Australian and New Zealand TV

Review: The Wizards of Aus 1×1 (Australia: SBS2)

In Australia: Aired nightly, Tuesday 19 January-Thursday 21 January, 8.30pm, SBS 2

As we discovered quite recently with The Shannara Chronicles (although, truth be told, we’ve known it in our hearts for quite some time), fantasy is not only a genre that’s very easy to parody, it’s almost self-parodic. Even when it’s being serious, there’s an inevitable difficulty in suspending disbelief, particularly when it starts throwing in pompous dialogue, not bothering to develop characters much beyond their ‘destinies’ and their general unwillingness to embrace them, plots that are largely scavenger hunts but with better prizes, and so on.

So you might ask what the point of The Wizards of Aus is, as it’s a parody of the fantasy genre in which two powerful but rather petty wizards fight their plot-ordained conflict in powerful but rather petty ways. Do we need it? Fantasy is silly already.

It’s a good question and I’m not sure there’s a good answer, beyond “So that Michael Shanks can make some silly and occasionally funny jokes.”

Michael Shanks?

Michael Shanks

No, he’s Canadian. This Michael Shanks.

Michael Shanks

He’s Australian. Or maybe a New Zealander. Or maybe both.

The basic plot is this: Shanks is a wizard who lives in a world of magic and dragons and wizards and knights and warrior women. Except all they do all day is fight and do idiotic, heroic things. So Shanks decides to move somewhere where rationality rules: the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Unfortunately, so do a lot of the other magical beings from his world. Some get regular-type jobs, others continue with their malevolent activities.

Shanks is a sort of halfway point between the two worlds – too smart and rational for the fantasy world, too magical and lack in worldly wisdom for Australia – and the show basically divides the humour into three types:

  1. Flashbacks to the fantasy world
  2. A somewhat lame attempt to satirise Australian racism using magical beings as an obvious metaphor for immigrants
  3. The juxtaposition of the magic world with the real world, with wizards applying for recycling bins.

The first camp is actually quite funny, with Shanks smartly sending up the conventions of the genre. You really wish that was the whole show – a sort of Blackadder of the fantasy world.

The second camp is obvious and rarely makes a point beyond “Look! This is just like how we’re treating the boat people and Asians! Do you see? Do you see?”

And the third camp, despite all kinds of shiny guest stars such as Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3, Memento), Liam McIntyre (Spartacus, The Flash) and Bruce Spence (Legend of the SeekerMad Max 2), really seems more like a big, long and possibly quite expensive advert for the Australian digital effects industry than anything actually funny.

Less is more, it seems, even in the fantasy realm.

If it weren’t such a busy month, I’d probably stick with the remaining episodes as although it’s a bit scattergun, there is at least reasonable promise in the show’s mocking of fantasy conventions. Unfortunately, it is so I won’t. YMMV.


Review: The Shannara Chronicles 1×1-1×3 (US: MTV)

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, MTV
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When Into The Badlands arrived on our screens the other side of Christmas, I tried very hard to work out why it wasn’t any good. After all, it had impeccable source material to work with and a decent cast, and it had imported Hong Kong martial arts stars and choreographers to jazz up the fights. Except it was hackneyed and dull.

Was it because it was on AMC, famed for almost fetishing slow storytelling? Or was it simply because it was from Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who perhaps aren’t up to post-apocalyptic quest dramas?

It turns out it’s probably a bit of both, but perhaps not for the reasons I was thinking of. I think it’s because Gough and Millar were putting all their effort into the rather similar The Shannara Chronicles.

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Preview: Lucifer 1×1 (US: Fox)


In the US: Fox. Set to air 2016
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Some ideas just sound rubbish as soon as you hear them. You take a much-loved adult comic strip, Lucifer, created by one of the world’s most esteemed fantasy writers, Neil Gaiman, in which the Devil decides he’s had enough of Hell and decides to start a new life for himself on Earth.

And then you make a TV series of it that’s also a police procedural. Yes, the Devil solving crimes every week. On Fox, the network where good procedurals go to die.

And then you get that bloke from Miranda to play the Devil.

Just total rubbish, right?

Except Lucifer somehow manages to take all those elements, mix them together and produce something that’s actually very engaging. I assume some soul-selling was involved.

