proves yet again there can never be a tele­vi­sion fu­ture with­out a past.

On stream­ing ser­vice Net­flix check out Small Time Gang­ster, the ter­rific lo­cal se­ries from 2011, writ­ten with mis­chievous wit by Gareth Calver­ley and An­drew McI­nally, star­ring Steve Le Mar­quand and Gary Sweet, and di­rected with a cut­ting-edge sheen by Jef­frey Walker. It’s a grim but very funny com­edy built around the clear bound­aries that ex­ist be­tween crim­i­nal­ity and re­spectabil­ity, and the way the trans­gres­sive en­er­gies of life at the mar­gins are so seg­re­gated from main­stream Aus­tralian so­ci­ety. Per­fect view­ing af­ter you see off frac­tious rel­lies.

Then, still trawl­ing through Net­flix, spend a few very laid-back hours with Weeds, the clas­sic US com­edy about a des­per­ate house­wife, Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), who be­comes a mar­i­juana dealer to pay the bills, a show that was orig­i­nally a crit­i­cal suc­cess for ca­ble chan­nel Show­time. While dis­play­ing no dis­cernible ca­reer skills, Nancy du­ti­fully goes to her sons’ soc­cer matches, keeps an up­scale house and Latina maid, dis­plays an in­sa­tiable ap­petite for iced latte, Diet Coke and large glasses of red wine, and deals weed to make it pos­si­ble.

Ir­re­sistible mind-al­ter­ing com­edy for the sum­mer that will have you con­sort­ing with all kinds of ston­ers, jok­ers and crooks as you lounge back with a cold one.

Or, if you’re in the mood for some epis­te­mo­log­i­cal com­plex­ity af­ter too many G&Ts, you could go back to the be­gin­ning of Lost — also in Net­flix’s huge archive — which prob­a­bly left you in­fu­ri­at­ingly and wretch­edly in the dark the first time around. Its com­plex and cryptic sto­ry­line and elab­o­rate frac­tured nar­ra­tives about a hand­ful of plane crash sur­vivors on a not-so-de­serted is­land, will spawn nu­mer­ous unresolved ques­tions to keep you pon­der­ing un­til the sun­burn fades away.

A re­cent offering from Presto, perki­est of the new stream­ers, is Parks and Recre­ation, the award-win­ning mock­u­men­tary set in the world of small-town pol­i­tics and cen­tred on a group of work­ers in the parks depart­ment of the fic­tional mid­west­ern city of Pawnee. The lu­mi­nous Amy Poehler stars as Les­lie Knope, an am­bi­tious small-town gov­ern­ment worker, head­ing a cast of char­ac­ters who are broad comic types as well as sin­cerely, of­ten hope­lessly in­ept, fully re­alised three-di­men­sional per­son­al­i­ties.

It’s one for a long af­ter­noon with a big jug of Pimm’s.

And Stan, the other ma­jor stream­ing ser­vice, has picked up the ABC’s Red­fern Now, the first se­ries to be writ­ten, di­rected and pro­duced by in­dige­nous Aus­tralians. It’s cen­tred on a di­verse group of in­di­vid­u­als from six fam­i­lies whose lives are changed by a freak­ish or serendip­i­tous oc­cur­rence. Each episode is like a beau­ti­fully con­structed short story that goes straight to the frag­ile hearts of Red­fern Now’s char­ac­ters, with­out be­com­ing sen­ti­men­tal or ob­du­rately po­lit­i­cal. In­tense view­ing but pro­foundly re­ward­ing on a late sum­mer’s med­i­ta­tive evening.

The free-to-air net­works’ pro­gram­mers have been busy hyp­ing their hol­i­day view­ing cal­en­dars as a cru­cial part of their sched­ule. In re­al­ity, dis­cern­ing view­ers who haven’t dis­cov­ered the joys of stream­ing will turn to the ABC, SBS and pay TV.

SBS has boldly picked up The Miss­ing (Wed­nes­day, Jan­uary 6, 8.30pm), the com­pelling BBC drama that grabbed Fox­tel view­ers ear­lier this year, a con­fronting story of a kid­napped five-year-old child, Oliver Hughes, and the in­suf­fer­able strain that his dis­ap­pear­ance places on his par­ents, Tony (James Nes­bitt) and Emily (Frances O’Con­nor).

On a lighter note, fa­mous for her trade­mark iri­des­cent tops, the al­ways cheer­ful Maeve O’Meara, who can say wow in so many lan­guages, re­turns with Food Sa­fari Fire (Thurs­day, Jan­uary 7, 8pm) in a se­ries cel­e­brat­ing the bar­be­cue, wood-fired oven and spit roast.

