Donning period-appropriate clothing, Jack and Makayla attempt the mine’s rock-sorting task, attend a school spelling class, then do some washing and cleaning (chamber pots: ugh!). Finally, they race goat-drawn billy-carts. Then they struggle gamely to summarise what they’ve gained from the experience.
Seeing Allison Tolman’s name listed in the credits is enough to make me want to give a series a chance. She was wonderful as the policewoman in the first season of the Fargo TV series and a delight as a disingenuous and continually surprising widow in Good Girls.
In this mystery thriller series, she plays the lead, recently divorced Long Island police chief Jo Evans, who has become responsible for a robot called Piper (Alexa Swinton). Piper is capable of causing significant destruction when riled or scared, but she also looks like a little girl and she’s being manipulated by the evil and troubled artificial-intelligence researcher, Emily Cox (Maria Dizzia).
After finding Piper alone at the scene of a plane crash, Jo has brought her into her home as a foster child. The sci-fi drama, which only lasted a single season, sees an ongoing battle for Piper’s mind and affections.
Road to Now
Written by Greg Wilesmith, who also conducted the interviews, the fourth episode of this six-part series, entitled Return of the Wall, focuses on refugees and border protection. Smoothly fronted by Chris Bath, Road to Now aims to provide an overview of events that have shaped the world in this century.
Here, it ranges far and wide, examining the violence and instability that have displaced millions of people and propelled refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to leave their homelands. It follows the flow of people from Africa and the Middle East to Europe, and considers the impact of that migration. It takes in Brexit, which former New Zealand Prime Minister and UN program director Helen Clark describes as “a fiasco”. And it examines US President Donald Trump’s promise to build a “big beautiful wall” on the country’s southern border.
It also turns the spotlight on Australian detention camps in Nauru and Manus Island, and, finally, it anticipates the disruption that climate change could bring. Thorough, absorbing and disturbing.
It’s a shame that this smart, spirited and sexy 2014 local drama about political power plays during a fictional Victorian election campaign only lasted a single season. Written and co-produced by Michael Lucas (Offspring), it stars Asher Keddie as Victorian Labor premier Kate Ballard, who’s firm, focused and determined to run on her record.
Rodger Corser is Liberal Party golden boy David McLeod, a flash new player parachuted in by powerbrokers to lead the Opposition. A smooth and seasoned TV journalist, McLeod is a boy from the ‘burbs who’s worked his way up: think Eddie McGuire, with a few artful tweaks. The pair has a past and is now locked in a battle over the future. The stage is deftly set for a six-episode season of political shenanigans and romantic tension. A bonus attraction is Angus Sampson as Wayne Duffy, Kate’s bear-like election campaign manager.
The Front Bar
Yes, like the footy, it’s back, which might be cause for a cleansing ale. (Undoubtedly the show’s fulsomely promoted sponsors would support such a response.) This is the little low-budget AFL talk show which took on and knocked-off the long-dominant giant that was The Footy Show in Melbourne. Something it did with wit, good humour and a palpable love of the game.
Shot in a compact studio that will make social distancing a challenge, The Front Bar has made its mark with segments such as Under the Pump and From the Archives. And its reverence for the legends and colourful characters of the code make it a must-watch for footy fans. Hosts Andy Maher, Mick Molloy and Sam Pang are the starters tonight while Andy Lee has a turn on the bench.
Celebrity Gogglebox USA
As has become something of a TV custom, the term “celebrity” here is loosely applied. Among the participants in this American version who might be familiar to local viewers are chef Curtis Stone and his wife, actress Lindsay Price, model and TV host Tyra Banks, actor Justin Long and the Osbournes. Some of the others, maybe less so.
In accordance with the established format, the participants sit around in their homes, drinking, munching snacks, watching TV and offering their spontaneous and not-always-deeply-considered responses to a range of shows. Here these include Nailed It!, Kings of Pain and the vintage addition, The Joy of Painting, a how-to-paint program hosted by apparent icon Bob Ross. It’s worth persevering to the end to see Apple co-founder Steve Wosniak’s adorable reaction to the Mother’s Day screening of Dirty Dancing.
Escape From the City
Kim and Graham are retirees looking to move from Sydney’s west to the NSW south coast. She’d ideally like a house that’s quirky, cosy and a bit “boho”; he wants something sleek, modern and requiring no renovation. They have different priorities and they seem like nice people; it’s not their fault that they’re trapped in a terrible show.
A thinly veiled excuse for a real-estate commercial, it looks like the kind of advertorial that would be more at home filling space on a commercial channel on a weekend afternoon. Using the kind of language that would be better suited to a real-estate brochure, guff about realising dreams and places that need “a little love”, Simon Marnie guides the couple through four properties that meet some of their differing preferences. Even allowing for Australians’ love of real-estate and renovation programs, this shoddy excuse for a series is an embarrassment that doesn’t deserve a run in prime time on the national broadcaster, let alone two seasons. What were they thinking?
Cults and Extreme Beliefs
SBS Viceland, 8.30pm
Presented by journalist Elizabeth Vargas, this A&E Investigates edition reveals the nightmarish experiences of Sarah Edmondson as a member of the NXIVM cult headed by Keith “The Vanguard” Raniere. Edmondson fled the group after 12 years as a devoted member and skilled recruiter. Then she turned whistleblower, detailing how her search for self-improvement became a brutal prison.
The tone of the program is initially sensational. Vargas’ introduction promises an expose of “slaves, masters, a secret sex cult and now a federal indictment”. Yet there is also substantial information about how such groups operate and Edmondson is candid and thoughtful about why she was susceptible to NXIVM’s tactics.
If you’re a teensy bit addicted to home renovations shows you will love this mother/daughter team from Indianapolis. Karen (mum) and Mina (daughter) and their crew bring a pleasantly folksy feel to things. But neither of these ladies is exactly backwoods (Karen is a lawyer, Mina a real estate agent) and the Victorian, Arts and Crafts and classic Mid-Century homes they flip are not only lovely pieces of architecture, the women often include local artists and designers in the refurb.
So it’s aesthetically rewarding. It also has a welcome vibe of realism: there are no crazy timelines and no unrealistic budgets. Instead it’s all about watching two smart women who love their work turn diamonds in the rough into real estate jewels. What’s not to love?
Agatha Christie: The Pale Horse
Rufus Sewell and his cheekbones star in this Christie mystery from the early 1960s. On the downside – as is the fashion at the moment – every skerrick of cosy has been stripped out, with each sordid detail elaborated upon and not a lot of faith accorded to Christie’s original plotting. However if you can forgive all that, we get the lavish period detail and superb cast you’d expect from a BBC adaptation. It remains a twisty and sinister whodunit. And let’s face it, if you want cosy crime and bloodless murders, you have plenty of other options.
The problem with reality competitions these days is too many people have been watching them for too long. As the housemates arrived for the first episode of the Big Brother reboot and worked their way through the first night’s game play, it felt as if the whole thing had been scripted, so thoroughly did everyone (including Big Brother) fall into the conventions of reality TV language.
All the contestants were here to win. They all thought people would underestimate them – at their peril. Etcetera. Etcetera. Despite this new iteration departing significantly from the original Australian format, the fact is that it draws obviously on a bunch of other reality shows (It’s A Knockout, Survivor, I’m a Celebrity…), and the language of those shows has simply been transported wholesale into this one. The result is this often fails to perform its primary function, which is to give us a glimpse of real people behaving and reacting in real ways.
On the upside, the casting has provided us with an engaging bunch of characters and, at its best, Big Brother 2020 displays a droll awareness of its own artificiality and a lively sense of humour.
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