Lo­cal TV at its very best

Mzansi Magic’s new te­len­ov­ela, The Road, is as close to prac­ti­cally per­fect as a se­ries can be,

CityPress - - Trending - writes Thi­nus Fer­reira

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

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