The Guardian 7 September, 2005

TV programs worth watching
Sun 11 Sept — Sat 17 Sept

The inability of Broadway: The American Musical (ABC 7.30pm Sundays) to make a distinction between commercial success and artistic success becomes even more apparent this week, in which the success of shows in the 1970s becomes measured in terms of real estate.

Refering to the blockbuster musical Chicago, Shubert Organization Chairman Gerald Schoenfeld says: "It was a catalyst for the improvement of this area, and of course this area is now the most desirable area in New York."

And by the end of the 1970s, Broadway had become the centrepiece of a remarkably successful public relations campaign that would lure tourists to New York for years to come.

Like Agatha Christie’s The Mouse Trap in London, a long run on Broadway was no longer a guarantee of quality but merely of longevity. Which is not to say that there wasn’t plenty of interesting product on Broadway during that decade!

One of the things that makes New Tricks (ABC 8.30pm Sundays) work, is the variation in the crimes that UCOS investigates. They don’t just do a murder (or even several murders) every episode.

This week, for instance, it’s some stolen jewelry discovered in a flat rented by a man who died in 1982. The episode is written by Karen Mclachlan.

One of the guest stars is Rita Tushingham, whom I last remember seeing decades ago in The Knack!

The Pardoner’s Tale, this week’s episode of Canterbury Tales (ABC 9.25pm Sundays), continues the grim retelling in modern dress of Chaucer’s bawdy moral tales. The modern versions are not only a lot grimmer than Chaucer’s originals, I suspect he would have thought them unnecessarily so!

Chaucer’s tales had a rollicking quality. There’s not a lot of humour, grim or otherwise, in the telling of these modern parables.

Three of Wallace and Gromit’s classic adventures in plasticine animation are back this week, on consecutive days. A treat for all fans of director Nick Park and Aardman Animation.

In A Grand Day Out (ABC 5.00pm Tuesday) Wallace fancies some cheese ("some nice Wensleydale") so he builds a rocket in his cellar and takes Gromit to the moon, which is after all made of the stuff.

In The Wrong Trousers (ABC 5.00pm Wednesday), a new lodger turns out to be not only a penguin but a master criminal. In control of Wallace’s newly-invented Techno-trousers he seems set to frame the hapless inventor for robbery!

And in A Close Shave (ABC 5.00pm Thursday), Wallace falls in love while Gromit uncovers a plot to create a national wool shortage by stealing sheep.

The series owes much of its success to Peter Sallis (the voice of Wallace), but the overall writing is delightful.

Australian director Tom Zubrycki makes interesting and progressive films. His latest, for Film Australia’s National Interest Program, is Vietnam Symphony, in the Storyline Australia slot (SBS 8.30pm Thursday).

In 1965, as the Vietnamese faced the threat of massive US bombing, students and teachers from the National Conservatory of Music were forced to flee Hanoi for the relative safety of a small village in the countryside.

With the help of villagers, they built an entire campus underground, creating a maze of hidden tunnels, connecting an auditorium and classrooms. Here, as the war raged around them, they lived, studied and played music for five years.

Black-and-white archival foot­age captures almost surreal scenes — of pianos wheeled on handcarts along dusty tracks, lessons held in round-the-clock shifts in sub­terranean caverns, performances for soldiers among heavy arm­aments, and the unexpected meeting of hard labour and high culture, of the pragmatic and the sublime.

This footage is combined with contemporary interviews with the people involved, who recount personal stories of danger, hunger, fear and loss, stories counterbalanced by moments of humour and beauty. And their music, of course.

Vietnam Symphony records the coming together of the former conservatory students and villagers for a reunion concert 30 years after the war, and paints a moving portrait of life in Vietnam then and now.

The comic book is alive and well. In the US and here, they sell to adults in the form of the "graphic novel", usually crime or sci-fi but always marked by striking graphic art.

In Japan, they are more trad­itional in form but more juvenile in content. And they are extraordinarily popular!

These comics have generated a whole new genre of TV animation — and now movie animation — called anime. Although SBS has for several years marketed these films as "cult movies", they are very restricted in their range of themes (post nuclear apocalypse cities or decadent views of the "future") and ultimately tend to bore.

SBS’ latest offering from this stable is Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (SBS 10.00pm Thursdays), a spin-off from the anime movie Ghost in the Shell. It’s the usual stuff: a crime-fighting outfit whose members are part-human, part-cyborg. Yawn.

Cop shows on TV are popular everywhere, even in socialist countries. Czech TV had a big success not so long ago re-running a police series from socialist-era Czechoslovakia, much to the despair of the bourgeois media.

They could hardly accuse them of running communist propaganda, however. It was, after all, "just a cop show".

Now SBS has picked up the Danish series Unit One (SBS 8.30pm Fridays), comprising one hour episodes about Denmark’s Flying Squad. The series is watched by nearly 70 percent of Denmark’s viewing audience every week.

In November 2002, in New York, the series won the prestigious International Emmy Award for best drama series — the first time the award had ever gone to a program from outside North America or the British Commonwealth.

It will be interesting to see what all the fuss is about.

Ever since the ABC stopped using fillers there have been few opportunities for short films on television. Now the ABC has come up with SOS (Shorts on Screen) (ABC 11.55pm Saturday), one hour of shorts back to back.

I prefer my short films interspersed among longer programs but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. But five minutes to midnight? Why don’t they repeat the program on Sunday afternoons?

Each week, SOS will showcase a selection of Australian and International shorts, from multi-award winning festival favourites to cutting edge student films.

The ABC is pitching the program at young people ("It has an exciting new look and feel. It’s cool. It’s young. It’s fresh.") but anyone interested in film should find the hour interesting.

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