Category Archives: opinions

:30 Seconds — A Rule of One review

The following took place as part of the Outland Institute radio show and our controversial “Rule of One” review process. Since this aired, last Friday, there has been another episode of :30 Seconds but the Rule of One prevails.

Last Monday, the first episode of the new sitcom from Andrew Denton’s Zapruder’s Other Films aired on the Comedy Channel.

Called :30 Seconds (complete with the colon), it’s about an advertising agency.

Yes, at the moment it seems like Zapruder’s is only coming out with shows about advertising. If you have a problem with that, take it up with Denton.

Comedy, as you well know, is a very sensitive lover. It requires caring, attention and tenderness.

To continue that already tortured analogy, the flowers and chocolate, the romance, if you will, are the acting and directing of a sitcom.

They make us feel like there might be something this relationship for us. We’re prepared to give it a chance and maybe allow a couple of dates.

The sex in the analogy that not even I can believe I’m taking this far, is the writing. It’s the writing that, BAM!, really drives home the idea that this comedy deserves a part of our lives.

As far as acting goes, :30 Seconds has the chops. Gyton Grantley, Kat Stewart, Peter O’Brien and Stephen Curry all bring their exquisite thespian skills to the set.

The glaring deficiency in the show is in the bedroom. The writing just isn’t there. So often we see a sitcom where the jokes come forced, like the writers are squeezing in the jokes regardless of context.

The secret is to let the jokes come from the characters. Especially when an accomplished cast is at the writers’ disposal, it the characters are good, the actors will find the comedy and the director will help bring it out.

The actors in :30 Seconds just don’t have enough to deal with. The characters are one dimensional at best.

The potential is there for a great comedy but the writing needs to improve.

Also, the lighting is some of the worst I’ve seen outside YouTube.

Conspiracy theories in television

Last week Oliver Stone announced his latest project. It’s a ten-part documentary series called the Secret History of America.

Stone is the king of creative conspiracy theorists. This series is apparently going to include newly discovered facts from the Kennedy administration and the Vietnam War amongst other things.

So I think it’s important to note how television has shaped the landscape of conspiracy theories.

Of course we can spend hours talking about the X-Files and its Lone Gunmen characters who subsequently had their own spin-off series that didn’t last very long. We could subsequently disappear up our own arses trying to work out why it didn’t last very long and who gave the order to pull it from air.

We can talk about the first moon landing being the first televised event to be derided as a hoax by conspiracy theorists who believe that the whole thing was shot on a soundstage in Burbank.

We can talk about programmes like 24, Prison Break, Heroes and even my beloved Lost, that base their entire story-lines around international conspiracy theories.

But we won’t, and I think you know why.

Conspiracy theories are a simple way to create intrigue in a series. They give the audience a chance to be part of the story-telling. Every reveal escalates the conspiracy up some chain of command that feeds on our fears of lack of freedom. They raise a question of the control we have over our own lives but, more importantly, how much trust do we put in the medium that is giving us information.

While these shows impel us to question everything that we see on television, they also serve as a warning. When we see the protagonist who has been following a conspiracy-chain for several episodes or several seasons, they always end up as loners, obsessed with finding the truth, often wearing the same clothes day after day.

So do these shows want us to actually know the truth or are they trying to stop us from finding the truth? And who’s in charge of trying to keep us confused like this?

Would you believe me if I told you it was an international federation of school teachers? I’m not crazy. This is the truth, people. They control the information. We are all their puppets.

Or maybe not.

This first appeared as an audible segment on John Richards’s excellent Outland Institute radio programme.

Go! It’s an instruction for tedium

I really love what the free to air networks have done with digital television. The offering from Channel 9, Go!, is a remarkable piece of television development.

Remember when networks didn’t know how to fill their entire schedule so they’d put old, cheap or seemingly random programmes on at dead times? My Two Dads at 4pm, Newhart whenever it rained at the cricket, and Thrillseekers at midday on Saturday were all old Channel 9 staples.

