When it comes to producing local drama, the family audience must be one of the hardest to win over. Just ask Wild Boys.
But that hasn’t deterred Family Movie Channel (FMC) from tackling it head on with Pay TV’s most expensive drama production ever: the $13m series Conspiracy 365.
Based on the books by Gabrielle Lord, the series is an action-driven quest about a teenager, Callum Ormond, dodging villains, trying to stay alive and defending the family name.
Callum (Harrison Gilbertson) is the inquisitive, daring type whose journalist father (David Whitely) visits Ireland but dies of a mystery virus. At the funeral, Callum is forewarned that he has 365 days to stay alive or he too will succumb. There are vague clues about an “Ormond Singularity,” a family myth which hints at a royal lineage and possible fortune -a “pot of gold” no less…
Callum’s uncle (Whitely in an identical role) knows more than he is letting on but Callum is the only one wise to a dodgy relative. When Callum then finds him laying bloodied on a living room floor, he becomes suspect number one.
Shadowing the boy are two teams of villains, the elegantly named Oriana De La Force (Julia Zemiro) and the equally-vivid Vulkan Sligo (Rob Carlton). Both have suitable henchmen played by Sachin Joab, Andrew Curry and James Sorensen.
There’s also Callum’s best friend Bogues (Taylor Glockner), his disbelieving mother (Kate Kendall), a little sister to protect and a police crew led by Ryan O’Kane and Debbie Zukerman.
Conspiracy 365 takes its audience pretty seriously, ambitiously seeking to give family viewers a 24-like tale with stunts, a ticking time bomb, and an action hero. Unlike the camp, gadget-laden kids of Spy Kids, this has a much darker and humourless tone. A scene of Callum being left to drown in a pit of oil was played for real. Gross.
But if there was a Conspiracy 365 video game or theme park ride, I suspect they would be very popular. Teenage boys would probably kill (and I mean that metaphorically) to switch places with this hero.
Harrison Gilbertson is very effective in the lead role of Callum. He’s put through a lot in the opening episode, and I suspect he is going to be doing a plethora of chase scenes. But his sincerity as the questioning kid provides the best through-line for the audience, especially when other scenes are confusing or occasionally, awkward.
Story-telling rules of the child being right and adults wrong, as well as the ticking time bomb of the 365 days, will serve this piece quite well.
Some of the dialogue slips into cliche, perhaps as a result of signposting the story for a juvenile audience, but they become more stark in the hands of some performers. Having a teenager steal a gun was also a bit of a worry. And considering the whopping $13m, either the lighting or the make-up left some actors looking underdone….
The opening scenes were also very rapid, squeezing in a lot and fast-forwarding through time. I wasn’t sure if I was watching episode highlights or story set-up, and I’m a little older than the target audience.
One of the key attributes of 24 was its habit of shifting the narrative after a few episodes. When you got to episode 5 you realised that the previous 4 episodes were just a smokescreen for a much bigger jeopardy. Without having read Gabrielle Lord’s books, I’m not sure what’s in store dramatically (indeed, is it fair to compare?), but they remain popular with younger readers so who am I to argue?
FMC is programming the 12 x 60 min series as one episode each month across the year, reflecting the nature of the books as “January,” “February” etc. As a narrative series that could be challenging to the audience. FMC may need to market the show as ‘Event’ television, hopefully with episodic guest stars, so that the audience is as engaged in October as they are in January. There is also a hefty website to encourage online engagement.
Conspiracy 365 from Circa Media is certainly ambitious, and kudos for treating the audience to adult production values. It’s a fresh change from the lightweight entertainment that crowds the market in shorter doses.
There’s a boy’s own adventure here that should prove popular with kids looking for more than the usual fare, thanks in no small part to the casting of its lead performer.
Conspiracy 365 World Premiere 7pm Saturday January 14 FMC