Wild Boys

In the 1970s Seven had a love affair with colonial television: Against the Wind, Cash and Company, Tandarra -all of them rather wonderful valentines to our rich and occasionally flawed history.

But it’s been a long time since we’ve had a prime time period series as the setting of their new Wild Boys.

And as a commissioning move for 2011 it is just about as bold as they come. This is the year of the period drama: Underbelly: Razor, Downton Abbey, Paper Giants, Cloudstreet -if nothing else Seven’s timing is pretty good.

Produced by Sarah Smith and Julie McGauran (Rescue Special Ops), the setting for this tale is 1860s Australia. We’re out of the convict era and smack bang in the middle of the gold rush. It’s a time of Mad Dog Morgan, Ben Hall, Captain Thunderbolt and not long before Ned Kelly. Flouting the law was an attractive pastime, and if you were robbing from the rich to help the poor it was practically a redeeming quality. Wasn’t it?

In Wild Boys the bad boys are good and the good boys, the police troopers, are bad.

The four boys are Jack (Daniel MacPherson), Dan (Michael Dorman), Conrad (Alexander England) and Captain Gunpowder (David Field). Jack is a pin-up bushranger, with dimples, perfect teeth and derierre-hugging britches, who’s complaining? Dan brings a hint of comedy (but not too much) and is a balladeer. Conrad is a strapping lad and Captain Gunpowder, as his name suggests, is an older loose cannon.

The troopers are led by Francis Fuller (Jeremy Sims) who has a vendetta against these law breakers and his 2IC, Mick Scanlon (Nathaniel Dean). In the opening episode it’s pretty clear that they will have all the fun as villains we are supposed to love to hate. Newcomer Alexander England is also one to watch.

Publican Mary Barrett (Zoe Ventoura) is the object of Jack’s affection, and gossip reports their on-screen chemistry runs deep. She’s a woman with a bar, a brothel, a kid. Anna Hutchison plays Emilia Fife, the sweet girl being wooed by Conrad. She’s also the daughter of the local mayor.

But this show is really all about the blokes. They shoot, they drink, they ride horses, they blow stuff up, and they get caught with their pants down. In between gunfights they’re stealing kisses from the ladies and defending the weak. Their moral compass is pretty skewed. It’s fine to rob stagecoaches with rich folk, but they won’t stand for an old Chinese man being taunted in the pub.

If you’re making a period drama like this then you’d better have good production values, and Wild Boys does. The sets, costumes, locations and photography all impress. The credits list is chockful of horse masters, wranglers, grips, construction foreman, stunts, armourers, and foley artists. Assuming these will actually run on air, the list resembles a moderately sizes film crew.

But the script paints with very broad brushstrokes and the dialogue is littered with cliches:

“This coach isn’t going to rob itself.”

“Righto people. You know how it goes. Cash, coin, jewellery.”

“There’s a new Superintendent in town. Things are going to be a lot different around here.”

“Okay Jack, let’s talk turkey.”

There was the obligatory “Let’s get outta here.”

There’s even a shot of Daniel MacPherson through the legs of Zoe Ventoura -a visual cliche perhaps?

Rather than necessarily giving us an insight into the era, Wild Boys celebrates the romance that has emerged through folklore.

In a PG timeslot this aims for the widest possible audience, and it may very well get it. Deadwood this isn’t. But there have been plenty of similar backdrops that have attracted populist audiences: The Man from Snowy River, All the Rivers Run, Five Mile Creek. There would be nothing shameful about joining that posse.

Ultimately, this is a show that happily aims for a family audience. On that front it hits its mark. It’s entertaining, dashing and so darned different from the pack that it’s worth going along for a ride.

Wild Boys airs 7:30pm Sunday on Seven.

44 Comments:

  1. Absolutely loved the whole series of Wild Boys, the cast are all great actors especially Dan MacPherson. I looked forward to many more episodes but this was spoilt by the wowsers not giving it a go. A bit too violent to be a family series but think it was the best series on TV for a long time.

