tip off

ESTHER O'ROURKE-DEGRAAF | November 20, 2013 | REVIEWS | 12 |

Maybe baby: ABC2’s Growing Up Gayby is filled with quiet hope

ABC2’s second series of Opening Shot, five one-off documentaries from emerging filmmakers, premieres this week. Guest blogger Esther O’Rourke-deGraaf takes a look at the first installment, Growing Up Gayby.

LAURENCE BARBER | November 20, 2013 | ANALYSIS | 2 |

Supremely Awkward.: why MTV’s teen sitcom is vital television

Ashley Rickards as Jenna Hamilton in the pilot of <em>Awkward.</em>.

In the first decade of the 21st century, it proved somewhat difficult for television creators to accurately portray teenage life. For many of us, some of the first shows we might think of when trying to imagine great teen-oriented TV  form a varying but distinguished list: My So-Called Life, Freaks & Geeks, iterations of Degrassi, Press Gang, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Beverly Hills, 90210, Daria, half of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and so on.

The uniting factor is that the only show in that list that began post-millenium–Freaks & Geeks–was set in the 1980s. And when you cobble together the best examples made for or about the demographic–Veronica Mars, Skins, Joan of Arcadia, the rest of Buffy–you start to get a picture of what works for teens and what doesn’t.

Not that these are the only examples. Series like Gossip Girl, The O.C., One Tree Hill, and more recently Pretty Little Liars and Glee have all had huge success with teen audiences (as well as adults). Then there are the younger-skewing sitcoms, including Miley Cyrus’ star-making vehicle Hannah Montana, Miranda Cosgrove’s iCarly, and That’s So Raven, as well as the warm, funny animated series As Told by Ginger.

Most of these shows are either chiefly dramas–My So-Called Life, Degrassi–high concept or genre-inflected–Joan of Arcadia, Buffy, Veronica Mars–unattainable, escapist fantasies of teenhood starring actors playing characters ten years younger than them–Gossip Girl, The O.C.–or shows more interested in crafting a phenomenon than good television–that’d be Hannah Montana or various other Disney star-spawning machines.

So what of the teen-oriented, high school sitcom?

ALI WINTERS | November 06, 2013 | REVIEWS | 3 |

One nation’s trash is another nation’s pleasure: Ten’s failed Taken Out lives on as China’s If You Are The One

Host James Kerley and contestants on Ten's failed Taken Out

In 2008 Network Ten made a splash with dating show Taken Out. The network pulled the massive flop after just four weeks. People couldn’t stand the vapid contestants, smug host James Kerley, or the single-episode formula. Australian audiences wanted at least the pretend character development of The Farmer Wants a Wife, The Bachelor or Beauty and the Geek. But Taken Out wasn’t a total failure; the production house behind the show — international juggernaut FremantleMedia — were naïve to produce it so early in Australia. Their concept hit the low-brow jackpot internationally: successfully exported to 19 countries, none have embraced it more than China — with 50 million tuning in per episode. The Chinese hybrid goes by the English name If You Are The One.

Recut for Australia, If You Are The One is forty-minutes of blinged out cultural kitsch, ridiculous sound effects, vulgar sets, neurotic lighting and terrible 90s pop, and yet some how we’re completely charmed. SBS 2 recently upped the show’s airings from one night a week to threein the prime time slot of 7:45pm; ratings are up 11%.

Several times each episode, a new guy attempts to woo 24 young women, the girls opt out of his affection by turning off their podium light — judging him by onstage manner and video diaries. The girls are fixtures on the show until they score a date or are replaced without mention. If a coupling happens, they win a pair of “custom made lovers’ shoes” and — depending on how popular the guy was at first impression — win a trip to Hawaii, or more recently a cruise on the Aegean Sea. If the guy bombs out, his email address is shown on screen at the end of the show.

LAURENCE BARBER | November 01, 2013 | ANALYSIS | 4 |

Seven exec Bevan Lee hopes “the new media does not give rise to an elitist snobbery”, says he doesn’t even watch the kind of TV he writes

Channel Seven network executive and creator of Packed to the Rafters Bevan Lee has stated that TV’s increasing engagement with new media makes his “blood run cold” and that writers are no longer “paying their dues”. Wires & Lights explores why, in a world of shrinking ratings and more great TV than ever, Lee’s perspective is as hypocritical as it is embarrassingly outmoded.

BYRON BACHE | October 31, 2013 | ANALYSIS | 9 |

Perfect storytelling: Redfern Now‘s second season soars

Kirk Page and Noni Hazlehurst in Redfern Now

Life on its own doesn’t make a very good story, as anyone who’s ever watched a based-on-a-true-story Australian telemovie can attest. Life, without art to shape it, is just stuff that happens. But in the hands of a skilled storyteller, the tiniest things can have weight and meaning that far outweighs the impact of any explosion or gunshot. A few weeks ago I lamented the lack of good storytelling on Australian television, the product of an industry that places writers at the bottom of the food chain, and spends little money on developing them or their ideas.

