Something strange happened while I was watching the new series of US legal drama The Good Wife (More4) this week. I found myself humming the theme tune from Australian soap opera Home and Away. It was my unconscious mind's way of serenading new addition to the cast, Melissa George.
George plays Marilyn, an employee at the Governor’s office who seems sure to tempt the show’s not-so-good husband away from the path of righteousness. It’s not her first role since leaving Home and Away back in 1996, but it might as well be. Eighteen years, a perfected American accent and numerous Hollywood roles later, and George is still just a runaway teen called Angel Parrish.
In 2012 the 37-year-old actress threatened to storm out of an interview on Australian TV programme The Morning Show, when the host devoted too much time to discussing her most famous role. She was later quoted in Melbourne’s Herald Sun justifying the outburst: “I don’t need credibility from my country anymore; I just need them all to be quiet...I've never spoken out about it because I have to be the loyal good Aussie, who goes away and comes home.”
Our TV screens are full of actors who might sympathise, all trying desperately to ditch the spectres of soap characters past. On Sky 1, Ross Kemp wants you to take him seriously as an investigative journalist. He’s been plugging away at it since 2006, yet you’d be lucky to find a review of his latest documentary Extreme World which doesn’t mention a certain baldie hard-man by the name of Grant Mitchell. The actress, pop princess and now talent show judge Kylie Minogue must be one of soap’s most successful graduates, but even she seemed embarrassed after letting slip a Neighbors reference on The Voice last week.
That’s not to say there’s no life after soap. The Corrie triumvirate of Sarah Lancashire, Suranne Jones and Katherine Kelly have proved it’s possible, but the shared secret of their success is staying in the UK and sticking with down-to-earth TV roles. Viewers feel they can identify with the ordinary lives portrayed in soaps, so when a favourite star hightails it to Hollywood it can feel like both hubris and a personal betrayal. Lancashire, Jones and Kelly have remained popular because they never fully abandoned their roots.
In America, it’s different. You wouldn’t know it, but the likes of Julianne Moore, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio all started out in soap - that’s the land of opportunity for you. In British culture, however, the compulsion to remind people where they came from is deeply rooted. And, unfortunately for soap stars, the more desperate a person seems to erase their humble past, the more solemn is our duty to remind them of it. All together now, “You know we belong together / You and I forever and ever / No matter where you are...”
Scandi show lacks recipe for success
It’s still January, it’s still cold and according to the Association of British Travel Agents there’s been a ten per cent rise in people booking their summer holidays early. This year’s hot new destination (well, temperate, anyway) is Scandinavia. Why? Because TV told us so. It’s been telling us so for a while and on Sunday TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall presents Scandimania, a three-part programme extolling the many virtues of Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
Hugh would have us believe that a holiday in the Viking homelands is all New Nordic Cuisine, tasteful minimalism and relaxing saunas, but anyone who’s seen the current series of The Bridge knows better. Yes, the traditional Med destinations are over-run with marauding drunken teens, but rather that than overcast skies and eco-terrorism. A box-set based ‘stay-cation’ has never looked more appealing.
The Good Wife, Netflix
This slick legal drama starring Julianna Margulies is about to begin a fifth series on More4. If you’re unfamiliar with the goings on at Chicago’s Lockhart/Gardner law firm, or just fancy a quick refresher course, Netflix has series one to four available to stream. The show’s great incidental pleasure is its fabulous array of guest stars, so check out series one, episode 17 for the role that won Martha Plimpton an Emmy.
Broad City, broadcitytheshow.com
Two NYC comics Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson just got their big break; a series on Comedy Central produced by The Greatest Woman in The World (TM) Amy Poehler. Broad City is a hilarious account of two 20-something friends (also called Ilana and Abbi), who make up in chutzpah what they lack ready cash. Think Girls meets Curb Your Enthusiasm. While we wait for the TV version to make it to the UK, you can catch up with the 2-minute webisodes online. Thank you, Internet.
Britain’s Great War, BBC iPlayer
Jeremy Paxman’s familiar disdainful boom is all over this first world war documentary like cannon fire, but don’t let that put you off. The BBC’s first sally into a four-year campaign of centenary programming is also full of humanising details from the homefront. Details, like those recalled by the remarkable Violet Muers, a 105-year-old who was just seven when the Germans bombed her hometown of Hartlepool. Part two of four, ‘The War Machine’ airs on Monday at 9pm.
Jonathan Banks is the kind of American crime character actor I like. Hard-faced, hard-to-place and possessed of a TV credit list as long as the New Jersey Turnpike. What do you mean you’ve never heard of him? This week Banks was confirmed as a series regular in in Better Caul Saul, the Breaking Bad spin-off prequel due to reach Netflix at some point this year known. He’ll be reprising his role as inscrutable P.I. Mike Ehrmantraut, so to celebrate here’s Jonathan/Mike circa 1987, playing a troubled cop in the US series Wiseguy. You won’t recognise him; he’s got hair.
Summer Heights High, YouTube
Sometimes it takes a 39-year-old man called Chris Lilley to really embody the spirit of a spoilt 17-year-old schoolgirl. That’s what we learned from Summer Heights High, the under-watched comedy series which spawned Ja’ime King. Ja’ime: Private School Girl starts on BBC Three next week. In the meantime, the first episode of Summer Heights High is available on YouTube.