Review: The Code 1×1 (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC4)

The Code

In Australia: Sundays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by BBC4
In the US: Acquired by the Audience Network  

If you watch Australian drama, you’ll notice that almost all of it is set and shot in Melbourne or Sydney or perhaps the Outback. The nation’s capital of Canberra hardly gets a look in, largely because it’s mostly only people who work in the government who live there, whereas most of the nation’s film and television industry are based in – you guessed it – Melbourne and Sydney. Plus getting permits to film in Canberra is tricky.

So ABC’s new political thriller The Code is going to be a combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar for both Australian and overseas viewers. The story is split into two halves, one set in the more familiar Outback, where a school teacher (Lucy Lawless from BSG and, of course, Xena: Warrior Princess) is busily trying to find two of her missing students, who eventually turn out (slight spoiler for the first episode) to have been murdered; meanwhile, back in Canberra, all kinds of exciting political fun and scandal is going on involving the deputy prime minister (David Wenham from Top of the Lake), the foreign minister (Ian Bradley) and a mistress or two.

Investigating both plotlines is a journalist for online publication Password (Dan Spielman – The Secret Life of Us), overseen by Adam Garcia (best known in the UK as one of the long-standing judges of Sky1 show Got To Dance. I wonder what the overlap between viewers of that and viewers of this on BBC4 is going to be? Me?) and his Asperger’s brother (Ashley Zukerman – Rush), who’s supposed to stick away from computers, thanks to all that naughty hacking he got up to.

Doing its level best to ape just about any top-end conspiracy thriller, including State of Play, Homeland and The State Within, the first episode doesn’t exactly sell itself, throwing at us half an hour of slow-moving jerky-cam and uninvolving and even off-putting characters with little explanation. But as the story begins to unfold, the conspiracy elements start to play in and explanations begin to emerge, it does become a whole lot better.

The journalism side of things is pretty good: not absolutely accurate but more in the State of Play realm than the Anchorman realm. But where the show does really well is in computer hacking, which is what most of the story revolves around. Now while ‘Aspie hacker who gets into trouble for hacking the wrong people’ isn’t new in either real-life (Gary McKinnon) or fiction (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), usually being very cliched in the latter, The Code makes a bold attempt at getting the syndrome right, down to sensory integration problems. It’s still all headline weirdness stuff to highlight the ‘other’, even before it’s made obvious by the dialogue, but Zukerman does a good job with the portrayal, as does the script.

But more importantly, the actual hacking looks right. Following the path of Sherlock and every other show that’s needed to have what’s on a screen on-screen, The Code is frequently a mess of CGI text overlaid on various scenes. But in contrast to the general meaningless guff that you see in most shows, if you know your UNIX, you can see what’s going on is pretty accurate, with greps, ffmpegs and rsyncs aplenty (although I couldn’t swear to all the switches being correct…). Even when it’s made up, such as when a Mac-based Trojan turns up, the naming convention is right.

However, the rest of it needs work. Lawless’s plotline is just developing and the politics is veering more towards the humdrum and ordinary at the moment. But I’m going to hold out for episode two at least, since things willstart to kick into high gear with spies and torture, just for starters. I worry that given the Lawless storyline seems to hinge on a particular truck belonging to a fictional company and said spies are going to be working for a fictional Australian government agency, we’re going to be heading into Salamander territory in terms of plausibility and relevance to real-life. But maybe The Code might just have some import, beyond being one of the few shows to get approval for Canberra-filming.

PS BBC4: if ABC can show this one episode per week, you can, too.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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