TV REVIEW: GLITCH
POSTED 8:26pm | 28 JULY 2015
I'm very neglectful when it comes to Australian produced film and television. There's no particular reason for this neglect - it's mostly born of laziness and an inability to follow a TV/film release schedule. Perhaps I could excuse it by blaming my preference for watching things on disc or streaming services, or on how limited the releases are of Australian films in Tasmania. I usually love my Australian stuff whenever I do get around to watching it. Animal Kingdom is still one of the greatest films I've seen in the last five years. I think maybe it might stem from my love for genre fare over the Australian propensity to favour productions of searing kitchen sink drama or broad light comedy.
The point is: I know my neglect is wrong, and that it causes me to miss a lot of outstanding productions when they first appear. Thankfully, and against my usual instincts, I watched the first episode of the new ABC and Matchbox Pictures drama Glitch, without knowing anything about it, and I was absolutely blown away.
First things first: Glitch is genre TV. Reading up on the production I've seen it referred to as Australian Gothic, and I think that's a pretty apt categorisation, but I'd also add that its roots definitely lie in the mystery/drama genres, with a healthy dose of the supernatural. I'm sure that sounds quite off-putting to a lot of viewers, but the success of Glitch lies in how understated all these elements are, putting it firmly in the bracket of the best HBO productions rather than just "Neighbours (With Ghosts)".
The set-up is that in the small country Victorian town of Yoorana local police officer James Hayes (Patrick Brammall from Ruben Guthrie, The Moodys, Upper Middle Bogan) is called to a disturbance at the cemetery in the middle of the night. There he finds a small group of strangers, naked, covered in dirt, stumbling around in the dark, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. James calls in the local doctor, Elishia McKellar (Genevieve O'Reilly from Diana: Last Days of a Princess, Banished), for help and the two of them return back to the local clinic with the five amnesiacs. At first James suspects they're the victims of a bad drug trip, or a long bender on booze, but when Elishia cleans them up and checks them over she realises that they're all in perfect health. It's not long before pieces of their memories start returning and Elishia and James start to put the puzzle together. The truth, however, might just be too much for them to handle.
Meanwhile local teenager Beau Cooper (Aaron McGrath from The Code) comes across another naked, dirty wanderer (Ned Dennehy from Banished) while riding his bike at night near the cemetery. It's one man who James and Elishia failed to spot earlier. He talks the boy into helping him break into the local pub to get a drink and the two of them discover he may in fact be the the town's first mayor, Patrick Fitzgerald. James heads back to the cemetery and is greeted by Sergeant Vic Eastley (Andrew McFarlane from The Sullivans, The Flying Doctors, The Alice), a police officer from the neighbouring town, who is responding to the emergency call from earlier. They discover that a number of graves appear to have been dug up but James is keen to keep Vic away from the case by blaming it on some local kids instead. He's concerned what might happen if anyone finds out what might be going on because he's beginning to believe that the strangers are actually deceased people returned from the dead.
It's an idea that's been explored in depth recently by several other series, namely the excellent Les Revenants from France, the average Resurrection from the U.S.A., and the zombie tinged The Returned from the U.K. But Glitch manages to approach it in a fresh, and distinctly Australian, way. The core creative team of writer and creator Louise Fox (Full Frontal, Round the Twist, Dead Europe), executive producer and creator Tony Ayres (Nowhere Boys, The Slap, The Straights), and director Emma Freeman (Tangle, Puberty Blues, Offspring) have got the tone, the look, and the atmosphere spot on for what they're trying to achieve. The direction of Freeman in particular is extremely thoughtful and assured. She keeps a steady and considered frame that allows space for the performers to shine and the setting to become an extra character, never once taking the focus off the story with dizzying and ambitious shots, but also not falling into the trap of being bland and predictable. TV directors have to walk a tightrope and Freeman does it with brilliant skill. The script by Fox is clever in it's sparsity and how it draws characters in a supernatural story without slipping into cliché or hysterics. The dialogue is very real, logical, consistent, and natural.
What really brings it all home, though, is the absolutely superb score composed by Cornel Wilczek (These Final Hours, The Mule, also performs as Qua). There are scenes that are elevated above outstanding because the music is basically perfect. It's dark and moody and adds a beautiful air of mystery and quiet emotion to the production. There's one scene in particular, in the first 20 minutes, between Brammal and Emma Booth (who plays one of the returned, Kate Willis) that is gut-wrenching just based on the performances, writing, and directing, but which Wilczek's score makes incredibly affecting and sets up the rest of the entire series. It's extraordinary.
Some of the performances aren't quite there, which is forgivable, but they never detract from the overall product, and everything else is at such a high standard that it almost doesn't matter. Still to come are characters played by Emily Barclay (In My Father's Den, Suburban Mayhem) and Rodger Corser (Underbelly, Rush, Puberty Blues), only briefly seen in this episode, that are set to play large roles in the series. If the standard set in this episode is maintained or improved on for the remaining five episodes then it could become a bit of a landmark for Australian genre TV. As it is now, I highly recommended everyone check it out as soon as possible. I'm happy to call the first episode must watch television for those who like serious, clever, atmospheric, genre drama.
Watch list: Every. Single. Episode.