Australian and New Zealand TV

Review: Cleverman 1×1 (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC Three)

In Australia: Thursdays, 9.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by BBC Three. Available later this year

When making scripted television, broadcasters around the world have a choice whether to make their programmes with either local or global appeal in mind. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk – make the programme too locally focused and unless you’re in the US, chances are no one outside your home country will know what you’re talking about so won’t watch; make it too globally focused, and it’ll be too homogeneous, appealing to no one rather than everyone.

After years of only managing to sell soap operas and shows involving improbably intelligent and helpful animals overseas, modern Australian television is slowly finding ways to tread this tightrope, with shows such as Rake, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, The Code, Serangoon Road and The Doctor Blake Mysteries finally finding success both in Australia and abroad. But until now, Australia hasn’t managed to find a way to make one of its most pressing local issues work in a globally-targeted drama (or even in a local drama, judging by the limpness of both Redfern Now and The Gods of Wheat Street). But with Cleverman it might just have done it.

The Australian Aboriginal peoples have the world’s longest survival culture, with more 60,000 years of stories known as ‘The Dreaming’. But more or less ever since the British landed in Australia, they’ve been in decline, and have been treated abysmally in many ways. Addressing the legacy of this treatment is likely to take generations.

Cleverman marries modern Australia’s ‘Aboriginal problem’ with The Dreaming to give us something unique. Set in the near future, it plucks from the Dreaming ‘the hairies’, a race of people who are like humans but super-strong and have their own language. They have co-existed with but have remained unknown to humans for 80,000 years.

Mimicking the historic treatment of Aborigines since British colonisation, Cleverman has these hairies confined to ‘the Zone’, which has third-world-level living conditions; if they leave, they face systemic discrimination and are abused, separated from their children (the Stolen Generations) and banned from speaking their own language (the Aboriginal Gumbaynggirr language). Some choose to assimilate or hide among humans by shaving off their extra hair, speaking English and acting like humans.

So far, so District 9 and numerous other bits of sci-fi. Indeed, the first half of the first episode of Cleverman is very generic stuff and is often a bit laughable, with all the talk of hairies, ‘rugs’ (human insult for hairies), ‘shavers’ (hairies who remove their hair) and so on. There’s a slightly dull problem involving two brothers (Hunter Page-Lochard and Rob Collins) and their uncle (Jack Charles), who wants to have a word with them about something, but they’re too busy off doing criminal things, like running underground fight clubs for hairies or shopping illegals to the cops.

Charles also has some kind of agreement with slimey corporate mogul Iain Glenn (best known here from Game of Thrones but very big Down Under thanks to the success of RTÉ Ireland’s Jack Taylor series there). He appears to want to help the hairies against the government’s wishes, but more likely has his own best interests at heart.

Then, almost exactly mid-way through the episode, it flips everything round and becomes a lot more interesting. The show gets its name from the Aboriginal idea of the Cleverman, who is a conduit between the real world and the Dreaming, which is also a spiritual realm where past, present and future come together and all manner of strange beasties live. Charles is the current Cleverman but his time is ending and he’s going to pass on his responsibilities to one of his two nephews. But which one…?

Once the new Cleverman is selected, we get the arrival of the supernatural in this slightly limp sci-fi analogy and everything improves considerably. The stories of the Dreaming start to feature more prominently, people start getting some very strange superpowers, the dead start coming back to life and heart-eating creatures descend from the sky.

I almost gave up on the show after its first 30 minutes, so I recommend you have patience if you’re going to watch it, since it does improve in the second half. It’s still not exactly faultless*, and the female roles are almost non-existent at this stage. But it will offer you something significantly different from other shows, with a uniquely Australian flavour, while still managing to speak to global audiences.

* Here’s a game you can play called ‘where’s his dick gone?’ There’s a sex scene at the end, during which the man passes out. Then someone comes in to help but doesn’t realise they’ve been having sex. And thus the game begins…


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Weekly Wonder Woman

Weekly Wonder Woman: DC Rebirth #1, Justice League #50, Superman #52, The Legend of Wonder Woman #27, & Justice League v Teen Titans

It’s here, everyone. Finally, it’s here – Rebirth, the DC Universe’s equivalent of that Old Spice ad:

That thing that’s canon? You’ll love this – it’ll still canon. That thing you used to love that was canon but wasn’t in the nu52? You’ll love this – it’s now canon again. That thing you loved but which was never canon and you never thought would be? You’ll love this – that’s now canon.

