Upright

Laurel and Hardy once tried to move a piano up a long staircase. And Holly Hunter once had a piano deposited on a New Zealand beach.

Now Tim Minchin is hauling a piano on the back of a ute across the Nullabor in Foxtel’s new series, Upright.

Part road-movie, part buddy comedy, this is an 8 x 30 series filmed by Lingo Pictures mostly in Western Australia & South Australia. Chris Taylor, of Chaser fame, is creator of this quirky tale with Minchin as star and lead writer.

Lucky’s (Minchin) travels are derailed in the opening scene when his car and trailer are sideswiped into a ditch by a loud teen, Meg (Milly Alcock) who cares little that she is too young to be driving her father’s ute.

But while the accident has rendered Lucky’s car useless, Meg is sporting an arm injury that needs urgent medical care -prompting him to drive her ute to a Mildura hospital. Thus begins the unlikely pairing of two disparate characters thrown together through circumstance.

“I don’t believe in coincidence. Everything happens for a reason,” she declares, before theorising if she had done one thing differently today “brushing my teeth longer,” the two would never have met.

Lucky takes a different view.

“One in a million things happen all the time,” he explains before retelling an amusing tale about a wayward hay bale killing Mike Edwards, cellist from Electric Light Orchestra. Yep, I did say quirky.

The relationship between our duo is like two batteries sparking and becomes more bizarre, more dependent and more unstoppable as things proceed. After Lucky is conned into driving Meg to Kalgoorlie to reunite with her mother, he misadventures go from bad to worse, most involving Meg yelling instructions and using youth as a ploy for anarchy.

But there’s also a backstory woven through the roadtrip around Lucky’s fallout with his newly-married brother (Daniel Lapaine) and an urgency to get the piano to his ailing mother (Heather Mitchell) in Perth.

The outback allows for a cultural clash, possibly not seen at this level since Priscilla Queen of the Desert, from Big Galahs to Wicked in Dimboola, a pink lake and bikies in a pub jam in South Australia. Director Matthew Saville never misses a beat to highlight unexpected contrasts and zeroes in on the friction in the front ute seat. Chaotic moments are also interjected, cinema-like, by stillness whenever the sound of ivories takes centrestage.

Minchin, sans his trademark stage mascara, is at full bore as the harassed brother avoiding family conflict, and Alcock (Les Norton, Fighting Season, Pine Gap, A Place to Call Home) shines as the annoying Gen Z, who possibly has Attention Deficit Disorder. Hopefully her spirit -to put it kindly- meets humility in the outback given audiences are being asked to watch 8 episodes.

This is the second half hour series recently from Foxtel (Mr. Inbetween is the other), which is a pleasant reminder that sometimes less is more. Check it out.

Double episode premieres 8.30pm Sunday, December 1 on FOX Showcase.

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