Can state politics make an interesting drama backdrop? And are viewers ready to move on from Nina Proudman?
But can State Politics be interesting, especially when it’s fiction rather than fact? That’s the prospect facing TEN’s Party Tricks, a new 6 part drama that begins next week.
The bigger question for TEN is undoubtedly: are viewers ready to move on with Asher Keddie in a role beyond Nina Proudman?
As Labor Premier Kate Ballard, Keddie is still distracted by her leading man, portrayed by Rodger Corser, but there’s a more serious tone than Offspring and none of the voices in her head or fantasy scenes.
We begin 12 years earlier when Ballard as Deputy Premier is interviewed by TV reporter David McLeod (Corser). It’s an awkward first meeting before we fast-forward to present day Melbourne. Ballard, a childless wife to a bland construction magnate (Colin Moody) is facing a looming state election. Perceived as out of touch by the media, she soon learns that her Liberal rival (a cameo by the late Peter Curtin) is stepping aside, allowing the party to parachute McLeod into a safe Liberal seat.
“It’s been a very big day. I’d prefer it if my first interaction with my husband wasn’t on SKY News,” she reveals.
While Ballard tries to focus on issues and policy, the media turn every interview into a leadership contest.
“Are you concerned about running against such a popular personality?” asks one journo.
“This isn’t the Logies, Andrew,” she replies.
But Ballard also confides in her speechmaker Oliver Parkham (Charlie Garber) -having had an affair with McLeod she fears it may be used as ammunition against her.
Oliver is the same-sex partner to journalist Tom Worland (Oliver Ackland) -a relationship that is likely to make the most of a compromising position (NB: Tom Worland was the name of a veteran Channel Nine political reporter in Melbourne, an awkward coincidence). How Oliver negotiates her damage control is part of the more interesting drama of the opening instalment. Should she divulge the secret or try to suppress it? How will the electorate react given she is already on the nose -and will gender play a part in the response?
“This will be the end of me! I’m going to become a trivia question,” Kate insists.
Despite the use of actual locations such as Spring Street buildings and contemporary touchstones (talkback radio, social media, magazine covers, SMS, Jon Faine interviews) the set-up for the opening episode is quite dry but our sympathies begin to be manipulated when we see Kate let down her guard with her speechmaker. She’s so paranoid about who is privy to the news and who can be trusted. Her own spin doctor Wayne Duffy (Angus Sampson) and Deputy Premier Paula Doumani (Doris Younane) are not entrusted with the news.
Rodger Corser is charismatic as the journo and ‘former King of Moomba’ turned state politician. McLeod is father to a teenage daughter Matilda (Kaiya Jones) whose sometimes-wayward behaviour will attract attention of its own.
Charlie Garber is a fresh addition to the Party Tricks ensemble, which is a mix of familiar and new television faces. Adam Zwar will also appear as Deputy Opposition Leader.
Believability will be a significant factor to the series. Will audiences believe that rival party ‘leaders’ have had a secret affair? Writer Michael Lucas steps around this issue by placing the affair in Kate Ballard’s past, when David McLeod was a journalist. Truth can be stranger than fiction: there are ABC journalists who are partners to politicans, and federal politics was once the backdrop to an affair between Labor’s Gareth Evans and star recruit Cheryl Kernot.
Despite its Offspring roots, Party Tricks isn’t yet as broadly appealing, so whether this has life beyond its 6-episode launch remains to be seen. TEN has cleverly timed it in the run-up to the Victorian State election and our Monday evenings are now devoid of other local dramas. But viewers are also spoiled for choice with other solid dramas, in timeshifting and catch-up.
Hopefully the popularity of the always-reliable Asher Keddie is enough to hook viewers into the relationship more than the party lines.
Party Tricks premieres 8:30pm Monday on TEN.