I don’t think they ever thought people were watching their station at these times. Either that or Kerry Packer really loved an afternoon of stuntmen jumping cars over canyons.

One of the ingenious things about Go! is that you can watch their entire programming for a day depending on whether you wake up in the morning or the afternoon. They’ve really catered this one to the lazy. Despite the exclamation mark in the title, Go! does not seem to be an imperative. In fact, it’s the name I’d give to a new designer drug that made you feel like you were having a good time while really the whole world was passing you by.

Here’s a taste of what they’ve launched with: The Nanny, Just Shoot Me, Entertainment Tonight, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and Australia’s Funniest Home Videos. All of those shows are available TWICE A DAY. In case you miss an episode of the Nanny you can catch it again eight and a half hours later!

I think what happened is they couldn’t fit the entire title, “Go Into A Vegetative State!”, on the screen.

Really, this was the laziest thing I’ve seen come out of the Free To Air networks for some time. Somebody got paid for coming up with that programming schedule, that title, that media release that came to my inbox. Everybody involved should be ashamed.

Dock You Meant Aries

So there’s this thing that’s been on the television for a while, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it, but the kids are calling it “Reality Television“.

Anyway it’s this thing where you get real people in real life situations and follow them around or see them in fish-out-of-water scenarios like the mother from one family going to live with a different family for a couple of weeks.

It reminds me a lot of this thing they used to have on television called “documentaries“. Do you remember those? They were fantastic. We’d learn all about the world as people showed us the lives of ants or, if they were on SBS, the lives of Hitler’s ants.

Well, hold on to your seat because documentaries are back, baby, they just look a little different.

Because people have such low attention spans and trust issues, these programmes need to have famous British people:

And of course, they can pretty much only be on the ABC for them to have any credibility whatsoever.

This week we’ve got the premier of two of these documentary things*.

The first is on Sunday night on ABC1. Stephen Fry, who you might remember from Blackadder, driving through the US and telling us about local customs in a way that is different to Louis Theroux or Ruby Wax.

Then on Tuesday there’s Tony Robinson, who you might remember from Blackadder, presenting the history of Crime and Punishment.

Apparently, this is not as you would expect – a 5 minute piece saying:

Dostoyevsky had an idea for a book, sat down with pen and paper for a few months and then got a publishing deal.

No, instead it’s about laws and criminals and punitive measures.

I don’t know who else from Blackadder is making documentaries but they seem to be the most trusted people in the world.

* Be aware that this was written to go to air on 7 August so time references might have no bearing to the actual time you’re reading this, if you are reading this, and if you’re not, I’m not talking to you so turn around and face the wall.

Helicopter Ear-Piece Dramas

Channel 9 premiered their new Australian series a couple of weeks ago. It prompted me to create this piece for The Outland Institute radio show. It went to air on 31 July, 2009 but you can still listen to it thanks to modern technophilia.

Channel 9’s new weekly drama is called Rescue Special Ops (with cops). It’s what I like to think of as a helicopter ear-piece (HEP) action series.

I haven’t seen it yet because*, ever since Underbelly, Channel 9’s publicity seems to be more about secrecy than anything else.

But I thought we’d look at other HEP series from other networks.

Of course, there’s the one that started it all. Police Rescue. This ABC drama featured a lot of falling off cliffs with rescuers shouting “Hang on. Mate, just hang on.” Also combined with this was some shouting of instructions: “attach the rope to the belt” etc. Police Rescue also pioneered the use of the winch in weekly television.

More recently, All Saints, already on the do not resuscitate list, tried to reimagine itself as an HEP, renaming itself to All Saint Medical Response Unit. The introduction of helicopters into a hospital drama was novel if not sustainable.

It’s important to note here that helicopters are the most expensive thing in the filmed entertainment world. It is cheaper to burn giant containers full of truffles laced with cocaine than to hire a helicopter for a film or tv shoot.

