Wednesday, September 07, 2011

At home with Julia is bad TV

I see from Twitter (#athomewithjulia) that the first episode of ABC's At Home with Julia has its fans. I thought that it was dreadful. My wife went ballistic.

I will largely leave my wife's views to one side. She is a strong feminist with somewhat different political views to mine. She said, among other things, that the program depended on the fact that Julia was a women, that it was actually stereotyping. I suspect that's right.

I and eldest daughter insisted that we watch it. My wife was already objecting on the basis of the promos. Eldest and I thought that we should give it a go. Eldest left in the middle, but I watched it to the end.

My first reaction to the opening scenes may seem an odd one. I thought if factually unrealistic. To make it work, they had to distort simple things like the actual operations of the Lodge, the Australian PM's residence. That nagged.

As the program went on, there were some funny lines. But increasingly, I thought that it was little more than a stitching together of cameo stereotypes designed to appeal to a fairly narrow audience. I say fairly narrow because, in a way, it was a series of in-jokes of a particular type.

Looking at the Twitter feed, those who liked it generally gave examples of parodies that they agreed with.

All these things are a matter of judgement, of style, of attitude. In the end, the thing that really turned me off was simply the feeling that it was all deeply disrespectful. I really don't like the Australian PM being treated in this way.

I am not going to say that you should not watch it, although viewers outside Australia are likely to find it obscure in the extreme. Indeed, I would suggest that those who haven't seen it and have reasonably strong stomachs do so. Yes, this may help the ABC in the short tem in increasing ratings, but you need to see it to understand both the anti and pro reactions.

I won't watch it again. The program was intensely parochial, inward looking and somewhat smutty. To somewhat distort a tweet from a Twitter colleague, it was a bit like Benny Hill but without the fun.


Given the number of positive reactions to the show, I became curious about the pattern of likes and dislikes. This led me to do a two hour web search on reactions.

One outcome of that was a realisation about the impact of changing Google search algorithms, something that I will write about a little later.

On the negative side, one common theme was simply that the show wouldn't have been produced if Julia Gillard was a man. This came not just from feminists, although many of the this type of comments did come from feminists. Rather, people resented the portrayal of Tim.

A second negative theme was that of disrespect, not disrespect of Julia Gillard as PM, but of the office of Australian PM, disrespect for people. The TV Week blog attempted to address this issue. There David Knox wrote:

Not for a minute do I subscribe to the theory that to undertake this comedy is disrespectful. If The Greeks and Shakespeare could take aim at authority, so can we. In fact in this country, affectionate mocking is a national sport. Gillard can wear it like a badge of honour. Amanda Bishop might even deliver her a poll boost. David Knox

Maybe. I am not sure that "affectionate mocking" is a national sport, although mocking certainly is. However, this show was personalised so that it dealt not with authority, but with relationships.

I should note here that the majority of TV reviewers that I scanned liked the show. They saw it as good TV.

One of the difficulties with satirical shows is that they are in fact fiction.

Good satirical shows bear the same type of relationship to life that cartoons bear to people, politics and events. They accentuate certain features. However, they are not life. The further the gap between the show and life, the bigger the problem.

One of the things that I found interesting about the positive comments lay in the number of people who appeared to believe that the show was actually a satirical version of reality in the way that, say, Yes Minister was. It is not. The show actually has little connection with the way things work.

The greatest number of positive comments were addressed to specific gags or cameos. Like many satirical shows, one's response depends upon one's starting point. One person's highlight may be deeply offensive to someone else. There is nothing wrong with this, that's satire, but it's always interesting to try to plot just what appeals to whom.

To do this properly, I would need to go through and draw up a table with the gag or cameo on one side, the likely audience on the other. It would be fascinating to do this, but I don't have the time. So let me cut to the chase with gut judgments based just on my limited scan:

  • The show is not likely to appeal to many of those on the Coalition side of politics who are most against Labor or Ms Gillard because they are on the other side of many of the sight gags.
  • The show is not likely to appeal to Labor diehards who will see it as another attack on the Government even though they may enjoy specific cameos.
  • The show is likely to appeal to left of centre people disaffected with the Government who already hold the views and perceptions underlying the cameos.

That's enough for now. I do want to do a serious post on Google, blogging and search engines.        


Neil said...

I thought it was hilarious! I hadn't realised how funny our politics now are!

Remember "Rubbery Figures"? Not all that different, except this uses actors.

Jim Belshaw said...

Wondered if you would like it, Neil. I do remember rubbery figures.

I spent two hours this morning trying to trace the pattern of reactions to the show. I might bring this up as a postscript.

Last night I also tried to list the cameo cliches - rubbery figures relied on these too. I did wonder whether or not I should do an analysis of them. Maybe just a few passing examples.

I accept that these things are all a matter of taste.

Anonymous said...

Well Jim, I thought it was just rubbish - demeaning not only to the office of PM, but to the intelligence of anyone who tuned in.

I've never been a fan of laughing "at" someone. But do let me know if it improves. Not ;)


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd and thanks. It's interesting just how many people liked it.

Anonymous said...

You say interesting. I say depressing.

But maybe I should admit that I don't watch dancing, cooking, survival, or home reno shows either. Just to be fair.


Jim Belshaw said...

I have to admit that I do, some by choice, some not!