Arts – Television

Ms Represented 

ABC iView
by Michelle Staff and Joshua Black
30 August 2021

12 March 1921: after four weeks of hard campaigning as a Nationalist candidate in the Western Australian state election, Edith Cowan received the news that she had won the seat of West Perth by forty-six votes, making her Australia’s first ever woman parliamentarian. Cowan was shocked: initially she didn’t want to run and discounted her chances of success. As the sole winner among five women candidates across the state, Cowan saw hers as a victory for all women. She used her new position to build on the social welfare and reform work in which she had been involved since the 1890s, promoting motherhood endowment, sex education, migrant welfare and infant health centres. Though her time in office was short (1921–24), Cowan had made history in taking a seat at the parliamentary table.

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Mare of Easttown 

HBO
by
05 July 2021

While watching HBO’s newest whodunnit series, Mare of Easttown, I was reminded of another crime-fiction drama, The Sopranos (1999–2007). When Marianne ‘Mare’ Sheehan (Kate Winslet) arrives early for a court-ordered therapy session in the series’ fourth episode, I thought of Tony Soprano sitting down for the first of many similar appointments with his therapist, Dr Melfi. Reclining in a chair, Tony offered a lesson in obfuscation. While we knew he was lying when he told Dr Melfi that he worked as a ‘Waste Management Consultant’, there were still tantalising secrets which he withheld from us – secrets which we hoped to uncover as the series continued.

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Lisey’s Story 

Apple TV+
by
08 June 2021

The fiction of Stephen King has always been ripe for a retelling – rich yarns recycled from iteration to iteration, enduring beyond their original prose. The occupied bathtub of Room 237, the soporific taunts of a clown in a gutter, the oily habits of undead feline – all are as cryptic and terrifying in ink as they are on film. Based on King’s 2006 novel of the same name, this eight-episode Apple TV mini-series adaptation, with King himself as scriptwriter, is the most recent such retelling. It is lush with ideas: a dream world, Boo’ya Moon, where an ochre sun hangs low at permanent dusk; a neologism, ‘bool’, which can mean all manner of things, light and dark; and a new protagonist, Lisey (Julianne Moore), widow of writer Scott Landon (Clive Owen), who journeys through long, endless hallways of memory, lost in a melancholic swirl of grief and trauma.

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Shtisel 

Netflix
by
04 May 2021

It opens with a dream. A dream that is, as dreams often are, awash in surrealism, disorientation, longing, desire. Dreams, both waking and sleeping, are integral to Shtisel’s composition, an Israeli television saga that speaks of the lives of the Shtisels, a family living in the midst of a Haredi (literally ‘those who tremble’, otherwise known as Ultra-Orthodox) community. The series is a textured chiaroscuro portrait of human experience that leaks pathos and laughter in equal skilled measure.

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Wakefield 

ABC TV
by
21 April 2021

Spoiler alert: at the end of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randle Patrick McMurphy is lobotomised. It’s a tragic defeat for a counter-culture hero and a barbaric victory for the institution housing him. The psychiatric facility is depicted as a prison, its residents the doomed inmates, and its head nurse, the villainous Nurse Ratched, the warden. In that story, madness is analogous to freedom, and the final image of Chief making his escape for Canada is a much-needed glimmer of resistance and hope.

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Mrs. America 

Hulu/FX
by
22 June 2020

There’s a surprising moment in the 2018 documentary film Ask Dr. Ruth when Dr Ruth Westheimer rejects the idea of being labelled a feminist. Both her daughter and granddaughter are attempting to convince her that she well and truly fits the bill, but Dr Ruth – a ninety-year-old Holocaust survivor, patron saint of sex therapists, noted LGBT+ ally, and lifelong advocate for women’s reproductive rights – laughs it off, presumably because the word ‘feminism’ means something different to her than to the other generations of women in her family. It’s also a word that’s historically prone to being twisted bastardised and sensationalised by those against it, weaponised and aggrandised by those passionately for it.

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Mystery Road 

Bunya Production / ABC
by
01 June 2020

As a genre, the western springs from colonial tension: tension between the old ways and the new; between the native people and an invading population; between humans and the land itself; between lore and the law. There are no westerns set in Britain. And while the gunslinging adventures of cowboy frontiersmen may have receded into the background of American culture, the genre remains ripe with critical and narrative potential for more freshly colonised countries like Australia.

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The Plot Against America 

HBO
by
29 April 2020

With theatres, cinemas, and concert halls shuttered worldwide due to Covid-19, the so-called ‘golden age of television’ may have just entered its platinum phase. Television production, like everything else, has been forced into hibernation or hurried workarounds, but the plethora of content on the various streaming services grows apace.

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When a friend suggested over dinner that I watch Netflix’s The Crown, I responded with an earthier version of ‘Ten hours about an unelected monarch? Nope.’ It made sense, of course, for the US streaming giant to drop $100ish million on a television drama about Her Maj ...

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Over the past fifteen years, television has steadily eclipsed film as the medium for prestige drama. US cable network HBO has been central to this, producing shows (The SopranosThe WireGame of Thrones) that, in visual sophistication and narrative scope, helped transform television into art ...

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