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Sunday Age

Fantasy for foodies

Author: By Brian Courtis
Date: 18/06/2000
Words: 1500
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: Television
Page: 5
Critic's choice

Bondi Banquet

Tuesday, SBS, 8pm *

I turned to writer John O'Brien's exotic new seven-part series Bondi Banquet. Alas, the feast offered proves, on first taste at least, to be a somewhat patchy fusion of food and soapie fiction.

You can see why an SBS programmer would eagerly take away something like Bondi Banquet. It has all the right ingredients. It's about culturally diverse Sydneysiders. It offers another crack at a Number 96. It taps into television's current obsession with food shows. And, not only that, there's a bit of that beach there for overseas sales.

If only O'Brien could have brought into his Bondi apartment block an investment counsellor who, while married to a painter-decorator, is having an affair with a football-playing doctor with the Swans, he could have covered nearly all TV bases. All bases, in fact, if he included the quiz champions at the communal police station.

Bondi Banquet is a mock doco, pretending to show us what a fictional film crew observes as it meets the residents of 268a Campbell Parade. While borscht, zucchini fritters and Japanese-style poached eggs are being cooked up, we're to hear the diverse stories of flatmates from all over the world.

Unfortunately, there's never enough. We get a fleeting impression of surfer Midge (Jon Pollard), wonder about a dour, departing European girl, and then become briefly intrigued by the relationship of Irishman Andy (Paul Winchester) and his westernised Japanese friend Ikuko (Asako Izawa).

And the problem is the same next door, with the Russians. There's a little heartiness from Mikhail (Nicolay Tokar), but too few reflections of old Odessa.

Performances tend to be either melodramatic or plain naive. The drama itself is sudsy in style though there's never really a satisfying story. Perhaps we'll learn more in later episodes.

As for the food, produced by Barbara Sweeney, author of A Taste Of Sydney, well it looks appetising enough, though you might not want all the dishes served within the same show.

As for the food, produced by Barbara Sweeney, author of A Taste Of Sydney, well it looks appetising enough, though you might not want all the dishes served within the same show.

At times, Bondi Banquet reminds you of that real Bondi series screened recently by the ABC. The hand-held camera shakes a little more in this fictional variation, but, like that other ploddingly narcissistic show, it does make you wonder whether you shouldn't instead simply have stuck around for pizza.


Monarch Of The Glen

Sunday, ABC, 7.30pm ***

Like a fine nip of 12-year-old malt, we'll be squeezing out the last drops of Michael Chaplin's short, heartwarming series with more than a little regret tonight. The laird, young Archie (Alastair Mackenzie) is again steeped in the Cairngorms mire, with Glenbogle House about to crumble and the bankers on the warpath. There's also trouble with Hector (Richard Briers), Killwillie, Justine and that highland lovely, Katrina.

Second Sight

Sunday, ABC, 8.30pm ***

The most predictable aspect of Paula Milne's writing is the unpredictability of her drama. You just have to remember how The Politician's Wife worked out to know that.

Second Sight, a BBC-American PBS co-production, is no exception. This dark two-part psychological thriller has a murder-mystery and an equally engrossing character plot to keep us enthralled. Clive Owen stars as a tough, active and respected London cop who suddenly finds himself facing a devastating change in his life. As hard-drinking, chain-smoking Detective Chief Inspector Ross Tanner, he is called in to investigate the brutal, apparently motiveless murder of a college student found beaten to death close to the family home. But as Tanner revs up his well-seasoned squad of detectives, he starts suffering bouts of blurred vision and having hallucinations. Could he be going blind?

The ever-observant Tanner conceals his panic, dealing with the seemingly more awkward problem of the woman made his new deputy, Detective Inspector Catherine Tully (Claire Skinner), who is as ambitious as Tanner, but she knows she has a very different working style. They clash, but Tully quickly senses her new boss's weaknesses. She makes a deal, agreeing to be his eyes as long as he will officially acknowledge her role in helping discover the killer.

Milne plays on the show's title throughout the drama, helping develop an intriguing relationship between her two cops.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Contact

Monday, Channel 10, 9.30pm **

Grim drama in which Law & Order creator Dick Wolf proves there are still some low acts in New York that can outrage the average Joe.

This one certainly won't encourage the tourists, zero-tolerance chat or not. It concerns a shocking subway rape that takes place in view of other passengers on a crowded rush-hour train. Other passengers do nothing, either too shocked or unable to believe what they're seeing. The knife-wielding attacker proves to be a serial rapist and his crime spooks almost everyone in the squad.

A new forensic psychologist is brought in to assist the unit, explaining the rapist's lust for power. The investigation does not go well, with foul-ups on a line-up adding to their difficulties.

"I'm sorry, I'm just a house painter," says one of the suspects.

"So was Hitler," says the always-disgusted Munch (Richard Belzer).

Not an episode that thrives on the milk of human kindness.

Once And Again: There Be Dragons

Tuesday, Channel 7, 9.30pm **

There's a certain type of American drama series that reeks of 70s California and herbal lifestyles. Their writers and producers are presumably survivors of the flower-power wars and they preach at the temple of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Everyone they present is mellow and reasonable. Their shows don't necessarily have to be about LA or San Francisco.

Think, for instance, of Dawson's Creek. Or Providence. Or Once And Again, the newish series about divorcees trying to help their children come to terms with mom and dad's new partners.

In such programs, the kids, who tend to be teenage 50-year-olds, always sulk a little at the saccharine fumblings of the olds, but inevitably come good. So, this week, we follow Rick's disastrous attempts to introduce Lily to the kids and Jake's attempts to woo back Lily.

