Fireflies: articles

Fireflies light up

It might not sound like much of a recommendation but one of the most appealing things about the ABC’s new Australian-made drama Fireflies is that not much happens. After a week of murders most foul on shows such as CSI, the super-hero adventures of Jack Bauer and Sydney Bristow in 24 and Alias, and the contrived nightly drama that is so-called reality TV, it’s nice to settle down at 7.30 on a Saturday evening to share a day in the life of the good folk of Lost River. There are only 20 or 30 of them, or so it seems, and their lives dawdle along rather unexcitingly most of the time. But that’s life—real life—and it’s good to see at least one TV show that acknowledges it.

Fireflies reminds me of SeaChange, with a little bit of Bellbird thrown in for good measure. City slickers Lill (Libby Tanner) and Perry (John Waters) escape to a rural idyll—even the opening credits, with passing shots of suburban Sydney making way for beautiful country vistas, are reminiscent of SeaChange’s—and begin to assimilate into a small community where everyone knows everyone else’s business. The focus of the town, and the show, is the local volunteer fire service but that’s only a device. Fireflies is not consumed by raging infernos week after week. It’s just that Lost River is a pub, a shop and a fire station, and not much else, so getting to know the firies is as good a way as any of getting to know the town.

It’s not a fireman’s version of Blue Heelers, in which the writers have come up with a crime-of-the-week for each of more than 400 episodes so far. Mount Thomas must be the crime capital of the Southern Hemisphere. No, in Fireflies, while there is always a fire to put out—next Saturday it doesn’t amount to more than a few flames in a rubbish skip—the stories are primarily about the lives of the firies and those around them, away from the firefront. This is essentially a rural melodrama, and one that is unusually mature, engaging and, perhaps most strikingly, quintessentially Australian.

It’s Australian because of the characters, the way they talk with one another, the situations that develop in their lives and the way they deal with them. We know these people. They’re like the folks down the road, the friends with whom we share lunch each Sunday, the shopkeeper around the corner.

Sometimes, Fireflies could do with a little more humour. This Saturday’s episode has more than most but last week’s was relentlessly bleak, focusing on the marital problems of the fire service captain, Backa (Jeremy Sims) and his moody Russian wife, Svettie (Natasha Novak). Their local small business has been in trouble since the series began a month ago and Backa’s evil uncle—and financial lifeline—blames her for everything. So she did a runner to the neighbouring big town, had a night out with some of the local lechers and tried to sort herself out over too many glasses of bubbly. Not a pretty sight!

The other continuing storylines in Fireflies are cleverly handled.

There is a wonderful scene towards the end of this week’s episode in which Lill, having saved old Peg’s life by rushing her to hospital late one night, runs out of petrol on the way home and is, in turn, rescued by Backa. They sit and talk in her car, deeply and meaningfully about the purpose of life. It leaves us wondering what’s in store for these two. Will they just remain confidants and special friends? Or is there something else set to erupt?

Australian TV has been littered with failed local dramas in recent years. Only Nine’s McLeod’s Daughters has been an unqualified success. Ten’s White Collar Blue, Nine’s Young Lions and Seven’s Marshall Law and Always Greener bombed out, despite all having something to commend them. The Secret Life of Us on Ten has lost its freshness and sparkle and, I suspect, is not long for this world. Blue Heelers and All Saints are in the ratings doldrums.

I hope Fireflies is a hit, although with only 820,000 viewers nationally in recent weeks, that seems unlikely. Its biggest problem is its scheduling. It would do better on Sundays in the old SeaChange timeslot. And a little more on-screen promotion by the ABC would help. It deserves it.

By Ross Warneke
February 26, 2004
The Age