East of Everything: articles

Feature comforts

For those who have been yearning for the past seven years for the appearance of another lovely Australian program such as SeaChange, your reward is nigh.

Two new Aussies dramas premier in the next week. While different in many respects (and on networks that couldn't be more different) they are bound to satisfy.

Emerald Falls, on Channel Ten this Sunday, is a murder mystery telemovie. East of Everything, premiering on the ABC next Sunday, is a six-parter revolving around the troubled relationship between two brothers. But the two feel related: they're both rural; both ensemble pieces; both feel rather like something we've seen before. And they're both, well, kind of snuggly.

Emerald Falls tells the story of Jodie (Georgie Parker) who uses her divorce settlement to buy a derelict B&B at Emerald Falls in the Blue Mountains. Within the first 15 minutes, the beloved local doctor is found dead. It looks like an accident, but Jodie's son Zach (Tom Green), a budding Gil Grissom, has other ideas. So over the next hour-and-a-bit we get a nice little mystery that blends family drama with docile whodunit.

It's handsome to look at, with strong production values, and the B&B and its glorious setting are the best kind of eye candy. The performances are equally good. It's clearly Australian, but it reminds one of nothing so much as Midsomer Murders. The crimes are bloodless, the criminals essentially benign, the plotting rudimentary, and you know the audience will be enjoying the fluttering autumn leaves and the roaring fires and that nice Parker as much as (if not more than) the locals' transgressions.

Then we have East of Everything, the story of estranged brothers Art (Richard Roxburgh) and Vance (Tom Long), forced to work together to fulfil the terms of their recently deceased mother's will. The death brings Art home to "Broken Bay" (that is, Byron/Broken Head - Cape Byron is clearly identifiable in most of the beach scenes), providing the opportunity for (a) luscious shots of sweeping beaches and rich rainforest and (b) a big cast of quirky locals.

Like the crime in Emerald Falls, the outcome of the fraught reunion is a given. We know from the 50-minute mark, possibly the five-minute mark, that Art and Vance will be reconciled, probably with the help of those quirky locals. Our hearts will be warmed, the odd tear shed, and there'll be a laugh or two along the way.

Again, we're not watching for the suspense, but because it's beautiful to look at and because there will be a reconciliation. Because no matter what bad things happen, East of Everything's warm heart and overarching sense of goodwill will ensure our protagonists get through it with the help of their loved ones.

Neither show explores new territory. Indeed, both of them feel very familiar. And one of the reasons they feel familiar is that they're the products not just of old hands, but of SeaChange alumni. Which is both a blessing and a curse.

There's something very assured about the scripting, the characterisation, the plot development, the kind of skill and confidence that only comes with experience. But we can also well and truly taste the flavour of the creators' previous work.

Tim Pye is the driving force behind Emerald Falls and it will surprise no one to discover he was also a writer on SeaChange (along with everything from GP to Blackjack). There are echoes of all that in the picture of an Australian small town, the bloodless murder, the way the crime unfolds, the way the relationships are central rather than the crime.

Deb Cox is, of course, the creator of SeaChange (along with Andrew Knight) and however much she might say it ain't so, East of Everything is obviously SeaChange version two. It's graver, it's more grown-up, its central characters are men, but the mix of characters, the sense of community, and the idyllic seaside setting all follow the blueprint of the former.

Is that a bad thing? From the networks' point of view, that'd be a resounding "no". Seven has proved, with a schedule that includes not so much a raft of docu-dramas as a whole cruise liner, that audiences will return again and again to a proven formula.

And we don't complain, indeed we almost expect it, when authors (and the film directors we call auteurs) constantly revisit themes and obsessions. Why shouldn't we grant the same indulgence to television creatives?

It's easy to cynically imagine the telly execs responding enthusiastically to the pitch: like SeaChange, only a treechange. And with crime. Or: like SeaChange, only with blokes. And in NSW. And, of course, it's always exciting to see edgy, risk-taking programs on television, especially locally made ones. (And bless Channel Nine for at least trying to bring us Underbelly.)

But that doesn't mean programs such as Emerald Falls or East of Everything are somehow less valuable. Sure, our lives might not be quite as picturesque as the lives depicted here. But these shows reflect most people's reality at least as accurately as, say, East West 101.

"Realism" doesn't have to mean grey, dirty and miserable. Human goodness is as real as human depravity. Plenty of people - hopefully, the majority of us - have essentially pleasant lives that are enriched by our relationships with the people we love and, when the bad stuff happens, we may be changed by it, but we eventually get over it.

And of course the magic of television is that, along with its power to confront and provoke and challenge, it has a wondrous ability to soothe. Which is what cosy TV, such as SeaChange, and Emerald Falls, and East of Everything, does so beautifully.

Emerald Falls, 9pm tonight, Channel Ten

East of Everything, 8.30pm, March 30, ABC1

March 23, 2008
The Age