Arts – Television

The Dropout 

by
11 April 2022

If there is a logical successor to the twentieth-century gangster epic, it may well be the modern-day high-stakes corporate drama. Both revolve around merciless protagonists operating by their own dubious moral code, amassing wealth and influence as they leave a trail of bodies (literal or figurative) in their wake. Instead of intimidation and assassination, our new corporate anti-heroes leverage powerful attorneys and hostile takeovers. Instead of doing business in the smoke-filled backrooms of family restaurants, they operate in biophilic, open-plan offices (and on the stock exchange). Instead of working outside capitalist structures, they bend it to their will. And instead of concealing their crimes and leading a double life, they are openly celebrated, sitting on boards and delivering TED talks.

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Firebite 

AMC+
by
16 December 2021

Eleven vials of smallpox virus were transported to Sydney on the First Fleet by Surgeon John White1. In the crucible of a filmmaker’s mind, this historical fact is forged into fantasy, the vials transmuted into eleven vampires, let loose to suck the lifeblood out of the local people. When that filmmaker is Warwick Thornton (Sweet Country, Samson and Delilah), this monstrous cargo becomes a metaphor to explore the atrocities of colonialism and their emotional sequelae, all wrapped in the idiom of genre. This is Firebite, an Aboriginal vampire thriller television series, co-created by Thornton and Brendan Fletcher (Mad Bastards) and co-directed by Thornton, Fletcher, and Tony Krawitz (The Tall Man).

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New Gold Mountain 

SBS On Demand
by
09 November 2021

Prior to watching New Gold Mountain, the only account I had come across of the gold rush of the 1850s from a non-white perspective was in Monica Tan’s memoir, Stranger Country (2019). On a six-month road trip around Australia, Tan met Eddie Ah Toy, an elderly, fifth-generation Chinese-Australian man whose ancestors came to Australia to work on the goldfields. Recently for SBS, Tan wrote, ‘I belong to a new wave of Chinese-Australian creatives who are patiently sifting through the footnotes of Australian history and carrying on the restoration and revival work of those that came before us. Only time will tell if our work repositions the experiences of our community as central to Australia’s origin story.’

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Nine Perfect Strangers 

Hulu
by
28 September 2021

Picture this: a taut, ninety-minute thriller featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest names, based on a bestseller from a literary big-hitter. A slow-burn mystery about a group of wealthy strangers, each with their own dark secrets and buried traumas, arriving at a boutique wellness spa for a ten-day retreat. Nicole Kidman starring as the enigmatic, ethereal Russian wellness guru Masha Dmitrichenko, who has specifically chosen these guests to carry out a series of risky experiments involving cutting-edge psychotherapy and mind-altering drugs. An hour and a half of rich character drama and suspense that builds to an intriguing philosophical twist. Now imagine that same story, stretched well beyond the longevity of its initial premise to a bloated eight-hour runtime, robbing it of coherent structure and narrative tension. An unwieldy hydra of tone and storytelling style. An exasperating parade of superficial soul-baring and perfunctory plot table-setting, leaving its exceptional cast treading water week in, week out. There you have Hulu’s recently concluded Nine Perfect Strangers, a show that epitomises the era of Peak TV while simultaneously embodying a compelling argument against it.

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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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