"Dad, are we never going to be a family again?" asks young Jessie. And, as they gaze up into the galaxy, Rick's teary eyes reflecting the stars, his merciful response is, "No, sweetheart, never the same way again."

To which we can only add, "thank heavens."


Wednesday & Thursday, Channel 10, 6.30pm **

Soap-opera weddings, says Nancy Banks-Smith of The Guardian, are like standing on the Lux in the bath "a sudden whirl of limbs, bad language and occasional concussion".

While Harold and Madge make peace with the Salvation Army, bride-to-be Libby (Kym Valentine) and friend Stephanie (Carla Bonner) decide to take the motorcycle out and enjoy a pre-wedding girl's weekend. Bad weather sets in and they rush back to Erinsborough. Meanwhile, a highly jealous Brendan (Blair Venn) speeds through the torrent in town in search of his estranged wife Tess (Krista Vendy).

There's a lot of soap sliding dangerously around this week. Best put your wedding celebrations on hold for a while.

Love Hurts: Crawling From The Wreckage

Saturday, ABC, 10.25pm ***

Early 60s English pop star Adam Faith and fetching actor Zoe Wanamaker star in this slow-moving, class-conscious BBC romance that will reward only the most patient viewers.

Wanamaker is Tessa Piggott, a 41-year-old company executive who walks out on a high-paying job after her lover and boss picks up a younger woman. She decides she will change her life, renouncing men and getting a job with a Third World development agency.

Then, in her new home, the plumbing goes wrong. Along comes plumber Frank Carver (Faith). Carver, of course, is a lot more than her prejudices allow. He has lots of toys. Before long, it's obvious he will go anywhere for her. "I've decided to become a virgin," she tells him bluntly when he starts to flirt. After their disastrous and mildly amusing introduction, the odd-couple courtship really begins.


Friends: The One With Rachel's Sister

Monday, Channel 9, 7.30pm **

Nothing is ever going to change the way the gang at Friends behaves. You can bet millions on that. If they have any sense, its six twentysomethings will cling on to their comic anxieties and that winning format until they're all ready for retirement.

In this week's episode, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) puts her neurotic energy into dealing with the arrival of her kid sister, Jill. Should she allow ex-boyfriend Ross (David Schwimmer) to date Jill? Meanwhile, a flu-ridden Monica (Courtney Cox Arquette) is desperately trying to prove to Chandler (Matthew Perry) that she is not ill.

Just Shoot Me: Blinded By The Right

Tuesday, Channel 10, 7.30pm *

Tired looking, somewhat flat sitcom episode from Steven Levitan's normally sharp ensemble. In this one, Jack (George Segal) finds himself battling a conservative Nixon lookalike who, as leader of the Citizens For Morality group, wants him to tone down the sexually explicit covers of Blush magazine. Nina (Wendie Malick) promises to be his most useful weapon.

Smack The Pony

Wednesday, ABC, 10pm ***

Risque sketch comedy from British performers Fiona Allen, Doon Mackichan and Sally Philips. This new, unheralded addition to the ABC's comedy line-up offers some surprisingly saucy sketches over an unexpectedly bright half-hour. Well worth sampling.


Tastes Of Britain

Friday, SBS, 8pm ***

Dorinda Hafner, that Cheshire Cat smile in search of great recipes, moves south from Scotland to the Yorkshire city of Bradford. Or "Bradistan" as the local graffiti would have it. Bradford is known as the curry capital of England, possibly the world. Hafner finds out more about food that, in some ways, is now more English than it is Indian or Pakistani.

She also visits the family-run Mumtaz Paan House, which is being extended to become the largest Asian restaurant in Europe. And, to top this TV feast, there's the secret of a traditional lamb biryhani.

Is That Your Final Answer?

Saturday, Channel 9, 6.30pm **

Australian version of a behind-the-scenes film on the phenomenally successful TV quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Eddie McGuire looks at its origins, the producers explain the winning format, and contestants talk about their experiences on air. Includes a glimpse at international productions and a reminder of the questions that stumped would-be millionaires.

The McCourts Of Limerick

Sunday, ABC, 6pm **

Inspired by the success of Angela's Ashes, his uncle Frank's bestseller about growing up in Ireland during the Depression, New York policeman Conor McCourt planned this film of a family reunion. He brought together the four McCourt brothers Frank, Alphie, Michael and his father Malachy, and got them to recall their days in Limerick. There are some laughs and bittersweet memories, most well-aired in Frank's book. Conor's film does, however, often make you feel you're delving into someone's unedited family album.


Full Kombi

Tuesday, ABC, 8pm *

Dismal account of a Kombi tour of Tasmania involving five young would-be film-makers who were runners-up in the second ABC Race Around The World series. There's mal de mer on the ferry, grumpiness on the road. Tasmania's spectacular scenery stays hidden in a wash of overcast grey. No wonder one of the players dropped out in the early stages. No, this one really should not have gone to air - certainly not in prime time. It looks badly planned and self-indulgent.

In The Mind Of The Architect

Wednesday, ABC, 8.30pm ***

Janne Ryan and Tim Clark's coolly presented three-part series opens by teasing us with a definition of architecture. Find a single word to explain it, architects and their admirers are asked. Enlightenment? Creativity? Privilege? Responsibility? Fulfilment?

As the producers eventually say, it's one word and countless possibilities. We get to see some of those, with architects explaining their attitudes and dreams and the realities. Among the more adventurous examples on display is Sean Godsell's Kew House, with its Japanese-style approach to space; Melbourne's new Commonwealth Law Courts, confidently explained by architect Paul Katsieris; and the controversial green and purple cave of the RMIT building. Well worth visiting.

***** Cancel all appointments

**** Excellent viewing

*** Better than average

** Worth considering

* Fugedabadit!

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