Reviews: The Hollowmen Seasons 1 and 2 DVD set

The Hollowmen wasn’t what you’d call a blockbuster success – in pure ratings terms it was actually more of a failure. But this political satire from Working Dog (Frontline, The Dish, The Panel, Thank God You’re Here) is one of the smartest comedies to grace the small screen since the short-lived American critical darling Arrested Development.

I caught the show as it initially screened purely by chance – not being a regular ABC viewer I must have seen an advertisement while channel-surfing. I was pleasantly surprised to see Rob Sitch in a comedic role again, having been so good in Frontline and having been in not much at all since then. He plays amoral, oblivious PR-hound Tony, Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister of Australia. If we were going to break this show down into classic storytelling terms, Tony is the series’ antagonist. The Hollowmen’s protagonist is David ‘Murph’ Murphy, played with subtlety and restraint by Lachy Hulme. Oddly, both the antagonist and the protagonist are on the same ‘side’ – Murph, too, works for the Government, as Senior Political Advisor and Director of the Central Policy Unit (A fictional department). In The Hollowmen, the CPU functions as a hub of policymaking and, when circumstances require, spin-doctoring. As the acronym implies, the Central Policy Unit is positioned as the central processing unit of the government. When the PM is caught out making an inadvisably unguarded comment about China’s carbon emissions, who gets tasked with explaining the comment, devising an initiative that allows the Australian public to feel like their PM is legitimately making a difference and placating the Chinese Government? The CPU, that’s who.

The CPU functions as both the Government’s thinktank and their whipping boy. Any legitimately good ideas they have become mishandled and misappropriated, and all of their cop-out, superficial ideas are enacted as quickly as humanly possible. Murph is assisted by Nick (Merrick Watts), the sarcastic other-straight-man, Holly (Thank God You’re Here’s Nicola Parry), the office manager, Theo (Santo Cilauro), head of Market Research and Mel (Jacquie Brennan), Senior Media Advisor. These people make up the CPU and the core of the show, and all give excellently underplayed performances.

As I mentioned, Tony is the antagonist – he’s the one who comes to the CPU when something needs to be done, and his focus is purely on image. All Tony is interested in is staying in the public’s good books and getting re-elected. Murph and the CPU have the intelligence and ability to put together some amazing policies, but they are consistently beaten down by Tony (and Mel, who is understandably also focused on PR). Murph, however, is a realist. He doesn’t constantly fight Tony – he understands that Tony is his boss and that Tony’s boss is the Prime Minister. Murph might try to sliightly tip the scales in favour of morality, but he never leans on them. Conversely, Phillip and Warren (Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Department Under-Secretary, respectively) are idealists; almost unrealistically so. Their reports, programs and powerpoint presentations are an ever-present thorn in Tony’s side, forcing good, just and responsible politics on a Prime Minister and Government who are primarily concerned with looking good, just and responsible at the cost of actually being any of those things.

Consequently, the series finds its humour in double-talk, PR-talk, political jargon and confused layman translation. The writing is superb, often filling 30-second stretches with 20-plus jokes. As such, you really have to watch this show. You won’t understand half of the jokes in the second half of the episode if you only gave the first half 50% of your attention. It demands what 10 years ago, we might have simply defined as ‘your attention’ but would now describe as ‘dedicated viewing’. As a frequent multi-tasker (video gaming while listening to a podcast while drinking coffee while watching sports) I found myself uncharacteristically glued to the screen for the duration of each episode. Filmed in Office/Arrested Development handy-cam mockumentary style (and apparently in HD) the show feels organic and the visual style lends a sense of realism to the events onscreen.

One point of criticism: I can’t help but think that if the showrunners had devoted some energy to making the characters feel more like real people we might have been experiencing a wave of ‘Australian The Office’ comparisons (and a comparable amount of praise). Some characters are only ever referred to by their first name, and no one ever exists as anything other than ‘joke deliverer’ or ‘joke facilitator’. That’s fine, because the show is brilliantly written and incredibly funny and satirical, but when I finished the last episode of the second series I found myself contemplating the show’s commercial failure. There is room to improve, and with a third series greenlit we might yet see that improvement.

As I said earlier, I saw the show’s full run during its initial broadcast. For this review, however, I re-watched it in its entirety (12 30-minute~ episodes) on DVD. Another point of criticism: no extras. At all. Nevertheless, it’s a must-see for fans of smart comedy.

2 Responses to “Reviews: The Hollowmen Seasons 1 and 2 DVD set”
  1. buzz says:

    dont you think it was just an updated, political environment-set Frontline rehash?

    characters were identical

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