Marshall Law: articles

Holler for a marshal who'll shoot to kill

Another truly appalling Aussie television drama should bite the dust-how can we be so bad at them?

Alison Whyte and William McInnes engage in dazzling banter: "It's the first time we'll be in court together professionally." "Last time it was a property dispute, too. We were married." All right. Stand up the boy who wrote that. Stand up the moose that lit it. Anybody who had anything to do with Marshall Law (Seven, Tuesday and Wednesday) stand up, take three steps forward and assume the position. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

Marshall Law is a televisual Chinese whisper. Imagine some producer, in say 1999, pitching Ally McBeal, in a whisper, to a tea lady. The tea lady gets the gist, and passes it along to a bicycle courier. Years pass and the story of a skinny nervy solicitor and her quirky life is kicked from car park to boardroom, and finally draws breath as Marshall Law.

How bad? Did saucy/smarty Ros Marshall (McCune) actually pretend to hump her novel at bedtime to annoy repressed/redhead Verity Marshall, who believed that her sister was having wild sex with a stranger? I think she did.

You see, that was the light relief the audience needed after an hour of Jane Hall's outrageous All Together Now acting, after two gripping yet quirky courtroom cases about a Jack Russell and a pole dancer, and several scenes in which McInnes pronounced the G in Zegna.

We know McCune's character is a real goer when she says "s---" after the opening credits. We know she's feisty when she stomps around declaring "My job depends on this!" And we know she's horny when we glimpse a hint of nipple in the second half hour. (That's what everyone on my couch thought, but it turned out to be a badly stitched seam.)

McCune is Australia's darling, and while I don't doubt the girl is able, she's never been one of my favourite things. But she'll do well to rise above this mire. Blue's Clues looks better (and is clearly better written). Whyte has a voice that could grate parmesan. McInnes is smarmier than baby John Burgess. And Hall is on television? If Marshall Law were a sport, it would not be televised, not even on cable.

So let's talk about food.

Jamie Oliver never looks down the barrel of the camera. He's always talking to someone else. The camera, and consequently the audience, eavesdrops and picks up tips, recipes and anecdotes while Jamie gets on with it. It's intimate. It's more like hanging out in a kitchen than taking notes from Iain Hewitson, and people who like food hang out in kitchens. Friends for Dinner (Wednesday, ABC) works the same way, and goes further. In this very agreeable series, serious food fanciers get some dinner party assistance from glamour chefs. In the first episode, yummy old Gary Rhodes swoops in on Lesley, a nurse from Kent, and forces her to make pastry and cook fish. Any good dinner party cook knows her Achilles heel and Rhodes went straight for Lesley's.

So, we get a cooking lesson, terrific interaction, frank direct-to-camera business from the dinner guests and plenty of showmanship from Rhodes. It's a great formula which in no way resembles the horrible, horrible Surprise Chef (Seven, Sunday). Next week, wild and angry Gordon Ramsay helps a man who is an absolute pillock. Ramsay hates him, and makes no secret of the fact. It's really good telly, and the food turns out a treat.

The third series of Food Lovers Guide to Australia (SBS, Friday) brings together genuine enthusiasts, professional chefs, and secrets from far-flung ethnic communities and stories sourcing unusual produce. Stirring the pot once again are Meave O'Meara and Joanna Savill, who manage to strike just the right note between magazine journalism and foodie stickybeaking. You can tell they love getting out with an isolated Cocos Island Malay community in Western Australia, fishing for crays and making curry from scratch. Who wouldn't enjoy sitting with four generations of Greek women in Adelaide as they slit and salt black olives?

It is only when O'Meara or Savill walk and talk directly to camera that we detect a hint of lifestyle slipperiness. This is SBS, after all. When the girls beam directly down that lens, I keep expecting Life Support's Dr Rudi to wander through with some gynaecological advice.

After a barrage of Pommy cooking shows (good and bad) it is refreshing to watch something so distinctly Australian. We've got wild barra, not monkfish. We've got Thai cutlets; cannoli; couscous hand-made from semolina; licorice; salmon caviar - basically all the major Australian food groups.

How can we produce so much marvellous food, so many really superior athletes, enough OK novelists, the odd handy racehorse and such truly appalling television drama? If Marshall Law were a souffle any self-respecting chef would bin it. At what point did an Australian Ally McBeal seem like a good idea?

By Ruth Ritchie
August 17, 2002