On a positive note, the production values looked pretty good.
There, now that we have gotten that out of the way, can we talk about The Shire?
In fairness I don’t think I am really the target audience, but I do have a TV and eyeballs and right now that makes me part of TEN’s target. Let’s face it, aside from an improved season of MasterChef and (the concluded but wonderful) Offspring there’s not a lot to watch on the network lately: Being Lara Bingle, Last Man Standing, The Finder, Breakfast, movie reruns, Modern Family reruns, NCIS reruns… jump in here anytime.
The Shire has copped a barrage of publicity before hitting the screen. I can’t remember the last time a show had this much press before it had even finished production. As a result, I fully expect the ratings to reflect our curiosity.
Cronulla, Sylvania Waters and its surrounds looked glorious on the small screen. There’s no racist riots here -in fact it’s a charmed life of surfing, spray tans, waterfront McMansions, cashed-up bogans, parties and a perpetual weekend. There’s no sign of a struggling middle class, no shortage of housing, and barely an elderly citizen in sight.
What it does have is plenty of pretty twenty-somethings, who by all accounts are also pretty vacant. Two of the girls wear their vanity like a badge of honour.
“I could never live without my lips,” says Vernessa – or possibly Sophie (does it really matter which?). “My goal is to make everyone in The Shire skinnier.” Over-sprayed and over-collagened, they are clearly meant to be the comic relief here. I just found them annoying.
Dashing Mitch has model looks but was happy to invite his former girlfriend Gaby to a party also attended by another ex-girlfriend. Nice. Did he at anytime think the Story Producers, hired from The Only Way is Essex, were setting him up for a love triangle gone wrong?
Beckaa-with-two-Aas is the nearest the show has to a Paris Hilton wanna-be. Flying in from Dubai where she’s just paid for a new nose (as you do), she is collected by Daddy in his limousine. “Did you miss me?” he asks. “I missed your credit card,” she answers. “Arabs like to shake… the bling bling.” This is the only time any subtext ever emerges through the screen, with awkward non-PG thoughts about Daddy and daughter now racing through my PG-timeslot mind. I have no idea where Mummy is but I think she got out while she knew what was good for her.
Just as concerningly, Beckaa-with-two-Aas has two camp pals, Kris and Stace, who don’t mind saying one thing to her face, but telling the cameras later, “She kind of looks like a pig.” Message: gay best friends are really bitches deep down. Nice #2.
Music wanna-be Rif Raf sprouts lines that are ripped straight from Angry Boys: “Emotionally disturbed bitch.. yeh bro… sick man.” Annoying #45.
Throughout the muddled, busy, set-up episode, there were endless shots of boobs and tubes, party boys who probably wandered off the set of Corey Worthington’s Facebook rave, aerial shots of sparkling estates, traffic montages and a frenzied storytelling pace. There were also too many characters, with blondes blurring into blands.
But the biggest concern was how “unnatural” everyone was.
I get that these are non-actors steered in unscripted scenarios, but boy they have no finesse in appearing relaxed. Some try too hard to ramp it up for the cameras, which lacks authenticity. Others, in particular the parents, are so awkward they don’t appear to understand the genre. Who can blame them? We might be in Sylvania Waters mum, but we’re a long way from Sylvania Waters. If we could start again as a mockumentary there may be something here…
The Shire strikes me as being suitable fodder for a foreign audience, which may well be the underlying agenda. The locations shimmered in the sun and the soft-Shine-focus. The characters are so stereotyped as to work as car-crash telly for international audiences already weaned on the genre.
But Aussie audiences will call you to account if you’re not being honest with them, and that’s where this falls down.
I struggled to find the likeable characters who will draw me back each week. Fatally, there is also no humility to be seen. I remember a nation falling in love with Marty & Jess’s romance on Big Brother, because it wasn’t manufactured. Here I doubt I will believe what is put in front of me.
The Shire will undoubtedly polarise audiences, and TEN has to hope there will be enough who are suitably appalled / amused /sucked in for it to fire. Because, like the Cronulla beach tide, there is another wave of content coming and its name is Big Brother.
The Shire airs 8pm Mondays on TEN.