  2. Wild Boys and U/B Razor, both rubbish, more so wild boys. I think the writers have been watching to many US westerns. The acting in both shows is ordinary at best, if i were to be honest, Ild say rubbish.

    To Daria who wrote above. I would love to know where these thousands of aboriginals were killed and i would be interested to where they were deported to.

  3. I am actually enjoying this. Not as a serious drama but more like a visual Mills and Boon book. i am not taking it seriously but I am enjoying something different.

  4. please people lol, i just wanted to find out where they did most of the shooting of this show and look at you people trying to analyse and criticise. its not meant to be accurate in in way its just a bit of light entertainment fluff to break up the monotony of what we have on tv at the moment, loosen the grip on your pistols and just enjoy it, or simply change the channel lol fools.

  5. I just watched the first episode of wild boys… and I want my hour back. Not since Kath and Kim (U.S. version) have I felt so cheated. All the ingredients where there, great sets, guns, horses and the freedom of total fiction and yet they still managed to turn eye fillet into canned stew. Poor casting choices and a PG time slot has this one marching to the gallows.

  6. It’s been a long time since there was a good historical drama on the telly. The Sullivans, Carson’s Law, even Cash & Company mentioned in the article. Sadly it looks like I’m still waiting. If the storyline wasn’t clichéd enough (corrupt new Police Superintendent frames local lad so he can get the girly) the Police Superintendent has a ponytail. Seriously? Even our two lead bushrangers are full of clichés. The concern for the Chinese digger in the bar is nice, but there’s only one Chinaman in the whole town?
    Sorry Channel 7, come back when you want to try harder.

  7. Wild Boys proved to be nothing more than a collection of Wild West cliches and caricatures. Zero character development. No hint of an original take on the period, or anything vaguely interesting to say. In short: as vacuous any of Seven’s drama output.

  8. I think it was a decent first episode and can see it improving over the coming weeks. Also the Captain Gunpowder name makes alot more sense now. David Field is a class act and his character is definitely my favourite and I hope he gets more screentime over the coming episodes.

  9. I’ll record it to see what it’s like but I’m thinking it will be rather sanitised for the 7.30 timeslot. I’d rather see it on a different night at a later time so we get a bit more adult content…..

  10. I don’t think this show is aiming for any sort of historical accuracy in much the same way as Rafters is not really indicative of how we live and interact but people are really liking this as entertainment and it seems inoffensive to me. If a million people watch a show for escapism and it keeps Aussie crews and actors employed I’m all for it. I personally don’t like PTTR and don’t watch it but Crownies is really growing on me. WB I will be giving a try as well.

  11. Drama series aimed at the family audience is a much under-serviced area – Seven have always staked their claim in this area and always done well. Family viewing is the new battleground if you want to appeal to a wide audience, as the market fragments into genres and niches. Series such as SeaChange, The Sullivans PTTR have all understood that and benefitted. I know I’m sick of oversexed soap in the usual genres like RSO and Crownies.

  12. I’m not a fan of this genre anyway – I was happy with it left to a cloudy corner of my childhood – but the one thing watching the pilot really showed for me was how awful an actor Daniel MacPherson is. I’ve heard plenty of people say it before, but this is the first role in which I felt like he was truly out of his depth. Everyone else is in this show is superior to him. It’s ironic, too, that he and Zoe are a real-life item because they seem to have very little chemistry on screen.

  13. Sure it’s not going to be a history textbook, but there will be great fun ripping it apart
    from one anachronism to the next! One thing will be the accents… are they
    not going to bother with more likely ones, or default to some contrived ockerisms?
    That might stretch the cast a bit too much 🙂

    Loved Secret Squirrel’s comment, but especially Tony H’s.

  14. I am disappointed that Seven is making this PG. It could have been a fantastic M rated drama considering the period. I will watch the first few episodes of the series before i make judgement. I do it with all New series.

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