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Australian and New Zealand TV

Mini-review: Old School 1×1 (ABC1)

Old School

In Australia: Fridays, 8.30pm, ABC1

It hasn’t escaped the notice of more or less any TV executive worldwide that TV audiences are getting older. Those damn kids are glued to this new fangled Internet, leaving TV behind to those who’ve been watching since they were kids and TV was this new fangled thing that was robbing cinema of its audiences.

As a result, TV for what I’ll charitably call the older generations is getting special consideration, particularly in the crime genre, which the old folks just love. Here in the UK, of course, we have BBC1’s New Tricks, starring a bevy of famous older actors from shows that were popular in the 70s and 80s. It’s now on its 11th series, and still bringing in between 7m and 10m viewers.

Australia’s ABC1 (which also airs New Tricks) is waking up to this potential as well, and for its latest effort, Old School, it’s deploying two of the world’s most famous older Antipodean actors: Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. Neill is a retired cop, Brown a crim who’s just got out of jail. They team up to find the man who shot Neill and ruined his career during Brown’s last job – and to find the loot that went missing afterwards.

Not entirely confident that cutting out an entire demographic from the potential audience is a good idea, ABC1 is ensuring that some young pretty people also feature in the cast list: Brown’s law student granddaughter (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence from Spartacus) whom Brown puts into the care of Mark Coles Smith (The Gods of Wheat Street) when things get a bit rough.

But this is still a double act between Neill and Brown, both of whom are playing this somewhat leisurely, let’s say. As with New Tricks, it’s a relatively slowly paced, amiable comedy-drama where nothing that wouldn’t have happened in an episode of Hawaii Five-O takes place. There aren’t any especially great lines and most of the action revolves around either Neill or Brown feeling old or discovering something that’s changed since he was a lad, such as this new fangled Internet.

Yet despite this and the almost The Persuaders!-esque title sequence, OId School is still a modern show, a series with definite story arcs and character development rather than an entirely episodic piece. There are surprises and mysteries that aren’t solved by the end of the first episode. The inevitable odd couple private detective format, with Neill using his police skills, Brown his criminal skills, is partly present but doesn’t pan out quite as you’d expect, with Neill dealing with shades of grey surprisingly well, Brown able to police sometimes as well as Neill.

While it’s nothing earth-shattering, Old School is enjoyable, has a good couple of leads, a good supporting cast and a strong enough plot that it’ll be worth sticking with for now – it’ll probably remind you a bit of The Rockford Files or something.

Classic TV

Your handy guide to true religions on TV – Hellenism and Religio Romana

This entry is one of a series of articles covering religions depicted on TV as being true. For full details and a list of the other religions covered, go to the introduction.

The Greek pagan religion featuring Zeus and the other Olympians isn’t quite a dead religion, but it’s close. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most influential, dominating Western literature, film and TV to a far greater extent than those in a far healthier state, such as Hinduism. As well as adaptations of Greek tragedies on TV, there have been many adaptations of many Greek myths and the gods have shown up in shows set in the modern day as well as the past. Atlantis, which is currently being made by BBC1, would appear to feature elements of Hellenic religion as well as the Minoan religion of Crete.

Religio Romana
Again, another religion that’s not quite dead and still gets featured occasionally in TV shows. A syncretism of native Italian religion and Hellenism, Religio Romana and its literature dominated Western understanding of Hellenism and myths until the 14th century, when an understanding of Greek and Greek literature became to permeate through after the fall of Constantinople. It wasn’t until the late 19th and 20th centuries, in fact, that academics realised the two were separate, yet in the last century or so, despite the occasional blurring (e.g. Hercules/Heracles, Wonder Woman’s Ares/Mars, etc), Hellenistic literature and Hellenism have now almost totally replaced Religio Romana in the public consciousness.

There are no Roman gods in modern-day TV shows, as far as I’m aware; no adaptation of The Aeneid or the Metamorphoses of Ovid. However, people are far more interested in period dramas set in Roman times than in classical Athens (Athens’ misogyny might be responsible for that) or Sparta (everyone exercising naked in olive oil outdoors?), perhaps also because of the Roman empire’s continuing influence on everything from architecture to politics to this very day.

However, one of the differences between Roman and Greek religions is that the Roman emperors became gods on their death, so technically any show that depicts a Roman emperor technically is showing a possible future Roman god. How many shows have followed through on that?

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