Redfern Now is the exception that rips the rule off its hinges. Its first season was some of the finest small-screen storytelling this country has ever seen. Its second season, which premieres this week, soars even higher than the first. The brainchild of Sally Riley, head of ABC TV’s Indigenous Department, and the team at Rachel Perkins’s Blackfella Films, Redfern Now is set in the eponymous, notorious Redfern, the heart of Sydney’s Indigenous community.

The season opener, starring Kirk Page, Noni Hazlehurst and Deborah Mailman, starts with a missing Post-It note. Where it goes after that is impossible to discuss without revealing the twists and turns, but they’re subtle and powerful, and the performances are mesmerising.

MATTHEW SINI | October 25, 2013 | ANALYSIS | 9 |

In the game of fantasy, Korra wins and Game of Thrones dies

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in HBO's Game of Thrones

Fantasy is like most people who say they’re gluten intolerant; afflicted by a lot of fictional bloating. Seriously, have you seen The Lord of the Rings books or later volumes of the Harry Potter series? Why are these tomes so hefty? Because fantasy is a genre that demands “worldbuilding”. It’s an aspect equally important to the rare televisual examples of fantasy.

Until recently most television in the fantasy genre was confined to animated children’s shows. There have been exceptions like Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and its spinoff Xena: Warrior Princess, or as I like to call it: The L Word: Ancient Greece. But for the most part, if you wanted knights, wizards and princesses you’d find them in cartoons. Probably because it is easier and cheaper to draw castles and dragons than it is to film them live (dragons are notoriously difficult to work with on set).


Ja’mie King is dead, long live Ja’mie King: the Private School Girl gets her own show

Chris Lilley’s long-awaited new series Ja’mie: Private School Girl airs this week on ABC1. Lilley’s back in the wig and the school dress, but without the fish-out-of-water premise of Summer Heights High, is Ja’mie anything more than a monster? Laurence Barber and Byron Bache watched the first episode.

LAURENCE BARBER | October 17, 2013 | REVIEWS | |

New on TV: Super Fun Night, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Mom, and Trophy Wife

There’s a bounty of new TV on the airwaves lately with the start of the fall season in the US. Wires & Lights is giving you an overview of how this new wave is faring so far. After a few episodes, which shows are becoming cohesive, promising new additions, and which are lagging behind? This week we look at Rebel Wilson’s Super Fun Night, cop sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, an actually modern family in Trophy Wife, and the Anna Faris-Allison Janney multi-cam Mom.

BYRON BACHE | October 09, 2013 | ANALYSIS | 30 |

Orange is the New Black, Wentworth is the new beige: what’s wrong with Australian TV?

Danielle Brooks, Taylor Schilling, Vicky Jeudy and Samira Wiley in Orange is the New Black

Once upon a time, television was pap. TV was the like the art you bought pre-framed at Ikea because your walls were blank. A wasteland of expository dialogue and panstick make-up, cleverly lit to fill the spaces between car ads. But that was before. Before thirtysomething. Before ER. Before Oz begat The Sopranos, before The Sopranos begat The Wire, before Aaron Sorkin walked and talked his way from notable playwright to household name.

There’s still plenty of pap, but it has to clear a much higher bar. CSI and NCIS have season-long character arcs now. The standalone, all-about-the-guest-stars procedural episode died with Law & Order, though even that show built real people out of its characters in its final years.

We live in a world where Mad Men and Breaking Bad are cultural touchstones. Television now occupies the zeitgeistian parking spaces once reserved for blockbuster films and literary bestsellers. Where once we had Michael Crichton, Toni Morrison and Phillip Roth, we now have Shonda Rhimes, Matthew Weiner and Lena Dunham. The kind of rapture that gripped baby boomers everywhere as they waited to find out who killed Laura Palmer in 1991 comes in regular waves now. This year alone, the collective knuckles of the culturally aware have remained paper white through Broadchurch, Top of the Lake and The Bridge.

LAURENCE BARBER | September 30, 2013 | REVIEWS | 10 |

Breaking Bad delivered the exact finale it promised, but was that enough?

Bryan Cranston as Walter White, ghostly and distant in "Felina".

For 5 seasons, Breaking Bad was something of a perpetual motion machine. Beginning with the almost innocuous premise of a beleaguered chemistry teacher turning to a life of crime, it quickly spun out into a cyclical, sickening morality tale. Touted far and wide as one of the greatest television series ever made, many see the last episode as some kind of stamp, the supposed seal on the envelope admitting it to the “pantheon”, as it’s so-called. Audiences and critics had already decided what Breaking Bad was; the show just had to decide how to be it.

It couldn’t have been the series finale of Breaking Bad without Walter White coughing. In the last cold open the show will ever give us, Walt enters an unlocked, snow-clad car and searches for the keys. He pries away with a screwdriver from the glovebox (not before we see the all-important Marty Robbins cassette he uses to blow up the DEA — kidding) but can’t get the car to start. His warm breath is visible, as though we’re literally seeing the last remnants of his soul.