Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns

Why Australian drama should be more political

by Stephanie Van Schilt , April 24, 20141 Comment

At Home with Julia

 

After binging on House of Cards season two and concluding season three of Scandal, I’ve finally taken up with Borgen. I’m only a few episodes into the highly acclaimed Danish political drama but already, as with The West Wing long before it, I’m totally hooked.

Borgen follows the first (fictional) female Prime Minister of Denmark (played by charismatic Sidse Babbett Kudsen). Compared to the ludicrous depths of House of Cards, the melodramatic heights of Scandal, or the liberal porn that was The West Wing, it offers a far more grounded approach to political drama.

This doesn’t mean Borgen is any less thrilling or any more worthy of viewership. The comparative range of each of these shows demonstrates the scope of possibility for political drama on television. Add the likes of the original BBC version of House of Cards, and you have a collection of acclaimed TV shows which demonstrate the different ways various political systems and cultures can be presented in a fictionalised form.

Which leads me to contemplate: where are all the good Aus Pol dramas?

Given our tendency toward self-deprecation, it’s not surprising that Australians produce far more political satires than we do dramas. In 2011, the poorly executed and inconsequential At Home With Julia was never going to be a match for the likes of HBO’s Veep or BBC’s The Thick of It. Granted, the latter shows engage with expansive mythologies surrounding Washington DC and the British parliament, but they also present intelligent, humorous takes on national governance via a series of well-crafted, panicked and totally fictitious spin-doctors, advisers, leaders and media. Comparatively, At Home With Julia presented a fictionalised version of a real leader in a domestic setting. It was more simplistic, inward-looking farce than actual commentary.

Thankfully, Shaun Micallef has continued to fight the good fight over the years as our very own Stephen Colbert-lite, most recently with his sketch/panel comedy show Mad As Hell, now in its third season. Likewise, the influential Working Dog crew produced two amusing seasons of their Canberra-based parody The Hollowmen in 2008, and since last year, The Roast has provided daily doses of interstitial-sized satire on the ABC. So, there are some Australian shows in this field – but not a lot.

Essentially, when stepping away from (often awkward) tongue-in-cheek satire, Australian content is skewed toward nostalgia-driven biopics or miniseries that – on one big night or over several consecutive Sundays – tend to humanise and even valorise political leaders in hindsight. These are relatively high-concept vehicles, often with big name actors playing notable figures. The central performances tend to outshine any political commentary – think Richard Roxburgh as Hawke (2010) or the recently announced Julia Gillard project in which Rachel Griffiths will play our first female PM. Due to the restrictions of the form, these projects lack the scope offered by serialised drama and are few and far between.

Last year Southern Star revealed the details of a new show, Party Tricks, starring golden girl Asher Keddie as Kate Ballard, a fictionalised politician committed to her campaign. According to producer Imogen Banks, this six-part drama series to be screened later this year will spotlight ‘politics, power and sex’. Just how these elements will be framed is yet to be seen, particularly given the casting of Keddie, best known for her beloved role as whimsical Nina in Offspring. Either way, this miniseries serves to highlight a gap in the Australian television market that it alone cannot fill.

In conversation with House of Cards creator Michael Dobbs, Borgen writer Adam Price noted that he intended his show to ‘stir an interest in politics’. One could say he has succeeded given that, like The West Wing’s prophetic storyline based on the rise of Barack Obama before it took place, Borgen pre-empted the election of Denmark’s first female Minister of State.

Regardless of whether it is life imitating art or art imitating life, the current Australian political climate is ripe for social commentary via culture. Deriving stories from our national headlines would offer a wealth of unmined opportunities – whether depicting fictionalised worlds in order to sadistically contemplate Machiavellian horrors, or envisioning aspirational political systems and exploring utopian dreams. When Olivia Pope’s love of a fine wine is rivalled by a fallen Premier’s own vino-soaked scandal, and former ministers are confused with fictional psychopaths, Australian television has some seriously fertile political ground to draw on.

Stephanie Van Schilt is Deputy Editor at The Lifted Brow and a freelance writer. She tweets @steph_adele.

ACO logo




  • Stephen Turner

    Generally we don’t do idealistic drama, we do cynical and angry, so that would seem to preclude us doing our own “West Wing”. That said, our drama could be much more political — even various common crime dramas and thrillers in the US and UK tend to be far more political (at times) than anything we make here. Interesting to see a few new works on the horizon here.

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

winterson

Carody Culver

Jeanette Winterson’s sacred and secular space

It seems that people either love her or hate Jeanette Winterson, and sometimes that has less to do with her writing and more to do with the occasional controversies she’s regularly sparked since 1985. Read more »

Untitled

Veronica Sullivan

Adventures in reality with Oliver Mol

One of Mol’s recent pieces contains the line: ‘I want to put my bare ass on the cover of my book because not only will it make good promo but it speaks honestly about who I am.’ Read more »

5114f311-dd9c-442a-b8c8-b73183e80da3-460x276

Veronica Sullivan

Sympathy for the devil: Helen Garner on This House of Grief

Helen Garner’s desire to identify and dissect the worst of human nature has always provoked passionate debate and, often, criticism. This same urge drives her new book, This House of Grief. Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

Gabrielle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Beyond tics, limps and prosthetics

Think of a disability – mental or physical – and there’s sure to be a film that features it. What about giving big roles to actors who actually live with the disability they’re depicting? Now that would be authentic. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

  At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen, and the loop continues until nobody … Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

5881861191_90de8b5bc9

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Making trolls eat their words

If we’re not conscious of a troll’s desired response, we risk inadvertently encouraging further trolling by allowing ourselves to be played. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

tumblr_inline_n6wz16ohb91r8e10g

Danielle Binks

YA is the New Black

Apparently those of us who do read and enjoy youth literature should be ‘embarrassed’. At least that’s what Ruth Graham said in her recent clickbait article for Slate, ‘Against YA’. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »