Outnumbered, Merlin, and other recently seen TV

One of my regular viewing blocks lately on a Saturday and Sunday has been the “kid’s channel” ABC3 between 6pm and 7.15. Why?

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That’s the cast of the very funny, very clever, and only just suitable for children, comedy from BBC, Outnumbered.

…written, directed and produced by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, It is about a family where the parents are outnumbered by their three children. The first series first aired between the 28 August and the 5 September 2007. A second series aired between the 15 November and the 27 December 2008. A Comic Relief Special, Christmas Special and Sport Relief special aired on the 13 March 2009, the 27 December 2009 and the 19 March 2010, respectively. A third series aired between 8 April 2010 and 20 May 2010. The fourth series aired between 2 September 2011 and 7 October 2011.

I had, coincidentally, borrowed the DVD of  Series 1-3 from Wollongong Library a while ago. The final episode of Series 4 was shown on ABC3 last week. The pic above is from Series 1. ABC3 is now replaying Series 1 so if you want to catch up! Apparently there was a series 5 in 2014. See the episode list.

Tyger Drew-Honey, who played Jake the older boy – right above – is now 18:

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That’s not from Outnumbered!

But it is quite something the way the show was partly adlibbed, and therefore how spontaneous it often seemed. The kids became real characters, growing up before our eyes over the various series.

That Outnumbered’s trio of child comedians manages to produce exceptional performances is a testament to their ability. The youngest, Ramona Marquez, eight, who was named best female newcomer last night, has, according to its director, Andy Hamilton, “the face of an angel and the mind of a barrister”. He knew only too well the difficulties of getting children to act after casting his own daughter, Isobel, then seven, in Bedtime, his 2001 comedy series. What he learnt stayed with him – and in Outnumbered, neither Ramona, nor her fellow child star Daniel Roche, is permitted to see the script. Instead, they’re briefed with a rough outline of what they’re supposed to do before each scene is shot – and the rest, as they say, is carnage.

Guy Jenkin, the show’s co-writer, who also worked on the newsroom sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey, gave an example: “We wanted Ramona to say, ‘You smell like you’ve been to the pub. She actually said, ‘You smell of pub’. It’s more like a child, and funnier.”

As Tyger Drew-Honey recalls:

Do you and Jake have much in common?

Quite a lot of Jake was me, because we got to choose our own character names and the writers and directors knew the show was going to be heavily improvised to get naturalistic performances. The audition was all improvisation exercises.

Back then you never used to see the script. Has that changed?

From series two I always used to see a script at the start of the day. Sometimes it says “improvisation session” and we’ll sit down with the director and talk about ideas, but it will be one half-hour take when there’s no script at all.

If you have never seen Outnumbered, do have a look if you get the chance.

After Outnumbered I have become rather fond of the fantasy series The Adventures of Merlin, loosely based on the Arthurian legends – ABC3 6.30 – 7.15 Saturday and Sunday.

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Beautifully filmed in Wales and France, the series is really hitting its stride now on ABC3. It would appear there are quite a few episodes left for us to see, though apparently it was cancelled in the UK in 2012-13.

Merlin series 5 is already halfway through in the UK – but won’t debut in the United States until January 4, 2013 on Syfy. Without giving too much away, series 5 of Merlin will see Arthur finally ascending the throne as king, while using the recently assembled Knights of the Round Table to battle his legendary villain Mordred.

Completely different from either of the above and from just about anything else on the box has been ABC2’s Please Like Me.  It has grown on me, particularly after the outstanding Episode 7. “Mum and Josh go hiking in Tasmania. There are some funny and revealing times. Mum cries herself to sleep a lot and gets trapped in a waterhole. CAST: Josh Thomas. #pleaselikeme” In the US the show has made quite an impression, it appears: Emmys take a shine to Josh Thomas’ Australian comedy Please Like Me.

Depicting the realities of mental health on the small screen

As part of Mental As week across ABC platforms, Please Like Me again revisited the relationship shared between Thomas and his mother.

