Hollowmen – Episode 2
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Episode Two of Hollowmen is now available here at the ABC website. (Why is the first episode no longer available? Anyone who pays taxes in Australia paid for the show, why can’t we watch it on demand?) It details the teams reaction to a report that makes good on the Prime Minister’s election promise to not give diplomatic postings in foreign countries as rewards to those who have served the party. Unfortunately, the party has already planned to give such a position to an obnoxious senator (clearly a riff on the Nationals) who has virtually no qualifications whatsoever.
The episode dives straight into discussions of “The Selection Criteria for Overseas Diplomatic Postings”, and never gives any exposition to explain in layman’s terms the implications of such events or characters. While there are things that go over the viewer’s head throughout the show (there’s a sub-sub-plot about quarantine in this episode I still don’t get) this structure gives us a sense of realism that is needed for such a satire, and allows the show to grow on repeated viewings. It’s far preferable to programs that spend too much time explaining the events taking place to bring viewers up to speed. The usual trick is to have a character who is as clueless as the audience who can be brought up to speed along with the viewer, but thankfully the show’s writers allow the scenes to run at their own pace and let the audience do the work.
This episode was less successful than the first, mainly due to the central topic involved. While the first episode dealt with childhood obesity, a subject that we see and feel the effects of in everyday life, this episode’s subject of diplomatic postings does not resonate so well. Not just because it isn’t as simple a topic, but that it isn’t so much of a crime to give a favored employee a cushy job as it is to drive the nation into an obesity epidemic. The level of corruption involved isn’t as extreme and hence there isn’t as much for the satire to play off. (Though that’s not to say the events depicted don’t happen) The next episode, however, looks to bring a new weight to the way the characters bring their self-interest to wider issues.
There were a few occasions in this episode where the writers and cast appeared to struggle to bring humour out of the scenes. The one-liners frequently dropped were at times funny, but brought the show out of its realistic atmosphere and into sitcom territory. This is especially true of the scenes involving the younger performers (especially Merrick Watts) who don’t seem as suited to this style of satire. Especially grating was the performance of the obnoxious senator, which delved into caricature in most scenes. Of course, we aren’t to know how close such a character comes to reality, but this performance undermined the near-documentary approach of the show.
Far better is Rob Sitch’s character of Tony, due both to Sitch’s performance and to the way his character has been written. He never appears to be telling “jokes” as the other characters do, instead the humour derives totally from Tony’s nature, who isn’t aware of how funny he is. The humour never seems to be forced, keeping the realism of the character and being all the better for it. Hopefully as the series continues and characters are allowed to grow the comedy from other characters will become more naturally developed.
The success of Hollowmen depends on our belief in the world that has been created. If some of the outright jokes are excised in order to boost the realism of the show, I think it’s a sacrifice worth making. Following the story and seeing the way power corrupts everyone involved is entertaining enough, the shows producers don’t need to strain to fit jokes in wherever they can.