Josh Lawson unreasonably shoulders the weight of this bio-drama -but looks nothing like the real thing.
Ryan Corr has a relatively easy job of it in Hoges.
As ‘Strop’ he sports a surf lifesaver’s cap, mugs in front of the camera like a vaudeville act and makes silly gestures that send TV audiences into fits of laughter.
Away from the camera he is John Cornell, astute businessman and entrepreneur, spotting a star in Paul Hogan, squeezing Kerry Packer for million dollar contracts, financing the biggest movie in Australian history and marrying a gorgeous weather presenter-turned-actress.
It’s all entirely believable.
No such luck for Josh Lawson, lumbered with one of the most recognisable faces in Australian comedy, who played himself both on and off screen.
There was little delineation between his relaxed, down to earth sketch character -“Evening viewers”- and his relaxed, down to earth husband and father. It doesn’t help that Lawson looks nothing like Hoges… sounds nothing like Hoges… and has been impeded by one of TV’s most distracting rugs.
Things start fairly promisingly for Seven’s latest bio drama. “Some events have been fictionalised for dramatic purposes,” notwithstanding, a young Hogan played amiably by a tanned Sean Keenan whips (too) quickly from schoolyard prankster to young husband, marrying teen sweetheart Noelene and fathering 4 kids.
But “Funny doesn’t pay the rent,” his mother reminds him and when we fast forward to the rigger atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1970s, Lawson takes centrestage with Justine Clarke as frazzled housewife.
It takes a nameless TV talent show (it was actually New Faces) for his natural comic flair to find showbiz and change his life forever. The money starts to roll in when producer John Cornell invites him onto A Current Affair to give an “everyman” comment on the week. There are commercial endorsements (Winfield is never named), his own comedy show with Benny Hill-like sketches and Logie wins.
Steering his career, Cornell promises “You could be bigger than Kennedy. We license everything to the network but we own everything.” It was a savvy business approach that would serve both men well as Hoges’ star skyrocketed.
But there were problems at home with Noelene holding fort with growing teens, appeased only by nicer abodes with swimming pools.
Lawson is in almost every scene as the adult Hoges, shouldering the weight of a script by Keith Thompson that chucks in the word “Anyhow” too often. It could have benefitted from more sub-plot around Cornell and Delvene Delaney (Nikki Osborne).
Comparisons will be harsh especially given Lawson’s light voice completely lacks the bass notes of the working-class Hogan. All attempts to present a rugged sun-kissed, construction worker are faked through make-up and costume and it shows, sometimes leaving Lawson to look like a sketch parody of a man making his living from sketch parodies. In a bio seeking to get to the heart of its title character, that’s a big problem.
Some scenes directed by Kevin Carlin feel contrived, especially a shouting match between Hogan and Noelene. Justine Clarke tries hard with little to work with other than “overlooked wife” before Linda Kozlowski (Laura Gordon) arrives on the scene.
You may have fun playing spot-the-impersonation: Kerry Packer, Bert Newton, Mike Willesee, Michael Parkinson, Senator John Brown and a terrible Dustin Hoffman, or spot the actor: Ian McFadyen, Ed Kavalee, Bernard Curry in cameos. I’m sure I even spotted Jamie Dunn aka Agro amongst this Queensland ensemble.
TV networks, having recently put Matt Le Nevez in a bad wig for Brock, may need to hit the pause button on these bio-pics (Olivia is on the way) and re-think trying to recreate that which is so familiar to us, and that which is so cherished by us. Mess with our icons at your peril.
I might have believed this more had it stuck with a young Hoges by Sean Keenan and ended with him reaching stardom. But that probably denies you the marriage split to use as conflict, the international success of Crocodile Dundee and much of the partnering with Cornell. All up this is too corny to match more recent outings that had social comment.
Whoever the wig maker is for Warnie, you are on notice.
Hoges airs 8:30pm Sunday on Seven.