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October 22, 2015

Review: The Ex-PM 1x1 (Australia: ABC)

Posted on October 22, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Ex PM

In Australia: Wednesdays, 9.10pm, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Comedy is a funny thing. Some of it transfers around the world very well. The less dialogue the better usually - Mr Bean pratfalling is the same in any language - but the delights of Cheers, Modern Family and Blackadder work in pretty much any country you care to think of, either in English or dubbed. 

Satire, on the other hand, is a much trickier prospect. By its very nature, it's targetting something that it expects the audience to know about already so they can think about it in a new light. It'll use cultural references that it shares with the viewer to raise a laugh at the same time.

All of which is a slightly pretentious way of saying that I didn't get a lot of The Ex-PM. But that's not necessarily the show's fault. Nor does it mean it's hilarious for Australians.

Shaun Micallef is one of Australia's most familiar and celebrated performers, having appeared in TV comedy shows, usually as himself or a version of himself, since the 1980s. Chances are, though, unless you've been to Australia or are Australian, you won't have heard of him, despite Channel 4 (or maybe it was BBC Two) having picked up one of his shows a decade or two ago. I think. I seem to remember seeing it anyway.

These days he's most famous (in Australia) for his comedy news programme Shaun Micallef's Mad As Hell, which has aired on ABC since 2012 but which is the latest in a series of programmes bearing his name (eg Shaun Micallef's World Around Him, The Micallef Program, Micallef Tonight, Shaun Micallef's New Year's Rave). 

But he's an all-round performer. He appeared in SBS's 60s action TV show and movie parody Danger 5 for example, and if you cast your mind back to Ten's Mr and Mrs Murder, he played one half of a husband-and-wife crime scene-cleaning team who solved mysteries together. 

I didn't really like Mr and Mrs Murder. Neither, to be fair, did most of Australia, judging by the ratings. However, I was told after the fact by TV-literate Australians of my acquaintance that a lot of what Micallef was doing was playing on a shared history of performance with his co-star Kat Stewart in another show, Newstopia.

See what I mean? Sometimes, you need to be in on the joke and the cultural references to really get comedy.

All of which is an even longer way of saying that Shaun Micallef has a new comedy series called The Ex-PM in which he plays Andrew Dugdale, the retired third-longest serving prime minister of Australia. And that I didn't get a lot of the jokes but that doesn't mean it's not funny, if you know what the jokes are referencing. I think.

Continue reading "Review: The Ex-PM 1x1 (Australia: ABC)"

October 21, 2015

Review: The Beautiful Lie 1x1 (Australia: ABC)

Posted on October 21, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Beautiful Lie

In Australia: Sundays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

So, obviously, I watch an awful lot of TV to do this blog. In part, that's because as I spend most of my days reading things, I don't want to spend my evenings doing that, too. That means that, essentially, I only read books when I'm not working and I'm not blogging.

In that particular intersection of the Venn diagram of my life is August.

Don't judge me too harshly then when I say that I've never read Anna Karenina. It's a classic, I know, but quite a long one and it's by Tolstoy and it's probably got one of those genealogy tables at the beginning so you know who's related to whom. Plus, you know, holidays.

Anyway, that means I'm coming at ABC (Australia)'s The Beautiful Lie fresh. An updating of Karenina, it sees the action shifted from the late 19th century Russian aristocracy to modern day Melbourne and Australia's very own aristocracy. Sarah Snook is Anna Ivin, a former women's tennis champ married to a former men's tennis champ (Rodger Corser, who's best known from Underbelly and Rush but who also appeared with Snook in W's Spirited). When Ivin's brother (Daniel Henshall) cheats on his wife (Celia Pacquola), Anna flies into town to provide support for them both, but at the airport meets hipster musician Skeet Du Pont (Benedict Samuel). There's a spark, in part caused by their witnessing the accidental death of a nearby taxi driver, but that's it… until they meet again later - it turns out that Skeet is actually the fiancé of Kitty (Sophie Lowe), Pacquola's sister, and the spark becomes something more. Dare the two act on it?

Normally, I have quite a low tolerance for this sort of thing, particularly when you have a knowing narrator throwing out aphorisms about life and love like she's just been given a particularly cynical, Russian "quote of the day" calendar and fancied looking a few months ahead. Throw in some hipsters, moody, unrealistic sex scenes and the occasionally wooden performance, and I'm reaching for the off switch.

Yet, actually, The Beautiful Lie is very good. Maybe it's because there's some classic plotting and dialogue working under the show's covers, but the characters are interesting and engaging, even when they're being dicks, all the repressed emotion and love is heart-wrenching, and even with the 17,000 characters and relationships to juggle, it all fits together well. And despite all the potential Russian miserablism to mine, it all feels quite hopeful and even fun at times.

At six parts, The Beautiful Lie is clearly a much easier read of a classic to get through than Anna Karenina itself, too. I've no idea if it'll get picked up in the UK, since BBC Four probably won't want it since there's no crime element, but I imagine Sky Arts might give it a look in. I certainly think it deserves a bigger audience than it's liable to get.

 

October 20, 2015

Review: The Romeo Section 1x1 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on October 20, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Romeo Section

In Canada: Wednesdays, 9pm, CBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

If there's one thing Canadians can't seem to get enough of, it seems to be spy shows. Whether it's as a stupid comedy (Insecurity), a reasonably smart cross-border politicking drama (The Border), or as a very smart undercover cop show (Intelligence), sneakiness and lies have been a mainstay of Canada's TV output for the best part of a decade. 

In part, that's down to Chris Haddock, the Canadian writer/producer behind cop shows Da Vinci's Inquest, Da Vinci's Town Hall and CBS's The Handler, who first launched the genre in Canada with the slow-moving Intelligence. He's now back in the game with The Romeo Section, an even slower-moving spy show. 

It stars the inexplicably Glaswegian Andrew Airlie as the equally inexplicably named Wolfgang McGee, a globe-trotting Vancouver university professor who runs 'the Romeo Section' - a group of male and female undercover spies involved in sexy time with various intelligence targets, international and domestic. It's their job to inflitrate the Triads, crime rings, cartels and other criminal groups, to get the information Canada needs to destroy them.

To get them to do this, Airlie goes around Hong Kong and Vancouver, visiting shops, libraries, dark gloomy places, racetracks and numerous other places, where he has mumbly, Glaswegian-accented conversations with people that are so arch, you can't tell if it's bad writing or some kind of spy code. Then he goes away again, information gathered, so he can brood back in his office or mumble with his handler (Eugene Lipinski from Intelligence, Da Vinci's Town Hall et al, but also the original BBC Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), while his assets go off and have more sexy times. Main asset is the conflicted and bearded Juan Riedinger (Narcos), who spends a lot of his time shagging mental mob wife Stephanie Bennett (UnREAL, iZombie).

The whole show has the veneer of quality and intelligence, except it's one of those veneers where you assume that it's good and intelligent because nothing much happens for great long chunks of time and no one talks above a whisper, not because it's telling you anything you don't know or because of the gripping plot and characters. Not by a long chalk is this another Rubicon. You want it to be Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I'm about 90% sure it's actually A Bit of Fry & Laurie.

It's not badly written, it does avoid the excesses of a lot of spy shows, it does have some smarts to it and I'm sure it'll have its proponents and fans, who'll be addicted by episode eight, when something might actually have happened. But I won't be sticking around until then, I'm afraid.

 

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