Hollowmen – Episode 1
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On Wednesday night the ABC screened the first episode of Hollowmen, the new series from the Working Dog team. Directed by Rob Sitch and written by Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner (but seemingly no Jane Kennedy?). Hopefully their previous production, Thank God You’re Here, is over with, because Hollowmen shows where the teams’ real strengths lie. The most obvious thing to say is that they’re now doing to politics what they did to current affairs programs with Frontline.
Before I spoil it for you, you can watch the entire episode for free here at the ABC website. (Update: Unfortunately you can only watch the latest episode from the ABC site. You could probably find a torrent for earlier episodes if you search on Google, but that would be wrong.)
This episode centres around the people working behind the Prime Minister (who we never see) and their creation of a plan to tackle childhood obesity, which gradually succumbs to pressures of food industry lobbyists and other sectors of the Government to become a meaningless “awareness campaign” that disregards the real changes the original plan sought to make.
The character of Tony, played by Rob Sitch, is as good as his Mike Moore role from Frontline. His almost sexual attraction to words that don’t mean anything finds the exact point between exaggeration and sad reality that makes for great satire. The way he applauds the words used by those pitching him ideas rather than the ideas themselves is brilliant. This is a character that must exist in reality for phrases like “working families” and “going forward” to be repeated so endlessly. The difference between Tony’s enthusiasm for the original, substantial proposal and the latter more successful, superficial plan is so slight that it’s clear he doesn’t really mind either way. Hollowmen is a bitingly apt title.
The writers played a neat trick with our usual expectations of good guys and bad guys on television. The character of Murph (played by Lachy Hulme) is set up for the most part to be the moral centre of the show. That is, the guy audiences can identify with and get behind while the comically hypocritical character played by Sitch can be looked down upon and seen as unethical and immoral.
There’s a great moment at the end of the episode, however, when Murph realises that the plan will have to be changed and made insubstantial. Instead of becoming indignant and making a fuss, he gladly takes on a role equally as hypocritical as Tony, taking on his use of nice sounding words to express very little.
Murph: I wonder if, … in our enthusiasm …
Tony: This is sounding good
Murph: We let the … momentum … carry us away
Ian: I think you could be right
Tony: You’re right
Murph: I mean we need to take on board all points of view
Ian: I agree with that
Tony: There’s bound to be more stakeholders out there
Despite the hypocrisy on display, it’s not so easy to look down on this character. A quick moment of Murph expressing some guilt over what he’s doing would let us feel better about him, but the writers are too smart to let their audience off the hook like that. Also very insightful is the way Murph is never explicitly pressured to change his behaviour by his superiors, it’s merely “suggested” and Murph takes the hint. You get the feeling that this kind of scene gets played out everyday in Canberra and the rest of the political world.
Hollowmen looks to be the only work of Australian made fiction currently worth watching. It’s great that Working Dog have given us something that’s worth watching and worth thinking about.
Nice “Water Rats”-esque soundtrack, too.