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Down-home supernaturalism

Katerina Sakkas: ABC TV, Glitch

Glitch Glitch
It’s natural to wonder what a loved one who has died would make of trivial or significant changes that occur as life goes on without them. The ABC TV series Glitch makes these wonderings actual in a scenario that sees a small number of dead people returning to the Victorian country town in which they were laid to rest.

With a concept developed by executive producer Tony Ayres (Walking on Water, 2002, The Home Song Stories, 2007, The Slap, 2011) and writer-producer Louise Fox, whose resume includes popular TV series Love My Way and Round the Twist as well as the film adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ Dead Europe, Glitch is neither a remake of nor inspired by French series Les Revenants (2012), but external similarities between the two make comparisons unavoidable. Most obviously, there is the theme of the formerly dead returning to a small country town with every appearance of life, to the shock of those townsfolk forced to accept their miraculous restoration. The ‘returned’ in both series are unable to leave the town limits, in Glitch becoming obviously unwell if they try and ultimately disintegrating like vampires in sunlight if they do. Electric lights tend to flicker in their presence, though Glitch doesn’t use this trope as consistently as does Les Revenants. Both series contain a love triangle and a violent psychopath.

However, where Les Revenants was mysterious and surreal, Glitch is jokey and, aside from director Emma Freeman’s poetic opening titles sequence, prosaic. It’s earthier—in a very literal sense in the beginning as we observe the dead emerging from their graves, naked and grimy, in morbid mimicry of birth. From this opening, both spooky and intentionally humorous, Glitch is immediately engaging, its early scenes of the fictional town of Yoorana as atmospheric as a nightscape by Australian painter Louise Hearman.

The character who must deal with the bulk of the strange events, Sergeant James Hayes, sympathetically played by Patrick Brammall, is soon to be reunited with his recently deceased wife, Kate (Emma Booth). It is the challenge to Hayes’ integrity as decent husband and policeman, as well as the rapport between him and Kate, that anchors Glitch’s narrative. Genevieve O’Reilly lends a contrastingly cool authority to the doctor who assists James in the covert reception and care of the undead.

Elsewhere, characterisation is handled with a broader brush, despite committed performances. This is due largely to an ambitious attempt to corral multiple socio-historical aspects of Australian life into a mere six episodes, which inevitably leads to some stories feeling more trivial than others. Included are themes of Indigenous disenfranchisement, homosexual love, local prisoner-of-war camps, ANZACs, the immigrant experience, bushrangers and more. The diversity is interesting but stops short of being radical, given the central characters still reflect the straight Anglo-Australian mainstream (as a counterpoint, see the UK series In the Flesh, another drama where the lucid dead return, whose hero is presented as unremarkably gay).

Every character has a high-stakes drama attached (beyond the massive upheaval, in the case of some, of returning from the dead), but there’s not enough time to develop each of these fully. Those with more impact include the story involving Maria—a devout Italian immigrant whose miraculous return means a confrontation with grief—and the love triangle drama kicked into being by the return of James’ beloved first wife, though the confrontations caused by the latter devolve into protracted scenes bordering on triteness.

A major story thread involving a friendship struck up between the returning first mayor of Yoorana, Paddy Fitzgerald (Ned Dennehy) and local Indigenous teen Beau Cooper (Aaron McGrath) has serious underpinnings but is deliberately played for laughs. With McGrath playing a good-natured straight guy to Dennehy’s buffoon, their scenes suggest a strange blend of Banjo Patterson and the 1970s time-travelling childrens’ TV series Catweazle, in pronounced tonal contrast to all other narratives in Glitch. Stopping just short of being dissonant, this eccentricity leavens a certain soap opera-style earnestness that might otherwise threaten to dominate the show.

With the approach of the final episode, some intriguingly sinister plot ideas emerge to cast a shadow over the many relationship dramas. On a few occasions the pathos dips into genuine horror and the territory of the uncanny, particularly in relation to one character’s personality change, though unfortunately this is undermined by increasingly menacing delivery reminiscent of a pantomime villain.

But Glitch is, after all, more ripping yarn than dark psychological drama. It’s refreshing to see an Australian series for adults apply such enthusiasm to the supernatural—a genre prevalent in overseas television yet almost unheard of in our own TV productions. (Another exception, premiered at Dark MOFO and launching on Foxtel this year, will be The Kettering Incident (2015), on which Louise Fox also worked as a writer.) With its final episode closing on several cliff-hangers, Glitch should be granted the second series it requires to further explore its many narrative threads.

ABC, Matchbox Pictures, Screen Australia: Glitch, director Emma Freeman, writers Louise Fox, Kris Mrksa, Giula Sandler, cinematography Simon Chapman, ABC1 from 9 July and iview (complete series: 6 episodes)

RealTime issue #128 Aug-Sept 2015 pg. 29

© Katerina Sakkas; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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