So that brings us to Rush on Channel 10. Not happy to spend the national debt on two helicopters, one to film and the other to be filmed, the Rush crew decided to use computer generated images for their action sequences. To compensate for that, though, they have more earpieces and made-up technology than any other HEP series before or after.

How will Rescue Special Ops add to this genre? I’m guessing it won’t. Really. It’s more action for action’s sake until they realise that action’s too expensive and they just fall back into boring intra-department romance and politics like everything else does.

* Remember that this review went to air before Rescue Special Ops aired.

The following appeared as a segment on The Outland Institute on 24 July, 2009. If you’d like to hear this sort of thing live then tune in to Joy 94.9 every Friday at midday AEST.

One of the things I love about doing television reviews on the Outland Institute is what I like to call the rule of one. One episode is enough to judge an entire series.

This week I’ve seen the first episode of two new shows from the US. Drop Dead Diva and Ruby and the Rockits.

I can easily and quickly cover off on Drop Dead Diva. If David E. Kelly known for Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal and marrying Michelle Pfeiffer, took an overdose of oestrogen, the product pumped from his stomach would be Drop Dead Diva.

An aspiring Price is Right model (and no, I’m not making this up) dies in a car crash at the same time that a fat and clumsy but talented lawyer spills hot coffee on her blouse and subsequently gets shot (and I’m still not making this up). The model manipulates her way out of limbo but ends up in the lawyer’s body. Everybody learns a lesson and fried food tastes good.

Margaret Cho co-stars in this one but its almost like they cast her because Sandra Oh is too famous now. She is in no way used to her comic potential. The role just seems so generic. She plays the best-friend/assistant of the fat lawyer.

Then there’s Ruby and the Rockits, a traditional 3 camera sitcom or laffer. David Cassidy stars, as does Patrick Cassidy. It’s produced by Shaun Cassidy. If that’s not enough “where are they now” for you, then it’s also directed by Ted Wass, aka the Dad from Blossom.

David Cassidy plays David Gallagher, a has-been rocker doing a residency at an Indian casino. A girl comes into the venue and introduces herself as his daughter from his time on the road. He takes this at face value and takes the girl, whose mother has recently died, to his brother Patrick’s house. Yes, they are using their real first names. How original.

Patrick’s family also accepts this story of a long-lost orphaned daughter and agrees to let her live in their house. That’s the premise and no, I’m not making any of this up. No paternity test, no questioning; Ruby’s story is entirely accepted at face value.

Ruby and the Rockits dispenses with any of that unnecessary and tiresome suspension-of-disbelief rubbish that other TV shows require for plausibility. In fact, it throws any sense of plausibility out the window. It’s not important. Neither, apparently, is writing jokes.

RatR slso stars Alexa Vega, who was the sister in the Spy Kids series. I mean, really, what did I do in a past life that all of these people would return to haunt me in such a terrifying manner?

MasterChef Cooks Its Results

The following, in a different form, was used as a rant on John Richard’s excellent The Outland Institute radio show. In case you missed it, which you shouldn’t have because it’s an excellent show, as I previously stated.

This week’s television controversy surrounds MasterChef. We’ve been sold a bill of goods. We’ve invited into our homes a Poh-faced liar.

From the very beginning Poh has been shown favouritism by the judges. How many other people had the opportunity to go home after failing the audition and return to cook another dish?*

Poh not only failed once, but twice. Poh was eliminated from the competition and then, with no reason given, allowed to return along with some other, seemingly randomly selected contestants. No one else in the MasterChef competition has been given as easy a ride as Poh and that is outrageously unfair.

It’s true that Julie also received some leeway with the rules of individual challenges. Out of the last three challenges in this week’s finalist series, Julie failed to finish her dish all three times: twice serving raw food and once just failing to plate up all the elements of her dish in the allotted time.

Many times in the last 18 hours people have told me via twitter and sometimes even to my face that Julie only ended in the final two because they want to publish her cookbook.

The night before, after Justine lost, Matt Moran went to her house and offered her a job. We all felt wonderful because it worked out well for Justine.