But we’ve a bit of overlap between the nu52/DCYou and Rebirth universes still to deal with, and so in the past fortnight, DC has given us a few final nu52 issues to round off some storylines, some of which affect our Diana. So after the jump, as well as looking at DC Rebirth #1, we’ll see how the Darkseid War ends in Justice League #50 and we’ll be seeing what happens to the nu52 Superman in Superman #52.

Meanwhile, alternative universe Wonder Woman origin story, The Legend of Wonder Woman, also comes to a conclusion of sorts in #27 and just for a bit of spice in our lives, I’ll be looking at a movie that got released in the UK last week – Justice League vs Teen Titans

I’m on a horse.

Continue reading “Weekly Wonder Woman: DC Rebirth #1, Justice League #50, Superman #52, The Legend of Wonder Woman #27, & Justice League v Teen Titans”

What have you been watching? Including Deadpool, The Americans and The Tunnel (Tunnel)

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. 

Well would you look at that – back as scheduled. Miracles will never cease.

As usual, though, the networks have carefully timed a batch of new shows to start airing while I’ve been away. I’ll be reviewing them in the next few days, but hold your horses on discussing Animal Kingdom (US: TNT), Private Eyes (Canada: CBC), Feed The Beast (US: AMC; UK: BT Vision) and Cleverman (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC Four) until then, if you’ve seen them.

After the jump, I’ll be looking at the season/series finales of Arrow, The Flash and The Tunnel (Tunnel), as well as the dwindling regulars (won’t someone give us some good new TV, please?): 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley. Surprisingly, despite my reduced viewing list, one of these is for the chop because I can’t even.

Before that, though, I’ve seen not one, but two superhero movies!

Deadpool (2015) (iTunes)
Ryan Reynolds in the first of Marvel’s adult-oriented superhero movies, here playing a mercenary who gets given mutant powers at the cost of his good looks, so tries to get the Brit scientist/kickboxer who experimented on him (Ed Skrein from The Transporter Refueled and Game of Thrones) to undo the damage so he can get back his girl (Morena Baccarin from Firefly and Homeland). But as well as his looks, the newly-christened Deadpool also loses his sanity – for some reason, he thinks he’s in a superhero movie and chooses to satirise anything and everything about it, as well as talk to the audience he thinks is watching him…

Although not as funny or as daring as it thinks it is and saddled with a conventional revenge plot that all the storytelling tricks in the world can’t cover up, Deadpool has a lot going for it, particularly its potty mouth, and meta jibes at Ryan Reynolds and the X-men. You’ll laugh at about half the jokes and there are scenes that will stick with you for days afterwards. But its own critiques (“It’s almost like the studio couldn’t afford more famous stars”) reveal the film’s biggest problem – it’s subversive enough that the studio wants to keep it safely confined in a box away from the rest of the franchise, unable to play with the big boys. Also, Gina Carano is wasted in a small role, which makes me sad. 

But you can’t really knock a superhero movie that has its lead masturbating with a toy unicorn, now can you?

Spider-Man 3 (2007) (iTunes)
Somehow I missed/couldn’t be bothered to watch the third of the previous (but one) Spider-Man movie franchises, but with another on the way, I figured I’d watch all the old ones (not including the Nicholas Hammond 70s TV show) just to see how they compare. Here we get Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man finding (yet again) it’s hard achieving a work-life-superhero balance, and despite wanting to marry girlfriend Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), ends up neglecting her. Then, he discovers that the man (Thomas Haden Church) who really killed Uncle Ben has escaped from prison and acquired the power to turn into and shape sand. And best friend James Franco has discovered Peter Parker is Spider-Man and wants to get revenge for the supposed murder of his father (aka The Green Goblin). Just as Peter’s at his lowest ebb, he attracts the attention of an alien symbiote who turns his costume – as well as his soul – black…

Weirdly, despite its rep, I found this to be the best of the lot – Spider-Man 1 & 2 do not bear up well, despite my having found them reasonably good at the time, and The Amazing Spider-Man is astonishingly dreary and uncompelling. While the ‘Venom’ subtext is a little clunky and the character itself a bit rubbish, the story actually takes novel turns, with forgiveness and doing good lorded over violence and darkness (take note, DC Comics). 

Utterly meaningless if you haven’t seen the first two movies, mind.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Deadpool, The Americans and The Tunnel (Tunnel)”

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