There’s a very small patch of dirt in the world map of genres called Comedy-Drama.
Like Lithuania in a Europe of binge TV offerings, it occupies a diminutive kingdom where the comedy isn’t looking for knockout punchlines and the drama doesn’t take itself all that seriously. The latest to take out citizenship is ABC’s The Warriors.
It centres around four young players in a hapless AFL team, three of whom are brand new recruits and one as a jaded young captain.
As the #1 draft pick, Maki Birrawuy (Gordon Churchill) represents hope for the club. All eyes are on the talented Indigenous player who has been plucked from the bush for an elite sports career alongside new recruits cocky Zane Phillips (Nelson Baker) and class-clown Scottie Watson (Ben Knight). The three share house with bad boy captain Doc Shepherd (Reece Milne) who is seemingly more interested in the rock-star trapping of sports stardom than hard-work.
Shepherd also flirts continuously with the club’s PR Deb Van Exel (Lisa McCune), who deploys her assets in a workplace of wolf-whistles in order to get the outcomes she needs. Ruling the roost is boorish club president Bill Shepherd (John Howard), also Doc’s father, aided by Coach Mark ‘Spinner’ Spinotti (Vince Colosimo) desperate for one more win.
The opening episode sees Maki and his pals about to be presented to the press for the first time. But for rookies with no media experience, being put in the spotlight is a tall order.
“I want to see you on the front page,” barks Bill Shepherd, whilst Deb Van Exel warns, “I’m the one who saves your arse when a nasty story’s printed. Even if it’s true.”
For Maki, trying to memorise the perfect soundbites for a press conference does not come easy with even the voice of experience, despite captain Doc Shepherd offering his best advice.
“Oh I almost forgot. You’ve got the utmost respect for women,” he quips.
When all Maki wants to do is play, he is distracted by peer group misbehaviour involving everything from drugs and sex to gags about w*nking protocol in the share house…. sock on the door, anyone?
Yet it all culminates on the day of the press conference when the boys get lost in the bowels of the MCG, left to wander around the AFL museum and gaze towards their own future.
Turning a light onto sport star misbehaviour is a good idea (if previously tackled by shows such as The Cut), although headlines with Ben Cousins suggest truth is more brutal than fiction. The Warriors brings an indigenous element to the mix with newcomer Gordon Churchill holding his own against more trained and seasoned performers.
At just thirty minutes a week the cast are quick to get to the point with their characters’ needs, with little time for the drama to breathe. There were moments in the premiere episode, particularly those at the MCG, that would also not be out of place in Kid’s TV -not that there’s anything wrong with that. Casting The Club‘s own John Howard is a lovely nod to past glories but I admit to tiring of him as the obnoxious figure in authority -please find a character with vulnerability?
The biggest challenge for the show, aside from winning over viewers in NRL heartlands, may be in the expectations of viewers either wanting more gags or more jeopardy. Hence the reason this is being branded a Comedy-Drama, thankfully with its heart in the right place.
Besides, there’s nothing so wrong with a visit to Lithuania every once in a while.
The Warriors premieres 9:30pm Wednesday on ABC.