In including their story and depicting the realities of mental health on the small screen, Thomas said it meant his mother had been heavily involved in the production of the show.

“A lot of the story is based on her and because you’re not allowed to do that without someone’s permission, she has to sign this huge contract,” he explained.

“She has the highest level of script approval, higher than the ABC or the America network.”

While Thomas said that his mother had approved most of the content, there was one instance he fondly recalled.

“She once ripped up the script in the first two pages that said her house was really untidy (because she’d been depressed),” he said.

“That upset her. That was the only thing she’s pulled me up on.

“It’s hard to get people to care about mental health.

“It’s only something I’ve heard people talk about and understand in the last five years. It’s really built traction.”

That Mental Health Week programming was quite wonderful. A highlight was the three part documentary Changing Minds.

Filmed inside one of the busiest Psychiatric Units in the country, Changing Minds: the Inside Story uncovers the realities of 21st century mental health treatment as we meet the patients and staff who are challenging, with humour and honesty, the stigma and taboos that exist around mental health.

In order to film the series at Liverpool Hospital, an intensive 6 months of pre-production, involving protocols, legal and access agreements was undertaken by the team before filming commenced.

Over 12 weeks, a small crew from Northern Pictures filmed inside the locked wards of the Mental Health Unit. From electro convulsive therapy, to modern psychiatric drug regimes, access has been unprecedented. For the first time on Australian television, we film the proceedings of the Mental Health Review Tribunal and see the legal process that allows unwell people be held against their will whilst being treated.

The series follows the journeys back to health of patients unwell at the time of their admittance. It’s raw, funny and sometimes uncomfortable. But the message is clear – help is available.

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See also the comments here.

There was also a rather wonderful QandA in which this memorable exchange occurred:

TRINETTE STEVENS: I would say that your reluctance to address homosexuals, as well as their civil rights, is quite detrimental to their mental health.
BOB KATTER: I am quite happy to address that issue any time anyone brings it to me, right? I have an electorate where I have a person committing suicide between Longreach and the Gulf of Carpentaria every two weeks in the cattle section. I have large First Australian communities, where it is absolutely endemic, right, and if you’re saying, well, what’s your priorities? Well, the priorities that I got are the people that are confronting me and quite rightly confronting me. That is the problem that I have to deal with. You have a problem that you may have to deal with in your life and if I can assist you in my way, I’m only too happy to do that.
TRINETTE STEVENS: But…
JOSH THOMAS: I think probably the issue, right, is you say that it’s not a priority but you talk about it quite a bit and when you do talk about it, you say awful things, so that is the problem. So if you’re – if you’re – if you’re going to – if you’re going to go out there as an elected member of Parliament and deny the existence of homosexuals in your electorate, which is kooky – adorable but kooky – of course people are going to get upset, right? And what worries me when I hear you talk like this – and I spent the day Googling you and you’re adorable – is you say a lot of really important powerful things, right, like what you have said tonight, I hear it and I think this is a guy that cares and it’s really important and when I hear you talk about dairy farmers and you say people in the cities should spend more than $2 on milk, I agree with you. But then when you go out and you deny the existence of homosexuals in north Queensland – they exist, there is an app called Grindr, I will put it on your phone – you disenfranchise the community. I mean I spoke earlier about guys and being afraid of talking about their feelings and afraid of being feminine and afraid of looking gay, right, and that is all tied to the kind of homophobic talk you get all through society. If you are trying to talk about mental health and on one hand saying this is very important but these guys don’t matter, then the whole community just falls apart.
BOB KATTER: You know, I most certainly have been guilty of cracking jokes upon myself, upon just about everyone.
JOSH THOMAS: I don’t think it’s a joke. I don’t think you were joking.

To be fair, much the greater part of what Bob Katter said was passionate and compassionate – in his rather unique way. I was impressed, and so indeed at times was Josh Thomas. There were also other panellists of note, and much was canvassed. It was in fact one of the best episodes of #QandA ever – and politician-free. As is tonight’s episode.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Finally, ABC News 24’s One Plus One is often heartbreakingly good these days.

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