Couldn’t the same thing have happened to Julie? If Julie had lost the competition last night but her pitch for a cookbook so overwhelmed Donna Hay that she offered her a publishing deal on the spot, we would feel joy and heart-warming tingles because Julie was well on her way to success.

There was no sensational coda for Chris last night.

And so it comes down to the internal logic of the show. Like any good story the characters need to live by the rules of the story’s universe. Despite the real-person/contest nature of the show, it’s still telling a story. In last night’s episode the rules were laid out in the beginning: make a dish that would look good on the cover of a cookbook.

When it came down to judging, though, the aesthetics of the dish were largely irrelevant. Suddenly it came down to the flavour. The judges said that Chris’s dish didn’t taste good.

Somewhere along the lines they changed the rules without telling the contestants or, more importantly, the audience.

A good TV show has turned into a farce.

* In a moment of subtextual racism the judges sent Poh home to gather the ingredients to create a Malaysian dish. The implication that she was unable to create modern Australian cuisine because of her ethnicity should have been seen as a slap in the face with regard to her skill as a cook. Instead the judges somehow made it seem like they were encouraging her. Would they expect a Cajun to only make craw-fish gumbo? Would a Jew only be rewarded by making gefilte fish and matzo ball soup?

It’s unfair to everybody that she was given a second chance AND told what to make. It’s unfair to her that they did not judge her ability on the merits of her first dish. It’s unfair to an entire race of people that we should expect them to only be good at cooking one type of cuisine.

John from Cincinnati

“Some things I know and some things I don’t.” – John Monad

What I do know is that John from Cincinnati starts screening on Showcase this Monday at 8.30pm, around the time many of us here experience the earliest rumblings of our weekly granola cravings. This show has divided audiences, and my reaction to it is similarly mixed. I reckon there are some absolute gems here (some characters, lines, performances) but the overall “plot” will leave many unsatisfied.

Make up your own mind and deliver your verdict here.

First there was that whole thing with Christine Spiteri (which we covered in Episode 113) and now it seems John Westacott has made another Channel 9 female news presenter unhappy.

This article from the Daily Telegraph details the rumours of goings on at Nine in Sydney with Majella Weimers, fill-in weather presenter, who apparently stormed out when told that her contract would not be renewed.

Of course, this led to the Telegraph quoting “one news staffer” saying something about John Westacott – that he “doesn’t like blondes”. Even though there was nothing in the preceding paragraphs to suggest Westacott had anything specifically to do with the incident.

The more I read about this, the more I think someone at the Tele has a bone to pick with Westacott and tries to get him to look bad in every article about Nine.

Really, give the man a chance to make himself look bad on his own. I’m sure he’s more than capable.

If you’re a Channel 9 staffer then don’t go running to Confidential every time your boss yells misogynistic epithets from the transmission tower. Do the honourable thing. Note down exactly what he said and hold on to your notes. Then, when you retire from the profession, publish it in a tell-all book.

Until then, keep your mouth shut. You’re making your network look bad, you’re making your colleagues look bad, and you’re not helping your own careers at all. On the weekend, go to the video store and rent Broadcast News. Then go home and watch it. Twice. Try to remember what being part of a news room is all about.*

And while I’m telling people what to do: Daily Telegraph, you can shut the hell up. No one really cares about the wars you’re trying to start. Do some proper work.

*Apparently it’s about faking your own tears to make a story better and then breaking Holly Hunter’s heart. Oh, and sweat.

Today Tonight are picking sides

This came in a Seven media release this afternoon:

Tonight on Australia’s number one public affairs program, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd opens his home and
sits down with host Anna Coren for an intimate interview.

During the very candid interview, the man who wants to be Prime Minister talks to Coren about his family,
the opinion polls…and what happened when he was stuck on a plane with John Howard last week.

Anna Coren – at home with Kevin Rudd – Today Tonight exclusive tonight, at 6.30pm on Seven.

Make of that what you will (and I’m sure you will).