SBS is also pre­mier­ing The Fam­ily Law (Thurs­day, Jan­uary 14, 8.30pm), an in­ter­est­ing­sound­ing se­ries from crit­i­cally ac­claimed writer Ben­jamin Law and adapted from his hit 2010 mem­oir of the same name. It’s the story of a quirky Chi­nese-Aus­tralian fam­ily on the Sun­shine Coast over the course of a long hot sum­mer, as told by 14-year old Ben­jamin, who is some­what ob­sessed with as­pi­ra­tions to be fa­mous de­spite his se­vere lack of tal­ent.

The ABC has its usual nicely mixed bag of orig­i­nal con­tent across all gen­res, be­gin­ning with the un­usual and oddly charm­ing six-part Kan­ga­roo Dundee (Tues­day, 8pm), which tells the story of Chris “Brolga” Barns, a man who has ded­i­cated his life to res­cu­ing and rais­ing or­phan kan­ga­roos.

A spin-off, it seems from the amus­ing doco that aired a couple of years ago, it’s about a very tall Aussie bloke who goes by the name of Brolga (named af­ter the equally lanky bird), lives in a one-room tin shed in Alice Springs and spends his time saving or­phaned joeys. Since child­hood he has been in­fat­u­ated with our most iconic an­i­mal, turn­ing his love of the TV clas­sic Skippy the Bush Kan­ga­roo into a way of res­cu­ing and rais­ing hun­dreds of or­phans for release back into the wild.

The bond he forms with his ba­bies and the mob of wild kan­ga­roos liv­ing with Brolga in his sanc­tu­ary pro­vides a cap­ti­vat­ing insight into the kan­ga­roo’s bizarre bi­ol­ogy.

The ABC has also picked up the bril­liant four-part se­ries In­side Men (Wed­nes­day, Jan­uary 5, 9.20pm), which also re­cently aired on Fox­tel — it’s a study of how men be­have when they step out of their com­fort zones and cross the moral line into crim­i­nal­ity. It’s a gritty, noirish drama, a won­der­ful moral poser about three employees of a se­cu­rity de­pot who plan and ex­e­cute a multi-mil­lion-pound cash heist.

20 Feet from Star­dom (Sun­day, Jan­uary 10, 10pm) looks good too. Award-win­ning di­rec­tor Mor­gan Neville shines a spot­light on the backup singers (in­clud­ing Aus­tralia’s Jo Lawry) be­hind some of the great­est mu­si­cal leg­ends of the 21st cen­tury. Along with rare archival footage and a peer­less sound­track, the film boasts in­ter­views with Bruce Spring­steen, Ste­vie Won­der, Mick Jag­ger and Sting.

Fox­tel also ex­cels across the board, al­ways de­ter­mined to pick up new sub­scribers while its com­peti­tors turn the lights out for sum­mer.

La­conic Kevin McCloud is back in the 13th sea­son of Grand De­signs UK (Life­style, Thurs­day, Jan­uary 14, 8.30pm) with more orig­i­nal sto­ries of am­bi­tious fam­i­lies pur­su­ing their ar­chi­tec­tural dreams, again dryly fol­low­ing his sub­jects’ at­tempts to con­vert light­houses on the coast or glass-roofed eco-houses in the forests.

The hugely pop­u­lar The Great Bri­tish Bake Off (Life­style Food, Tues­day, Jan­uary 19) also re­turns, with judges Mary Berry and Paul Hol­ly­wood cre­at­ing 30 new chal­lenges to test the bak­ing prow­ess, cre­ativ­ity and skills of an­other 12 en­thu­si­as­tic con­tes­tants in a bid to find the coun­try’s best ama­teur baker.

And some­time in Jan­uary, a new com­edy show will sur­face that might just be the first sleeper of the new year, Bas­kets (Com­edy Chan­nel) co-cre­ated for the US FX chan­nel by co­me­dian Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis, Louis CK and Port­landia’s Jonathan Krisel. It is the first project un­der FX Pro­duc­tions’ over­all deal with Louis CK and his pro­duc­tion com­pany Pig New­ton, and stars Gal­i­fi­anakis as a comic de­ter­mined to be­come a French clown. How­ever, re­al­ity keeps in­ter­fer­ing and he ends up as a rodeo en­ter­tainer in­stead.

Who says there’s noth­ing on the TV through the hol­i­days?

Clock­wise from top, a scene from The Fam­ily Law, Food Sa­fari Fire host Maeve

O’Meara, and scenes from The Miss­ing and Kan­ga­roo Dundee

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