I’ll out myself straight away – I completely prefer American and British TV to Australian television. It’s not that Australian television is worse, necessarily, just that since we have a smaller population and a less splintered audience we tend not to take as many risks. When you don’t have sustainable ratings on offer for a show like Mad Men, for example, no one is going to risk making it.
Our strengths lie, as always, in comedy and reality television, where we tend to capture so much more of the Australian character. Perhaps this is because we are a nation that enjoys laughing at ourselves and doesn’t take things too seriously - perhaps a serious drama requires a bigger risk, I don’t know. All I know is that Australian television hasn’t quite made the leap British and American TV has made just yet.
So it is with high hopes and heavy optimism that I look towards the coming year and pray that we can make something – anything - of note. Here are my five most anticipated Australian-made TV shows of 2011.
And another thing – talking up television shows is kind of counter-intuitive for me as I think too much hype can kill a show because it can never meet our raised expectations. Take this article, then, as one pointing out shows you might not have known were going to be on television, rather than shows that WILL DEFINITELY BE AWESOME NO MATTER WHAT. That’s a recipe for expectation-based disaster.
This program comes from a wonderful array of on and off-screen talent that will be allowed the creative freedom that making a show on pay-TV usually allows – and that can only mean good things. The only problem with making a television series from this beloved novel is that Winton’s prose is so evocative that the screen version faces the problem all screen adaptations face – is it ever going to be as good as it was in our head? This isn’t a problem when adapting a lesser known text but since a grand-majority of the television drama series watching public has already read the book, it will be a massive achievement to bring enough new things to the table to warrant exploring the television series as well.
ANGRY BOYS (ABC1)
Cloudstreet and Angry Boys are two shows that would probably be much higher on any other Australian television critic’s list and the reason they don’t make mine is a very simple one – they just aren’t in my wheelhouse. I appreciated but didn’t love Cloudstreet the novel and had very similar feelings about both of Chris Lilley’s television projects, We Could Be Heroes and Summer Heights High. Summer Heights High in particular felt like a long, extended sketch, filled with incredibly insightful characters and dialogue but short on enough jokes and character development to fill the running time.
5. MY KITCHEN RULES SEASON 2 (Channel 7, TBA)
Both of my honourable mentions will almost certainly be qualitatively better shows than My Kitchen Rules Season 2. Similarly, Masterchef will be more successful and better made than My Kitchen Rules Season 2. So why is My Kitchen Rules season 2 a show I’m looking forward to more than any of those shows? Because it has three blisteringly entertaining qualities:
1). Quintessentially Australian, tense, awkward, funny dinner party scenes in which one poor team is forced to sweat over a meal they’re making for their competitors as well as the judges. The passive-aggressive bitchiness as the other teams either begrudgingly appreciate or gleefully denigrate their opponent’s handiwork is a thing to behold.
2). A teamwork element missing in Masterchef where two people who have joined forces to enter the competition slowly discover each other’s weaknesses and strengths – and a train wreck component where every single team invariably plans their approach badly. I swear the production team just steal ingredients or adjust temperatures sometime to create drama. How do none of these teams ever do a dry run?
3). Judges and a production team with a completely misguided sense of the dramatic that accidentally works in their favour – creating moments of unintentional hilarity.
If you haven’t watched My Kitchen Rules because you dismissed it as a Masterchef knock-off (it owes more to the British Series Come Dine With Me), try it again. I found it incredibly entertaining the first time around and I’m glad it’s coming back.
4. ADAM HILLS IN GORDON STREET TONIGHT (Premering February 9th on ABC1 at 8:30pm)
There’s not really too much I can say about this except that it features one of Australia’s most likeable television personalities in Adam Hills – and he’s been given his own tonight show. What more do you need? ‘Spicks and Specks’ lost its novelty some time ago but retains its whimsical corner of the television landscape, and it will be nice to see Hills branch out and do something (relatively) different.
3. WOODLEY (ABC, TBA)
An eight-part romantic comedy featuring the talents of Australia’s premier physical comedian, Frank Woodley.
The Adventures of Lano and Woodley was the seminal Australian comedy of my high school years* – that time in year eight and nine when you’re discovering for the first time what you really think is funny – and although I’d really prefer Colin Lane was involved in this rather than co-hosting the Circle (ugh) I can’t wait to see what Frank Woodley does in his own comedy series.
* See L&W episode ‘The Pool’ for a truly classic Australian comedy episode.
What looks extremely promising about this is that Woodley has indicated it is a physical-comedy based romantic drama of sorts – and if you’ve seen any of his recent theatre shows you’ll know he does a very good line in romantic, dramatic moments. The casting of Justine Clarke and Tom Long in the show also bodes well that it won’t just be a slapstick comedy and will have some meat to it. It’s those dramatic moments that might just lift ‘Woodley’ to some of the best television of the year.
2. THE SLAP (ABC1, TBA)
Based on the Christian Tsolkias novel, the eight one-hour episodes will be told from the perspectives of one of the eight primary characters, dealing with the fallout of a man slapping a child that was not his own. Featuring the talents of Melissa George, Sophie Okonedo, Alex Dimitriades and more.
I was halfway through ‘The Slap’ when I saw that it was being adapted for TV and immediately stopped reading it. I have a theory (one that I’ll also be applying to the upcoming US fantasy adaptation Game of Thrones) that I shouldn’t read a book in advance of watching the adaptation because otherwise I’ll always be comparing the TV show to the book, rather than judging the show on its own merits.
On that basis, I begrudgingly closed ‘The Slap’ and am greatly looking forward to the television version. From what I read, the book had two great advantages – a clever, accessible moral question at its core decorated by extremely well written and identifiable characters. If the series can capture the characters half as well as the book, we’ll have a great Australian mini-series on our hands.
1. 1. THE JOY OF SETS (Channel Nine, TBA)
I’m pretty confident this will be the only list on which this particular show is number one, but ever since I heard about it I’ve been looking forward to it. Two of my favourite comedians (and alumni of the heavily-missed Get This radio show) join forces in a no doubt irreverent and witty take on the world of television. Tony Martin (of the D-Generation, Late Show and countless other brilliant projects) and Ed Kavalee (of TV Burp, Cup Fever and Thank God You’re Here) will be backed by the Zapruder’s Other Films production juggernaut.
I can’t really explain why I am looking forward to this show so much except to say that Martin and Kavalee have a very specific chemistry that just works and with the full might of Andrew Denton behind them, I hope that this rates its socks off. Or at least well enough to hang around for a long, long while.