One day, I will be working in the screenwriting industry. No panty-waisting around here, I’m going to make it or break everything on my way there. I will preferably be writing on top of a giant mountain of cash, in a mountain lair, whilst robots made from solid gold scrub my back.
However, on my way to eventual success and armies of doom, I’ll need to put in the hard yards. I’ll need to work in the local industry, in the trenches. Hopefully I’ll work on shows like “Wild Boys,” the pilot episode of which aired on Sunday night at 7.30, on channel seven. It’s an Australian bushranger western. As if that doesn’t sound awesome.
The show takes place in an 1860’s vision of bushland Australia, with the aptly named hamlet of Hopetoun providing a hub for the show’s events. The protagonist is Jack Keenan, a bushranger with a veritable heart of gold, played by Daniel McPhearson. He just wants to make an honest dishonest living, only taking from those who deserve their things taken from them. From what I saw in the pilot, this covers everyone in authority, from bankers to soldiers. He runs a small gang with two other members, one a larrikin type, Daniel Sinclair, played by Michael Dorman, the other slightly unstable and due for a bad end. Their happy bushranging world is shaken up and down when they rob the wrong coach. It’s carrying the new law in town. Francis Fuller, played by Jeremy Sims. He begins to clean up the town with an iron fist. Complicating Jacks’ life when faced with this development is his relationship with the sassy and tempestuous brothel/bar owner Mary Barret, played by Zoe Ventura. The comparison with Robin Hood can be drawn fairly easily, with Jack standing in for Robin, Mary as Maid Marian and Francis standing in for Nottingham. He even dresses completely in black.
The performances, by and large, are servicable. Daniel and Francis are the standouts in my opinion. Daniel is infused with a larrikin charm and quiet confidence. He’s comic relief, but never played for laughs. He is irreverant in the traditional “Australian” fashion. Francis is suitably venemous and veritably oozes around screen. Daniel McPhearson is charismatic in a corn-fed fashion. He tries to bring a sense of fun to the screen, but his character is a little too shiney, a hero but not enough of a person. However, the greatest disappointment was Mary Barret. Mary is apparently tough and resourceful, but this is never really shown. All she does is mouth around and brandish a shotgun. There’s no steel in her performance. The only other female character of note so far, Amelia, daughter of the mayor, is one-dimensional and dim. Hopefully Zoe can mine her character for a greater sense of integrity and pathos, because she appears to be an integral part of the show. Both the promotional posters and her position as Jack’s lover confirm this. Thankfully, the host of minor characters are interesting enough to fill Hopetoun with a host of interesting folk, they may not be wholly believable, but they are human enough to accept as part of the show’s conceit. However, for all of their differences, all of these characters suffer from one common flaw. The dialogue is often awful.
Indeed, this was the most disappointing aspect of the show. The language is often clunky and tiresomely expositional. Characters say what they mean, and there is little opportunity for subtext. Most scenes are perfectly servicable in terms of the action, but the dialogue really detracts from the characters and their interactions. It feels as though one or two more drafts may have been needed. Indeed, bad dialogue is what really kills Mary Barret as a character. Furthermore, there was little slang used and the language was a little too modern. This is a missed opportunity in my opinion, as slang can really bring colour to a show. This is true for this show especially, as a country like Australia at the time would have been in the throes of cutting itself free from England and developing it’s own style of English, missing an excellent way to bring verisimillitude to the world.
Despite these issues, the show chugs along at a satisfying pace, the writers manage to include a number of homages to western movies but they don’t let them derail the plot. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking if you haven’t seen it yet. This show knows what it is and resolutely sticks to that. This does result in flaws, as certain plot elements are contrived, others may cross the fine line between homage and cliche. Futhermore, the story drives character on occasion rather than the reverse. Thankfully, the narrative isn’t so dire that you have to avoid the show on principle. The plot, like everything in this show, isn’t “Wild,” but it does enough romping about to get by.
Expect explosions, shoot-outs and hold-ups a-plenty, but no real violence or sex. Wild is as Wild does at 7.30 on a Sunday night. These boys might not be wild enough for you, but I’m sure your nan will love them. That’s the core of this show, it wants to be family-friendly action and it does that in spades. We can all lament the fact that it’s not an Australian Deadwood, but that may be asking too much of a 7.30 Sunday night commercial timeslot.
In conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised by the package. Far from being the dire product I was expecting, “Wild boys” was fun and digestible, if not too meaningful. A fluffy Robin Hood meets Ned Kelly, if you will. With that kind of pedigree they can’t go too far wrong. There may be life in the industry yet.
3 out of 5 ten-gallon hats.
30 gallons, to be fair.