SOURCE: East of Nowhere
It isn’t often in Australian television that a truly original concept show emerges onto our screens. Inundated with soapies, the likes of Neighbours and Home & Away, our usual alternatives are restricted to drama-comedies like Packed to the Rafters and Offspring, or cop shows such as Rush and Rescue: Special Ops. The rest of our television shows are usually imported, mostly from the US, Canada, or the UK. There’s nothing wrong with the shows that we import, but I have a particular fondness for shows that are made in a voice that echoes my own; i.e. Australian. However, it’s rare for a truly different project/film/TV program to reach a mainstream audience given how little the Australian government invests back into our local film and television productions. I know for a fact that even institutions such as the Victorian Film Council don’t hand out grants to very many applicants (even if they give feedback that indicates that they wish they could) and this isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t afford to. There just isn’t enough money to go around. So the fact that a show like Spirited was not only successfully produced for an entire first season, which garnered an AFI nomination for Best Television Drama Series, but is back for its second is truly astonishing, and I’m so glad they’ve managed to accomplish it.
Co-created and developed by Australian actress Claudia Karvan (Daybreakers, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, The Secret Life of Us (TV)) and her creative partner, Jacquelin Perske, Spirited is a show with so much unique panache that those of us from the television-viewing community who have been starved for such originality are currently rolling around on our living room floors basking in the glow of something truly brilliant. Currently only available to audiences who have access to Foxtel/Austar’s W Channel, Spirited is set in Sydney Australia in the apartment building of divorcee Suzy Darling (Claudia Karvan) who, in Season 1, left her juvenile, emotional bully of a husband (played to absurdly hilarious effect by Rodger Corser) with her two children Elvis (Louis Fowler) and Verity (Charlie Hancock) in tow in order to start her life over.
Enter Henry Mallet (British actor/stand-up comedian Matt King from the Bafta-winning Peep Show, Malice in Wonderland and Inkheart). Truly this character and the actor who plays him deserve a standing ovation of near-epic proportions. I don’t remember the last time I saw a character as different as Henry, and every week he has me torn between wanting to dance around the room or fall off the couch laughing at how different he is from everything we’ve ever seen on Australian television. You see, Henry Mallet is a ghost. But Henry is not just any ghost. Henry is a 1970s British punk rocker ala Sid Vicious who still wanders around in his brocade jacket, tight tight black pants, his army boots, and his hair is still delightfully on-end thanks to hair gel that has stood the ectoplasmic test of eternal time (Matt King pulls this off as if it’s all second nature to him.) During the course of Season 1, viewers followed Suzy and Henry through their journey to unravel how Henry died (an investigation which is aided by Henry’s investigative biographer Zach Hannigan; played by the quirkily wonderful Angus Sampson), why he is trapped within the boundaries of the apartment building and Suzy’s dental office (which is part of the building), just how it is that Suzy is the only one to have ever seen him, and why Suzy has never seen any ghost before Henry. As Season 1 travelled onwards, Suzy and Henry’s relationship deepened as Suzy’s talent blossomed, encompassing other ghosts who popped in and out of the storyline throughout the course of the season’s over-riding plot. In the very last episode of that season Henry wandered back into the hotel followed by several new ghosts with the promise that Suzy ‘wouldn’t mind’ some more company. Little did Henry, or we viewers, realise that he’d just set everyone on a very trouble-bound path.
In Season 2 we have started back at the very point it was left with several new faces including ghosts such as The King (a ghost with groupies, played by Simon Lyndon), Antonia (a young woman forever stuck in a punk outfit from a costume party she died at, played by Sarah Snook), and Betty (a 1950s housewife perpetually in pink, played by Kelly Butler). However Henry has made a grievous error in judgement; with so many ghosts demanding attention of Suzy things begin to spiral out of control and draw unwanted attention from all directions with Suzy’s daughter Verity and sister Jonquil (Belinda Bromilow) beginning to wonder whether Suzy has started to lose her mind when they catch her talking to seemingly no-one on increasingly frequent occasions. But questions of sanity aren’t the only concern for Henry and Suzy as ghosts begin to start mysteriously go missing throughout the building without explanation as to what has happened to them and where they’ve gone. But the cause for this is something they could never have expected, as it seems the price for gathering so many spirits in one place is that not only have they garnered Suzy’s attention, but they’ve also caught the attention of an Exterminator (the identity of whom will surprise you as much as their method will likely repulse you, I know it got an ‘eww… gross’ reaction from me – if the writers wanted to make the character unlikable they certainly achieved that). Managing to temporarily disable the Exterminator, Suzy and Henry are currently without any clue that this figure of doom, who is obsessively set on helping Henry ‘move on’, has been connected to them in a way that is quite literally too close to home.
Another interesting facet of Season 2 is that it has brought the presence of Suzy and Jonquil’s long lost mother Helen (played by the established and Australian industry-renowned actress Heather Mitchell of the iconic Australian film Muriel’s Wedding, and others such as The Pacific and Thank God He Met Lizzie) back into their lives. Yet again showing her insecurities in abundance, Jonquil is ever on the outside of this reunion as Suzy and Helen discover that they share the same secret – they both love men who are dearly departed but still lingering around. But as the episodes progress we, and both Suzy and Jonquil, begin to suspect there is more going on with Helen than she is letting on as her memory seems to be inconsistent and inexplicably missing great chunks of her life where she has woken up with no memory of where she has been. It is when Suzy takes Helen back to the house Helen has been living in all those missing years that answers are found, and very subtle foreshadowing of what could happen for Henry and Suzy occurs for this season’s viewers.
To be honest I can’t sing this show’s praises enough. Not since Buffy’s premiere on television back in the 90s have I been delighted by such an original, well-written, and artfully developed show; and as much as I’m a fan of Whedon, I have to confess that Spirited has eclipsed Buffy in my mind when it comes to truly inspired characters. Spirited has its Australian voice subtly stamped all over it, and that could very well be another reason I’m so vigorously fond of it as my sense of national pride has been engaged as I proudly wave this program around as an example of what we’re creatively capable of as a culture when people as clever as Claudia Karvan and Jacquelin Perske are given the ability and support to make such wondrous work as this. I put it before you, all of you Australian television network execs, that television programs like Spirited are what we should be investing in. I challenge you to start looking at the independent shows airing on Austar/Foxtel and transplant them into the free-to-air networks so that a greater Australian audience can become aware of them and fall in love with them so that they can give programs like Spirited the supportive audience base that will see them reach not only Season 3, but Season 4 and 5!
OVERALL RATING: 4.5 stars out of 5 – Damn Near Perfect!