Too many good Aussie dramas?

MICHAEL BODEY – The Australian  – September 21, 2013 12:00AM

I BELIEVE we’re “drama-ed out”. Too many good Australian drama series haven’t
attracted the audiences they deserve this year.

One of them, Power Games: The Packer Murdoch Story (M, Roadshow, 250min, $39.95), is released on DVD this week. Another local series, Upper Middle Bogan (M, ABC, 237min, $29.95), perhaps shows where television programmers and producers should head.

This year reminds me of 2005-06, when we saw a generational distaste for Australian drama. The industry got ahead of itself, launching dramas of differing style and budget, including The Cooks, Young Lions and Canal Road. There were too many and we turned off until new funding led to splashier fare such as Sea Patrol, City Homicide and the Underbelly franchise. There has been a run of success since.

We over-egged it this year. Every week, there has been a new Australian drama, “an important story” that “Australia’s talking about”. There is not space for them all.

The accessible, middle-Australia space previously inhabited by Packed to the Rafters is now taken by House Husbands and Winners & Losers. Offspring managed to recover from its mid-season madness to take the quirky space while the jury’s out, just, on Wonderland.

Nine’s reliance on men behaving badly through the Underbelly and the Packerfocused Howzat and Power Games series is telling. Underbelly: Squizzy was competent but began timidly. Power Games is splendid but niche, particularly when Seven’s A Place to Call Home took the period space not taken by ABC1.

The ABC has had winning telemovies such as Cliffy and Mabo, and played to a formulaic strength with Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. But scheduling The Time of Our Lives against Underbelly and House Husbands was the kind of hubris that saw audiences shun local drama.

Which brings me to Upper Middle Bogan. DVD Letterbox enjoys the work of Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope, which includes The Librarians and Very Small Business. They’re not laugh-a-minute comedies but keenly observed and performed beautifully. Anyone who casts Glenn Robbins, Michala Banas and Robyn Nevin, as they did here, knows what they’re doing.

Upper Middle Bogan is a ripper, the kind of narrative comedy we don’t see enough of. It’s a little bigger than most ABC1 comedies without overreaching. And it hits a socio-political moment, the comfort of middle Australia, without being meanspirited. I doubt it would have worked on the commercial networks but it should raise the question: why aren’t Seven, Nine and Ten doing narrative comedy or sitcoms?

They’re happy to air imports, and fill panel and reality shows with comedians. So why not risk the Australian sitcom? It’s not solely the job of the ABC. Is anyone even looking at setting a sitcom around, say, Anh Do? I’d bank on that before another local drama series.

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