Local TV at its very best
Mzansi Magic’s new telenovela, The Road, is as close to practically perfect as a series can be,
Mzansi Magic’s new telenovela, The Road, is on the road less travelled. It is sumptuous, arrestingly beautiful, clever, sparkling, intriguing and mesmerisingly well done.
Produced by Desiree Markgraaff’s The Bomb Shelter (also responsible for Isibaya), this daily drama spanning dual time periods is compelling and exquisitely done. It straddles a TV show depicting the 1950s Sophiatown era as well as the TV show’s modern-day behind-the-scenes drama.
Beautifully lit set pieces from both eras – from atmospheric amber to washing powder commercial bright – wash over viewers with fluid cinematography, with excellent (and meta-rich) dialogue delivered through solid acting in glorious costuming.
The Road, filmed in studios in Jeppestown, is the year’s best piece of new South African television – not just local, but excellent local TV for a whopping 208 episodes. The Road is almost unbelievably good – practically perfect for a real-life TV production. To say or deliberately look for something bad or askew would be to nitpick.
It begs the question of how The Road and its high-concept story managed to get picked up in the first place and make it unscathed to television on Nkateko Mabaso’s Mzansi Magic channel.
Watching The Road is to be simultaneously transported to a brilliantly rendered, fictionalised fantasy version of Miriam Makeba’s Sophiatown in the 1950s – while you simply cannot help but feel that in the current-day part you’re gawking at a surreptitious view of what must surely be the drama playing out behind the scenes of something like the SABC1’s troubled soapie, Generations.
The production values of The Road are so very like the best of American TV that you have to pinch yourself to believe they exist for real on South African television.
Many viewers won’t notice, and that’s okay, but the modern-world conflict – in the scenes, dialogue, characters and camera angles – cleverly mirrors the show-in-a-show drama.
The meta references, seemingly throwaway lines, but oh so brilliant, are for showbizzers’ delight as well as ordinary soap watchers, ranging from “this show is going to be a hit” to “there’s not an award in this town that you’re not going to win” and “I’m pouring my heart and soul into a black hole that gives nothing back”.
Who watching – from those working in TV to those just sitting and enjoying the story on its superficial level – won’t be able to relate?
The Road is a wonder to behold. Idols and The Wild’s perfectly cast Gail Mabalane (She can sing! She can act!) has finally found her star vehicle and her few wobbly initial scenes will surely improve. Another thing on this road ahead to definitely follow, for those in the know, is the in-story showrunner Luthuli Dlamini (playing Zwelakhe Masondo), who is a blatant depiction of the caustic Generations boss Mfundi Vundla. Now Luthuli – who previously disappeared without a word from both Generations and Scandal! and got fired from both soaps in real life – plays the big boss of the story in the story.
You can’t but wonder if his character is going to do a disappearing act as well, have to deal with a disappeared or displeased actor, or whether the temperamental actor himself is going to dump the show in the real world a year or so from now.
The Road, with head writer Catherine Stewart, can be watched on many levels: straightforwardly, as a one-dimensional story; a taking-turns old-world, modern-world tale; or a delicious in-show meta-showbiz treat. Or all of them.
Definitely tune in to see where this amazing road leads. You haven’t seen local TV drama done this well on South African television in a very long time.
Mama Africa would approve.
PRIME TV The production values of The Road match the best of American TV