I don’t know about you, but I’m as good as done with all these factual series. They’ve forced their way into our primetime schedules and taken over the party like a boorish gatecrasher. Just about everybody else on the guest list has made polite apologies and gone home early. Except for Charlie Sheen, he just refuses to leave.
There was also a time when factual series used to be called documentaries. That’s when they were made by filmmakers, who actually had a statement to make and raised ethical questions and proffered conclusions from their experience with their subjects. Nowadays factuals tend to just hire actors to provide voiceovers, without actually requiring them to spend any time on location.
Our public broadcasters haven’t prostituted the genre anywhere near as much as the Seven Network – but both have certainly dabbled. The ABC’s Navy Divers, like those series with customs officers, cops, doctors and lifesavers, is another series produced in concert with a government or municipal department. It skates close to being two parts propaganda and one part recruitment advertisement.
But it’s also a diverting 30 minutes at Sydney’s RAN diving training school. Twenty-seven young men undergo the “week from hell” as they are put through endurance challenges to test their strength and character. All the while they are reprimanded, yelled at and humiliated by their superiors. Y’know: the sort of thing you’ve seen on An Officer and a Gentleman or Top Gun.
The sailors are expected to swim 6km across Sydney Harbour in the dead of night and freezing temperatures. Deprived of sleep, they slowly begin to crack. One poor sod loses his water bottle. “What happens if that’s diving equipment you lost?” roars one drill commando. “Costs the taxpayer!” What happens if it’s vital life saving equipment and one of your mates gets into trouble? He dies. Fantastic.”
A handful of candidates are profiled, including one country boy hoping to prove himself to his family. Typically, there is a lot of mateship and team bonding in this most war-like of fly on the wall television. By episode’s end there’s one clear message from the film makers: at least we know our tax dollars – at both the RAN and the ABC – are giving us bang for our buck.