Third-episode verdict: The Beautiful Lie (Australia: ABC)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

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

There’s a certain responsibility that comes with writing these reviews, you know. Leaving aside that lots of people have puts lots of effort into making TV programmes, even the bad ones, when I recommend a show, I have to a remember there’s always a chance you might end up watching it – and wasting a lot of your time.

So imagine my concern, after having given a hearty thumbs up to ABC Australia’s The Beautiful Lie, a remake of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina set in modern day Sydney with famous tennis players taking the place of Russian aristrocracy, when episode two turned out to be a bit of a pup. Imagine the stereotype of a classic aristocratic romance – annoying, privileged people whining about the depth of their love and their #FirstWorldProblems and then not doing anything about them ‘because of society’ – and you have episode two.

“Oh dear. What have I sold them on?” I worried to myself.

Fortunately, episode three brought back some fun and some insight, and made a sizeable number of the characters Not Hateable again. Unfortunately, the show is still centred on Anna, the tennis player, and Skeet, the hipster musician, and their unstoppable, intense but utterly vapid love for each other – they are not in the Not Hateable group.

Whether by design or misfortune, The Beautiful Lie‘s biggest problem is that it has a romance between two people who are intensely annoying and stupid. Particularly Skeet, who is ‘pretty but stupid’ incarnate. Anna’s got Terribly, Terribly Important Things to deal with and talks about how when she’s with Skeet, “she’s like a starving woman given food.” Again, I reiterate, Anna and Skeet are not in the Not Hateable group.

Where it is working a lot better is with Peter and Kitty, Skeet’s former fiancée, who are very tolerable, even when assembling love poems to each other with fridge magnets; Dolly, Anna’s sister-in-law, is also fun, as are her dealings with spiders and electricity; and her cheating husband may be a dick, but at least he’s fun, too. They’re all relatively decent people, whose stories are engaging.

So I’m not going to be watching The Beautiful Lie to see how Skeet and Anna’s romance turns out, since unless it’s a fiery death, probably caused by too much friction in Skeet’s luxurious hair, I don’t want to know. Instead, I’m going to carry on with it, since it’s that rare thing – a TV show about love that doesn’t settle for clichés, that knows how to have fun and to handle complexity, and which is willing to give us supporting characters every bit as interesting as the central lovers.

Rating: 3
TMINE’s prediction: Unless they discover a sequel to Anna Karenina, I imagine one season should be all it gets. But it’s TV and if the ratings hold up, who knows? 

  • benjitek

    …pass… 😉

  • JustStark

    even when assembling love poems to each other with fridge magnets

    Like that scene in the Stoppard version with the letter-blocks? Is that based on something in the book?

    . But it's TV and if the ratings hold up, who knows?

    Assuming they do stick to the book's plot, that should solve at least one of the problems…

  • I'm assuming that in the original, they're exchanging love poems or something. There's a certain quality to the poetry that says “This wasn't written by a modern writer and he was probably Russian.” I imagine modern writers modernise the scene in different ways.

  • JustStark

    So after that I thought, 'I should ask Google' and Google said:

    There is a romantic scene in Part 4, Chapter 13 of Anna Karenina
    when Kitty and Levin communicate without speaking. Using just the first
    letters of the words they wish to exchange, Kitty and Levin can still
    understand one another almost telepathically, by looking into one
    another's eyes […] For Tolstoy, real communication happens between two people when they can
    look one another in the eye, as when Karenin comes to forgive Anna for
    her wrongdoing. Long-distance communication (especially by trains)
    increases the possibility for miscommunication, for the kinds of
    misunderstandings between people that finally drives Anna to her
    suicide. Communication is another way for Tolstoy subtly to comment on
    the isolation and confusion of modern life

    Which all sounds very interesting (and is the kind of modernist, Eliot/Greene-esque point of view to which I am sympathetic) and almost made me want to read the novel, until I asked Amazon and Amazon reminded me it's 800 pages long, and given it took me ten years to get around to The Karamazov Brothers this is not going to happen soon.