love is a four letter word: articles

No love lost with a show full of four-letter words

While watching the excellent two-part ABC film The Farm I almost went into shock several times. Having endured the tedious opening barrages of two other ABC shows—Head Start and love is a four letter word—I was beginning to think the art of directing for TV was in its death throes.

Yet, here was director Kate Woods demonstrating what good direction was. The story, which covered many years, moved briskly, but not with undue haste. Woods showed how huge amounts of exposition could be covered efficiently and dramatically in a few tightly composed, well-directed moments. Gestures spoke volumes, carefully phrased dialogue offered many insights. Often you knew what characters were thinking without having to be told—and to feel what a character is going through is the hallmark of good direction.

Not so with love is a four letter word. Presumably taking its cue from the myth that modern viewers have an attention span of 1.2seconds, the characters' thoughts are often verbalised in sudden bursts of close-up commentary. It's a very effective way of telling the viewer not to bother watching too closely.

We've seen different takes of the same line of dialogue spliced together, presumably for comic or dramatic effect. I don't know if there's a technical term for this device, but how's about Blooper Reel Vision? We have also been subjected to the good old stand-by gimmick—fast motion. The only thing missing is a quick burst of Yakkety Sax from The Benny Hill Show.

All this is, no doubt, supposed to be hip and stylish, snappy and sassy, cutting-edge television that dares to be different and unconventional. Damn your traditional expectations of linear narrative, you square. This is subversive, alternative, visceral, in-your-face TV.

Well, nice thought, but not quite. Actually, the style of love is a four letter word is none of those things. It is merely a conglomerate of short cuts you take when your character direction is weak and you lack confidence in your story to hold the viewer. In fact, the show's style can best be described with a series of four-letter words. Lazy. Dull. Dumb.

The show has been trying hard to play on the romance of literary endeavor and the thrills of running a pub. (I take it the target demographic has been deemed to be young people who want to write books but who instead spend most of their time in pubs, but I'm guessing.) Unfortunately, neither has been made to seem all that interesting. The series appears to be set in the most characterless pub in the nation, and the squabbles at the Blue Bear publishing house often seem petty and trite.

Though the show's lack of pace does not run on the spot as much as Head Start does, it, like Head Start, often fails to generate a decent degree of tension. It hit a deep ditch recently when Albee (Kate Beahan) spat the dummy at Blue Bear and resigned. They then came crawling after her to return because she's so good, but she did so only reluctantly. It didn't work. She should have had a much harder time, especially given she's trying to be an example to her deadbeat sister. It was a bit too easy.

The series also suffers from the limits of its weekly half-hour format. It is simply not covering enough dramatic ground in 26 minutes to maintain interest from week to week, especially when a chunk of that time is devoted to showcasing some local band of debatable merit. Repeating it on Friday nights doesn't help. Perhaps two new episodes a week would improve matters, preferably back-to-back. As it is, it's a big ask to stick with love for its 26-week stretch. love and Head Start share some other common problems. The flourishes of pseudo-style aside—Head Start loves suddenly rewinding a few seconds of a scene and playing it over—both are troubled by unconvincing character scenarios.

With Head Start we have a premise about bright, motivated young people who behave like slackers and have to be told to get on with their projects. With love, the slacker mind-set has more reason to exist, but is no more interesting to witness. Albee's sister, Larissa (Leeanna Walsman), for instance, is one of the most constantly irritating characters since Nudge from Hey Dad. It may be fun to be an aimless, emotionally unstable, whining floozie, but I wish it was as interesting to watch.

If things don't improve soon—and improve a lot—I'm going to wish the teams on both shows well and start watching old tapes of Raw FM, an ABC drama with the vibrancy and drive love is a four letter word and Head Start sorely lack. Sure they both show promise, but you can say that about any show that isn't working.

love is a four letter word screens on Tuesdays at 9.30pm on the ABC (repeated Fridays, 11pm)

By Jom Schembri
April 05, 2001
The Age