Scooter: Secret Agent: articles

Martin Sharpe

Scooter, played by Martin Sharpe.

Secret agent catering to young at heart

When you examine the paltry line-up of Friday television - the plethora of makeover and madeover shows, but, to balance this, the quirky travelogue series, Lonely Planet: Six Degrees, and the excellent Blue Murder - it's sometimes beneficial to retreat to earlier in the day. This could mean the news in Russian or Arabic, or, a bit later, the stern visage of Judge Judy or the questing face of St Oprah.

Far better, then, to cross to Ten at tea-time for Scooter: Secret Agent. This may be for the younger audience, but for the young at heart or the newly senile, it's pure escapism and innocent, joyous fun.

Scooter, a pizza-delivery boy turned agent, is played by Martin Sharpe, who combines the frizzy hair of Harpo Marx, the neuroses of Gene Wilder, the accident-proneness of Inspector Clouseau, and the espionage tactics of Maxwell Smart.

All this in the one wiry body (he also looks like his own bendy rubber toy) could be too much, but Sharpe manages to avoid pure caricature, yet retains the essential sense of parody. This is due partly to the writing, but also to the production standards, which are lavish by Australian standards and not, for once, overwhelmed by special effects.

Today's episode, The Mummy's Curse, finds our hero entering a museum in his usual fashion - upside-down and getting his head wedged in a toilet bowl - and creating so much trouble in foiling three thieves out to steal the aforementioned artefact that one would think the curse of ancient times has met its match. If I were the mummy, I'd tighten my bandages and keep mum for a few centuries.

It doesn't help that Scooter, on a sortie to the museum, has accidentally separated the corpse's little finger from the rest of it - a nasty little objet trouvee that keeps rattling around and frightening Scooter's noble assistants, Melanie (Talia Zucker) and Katrina (Charlene Tjoe).

The best thing about Scooter: Secret Agent is its refusal to take things seriously.

Even the villains of the piece (we used to call them baddies) have a basic charm that keeps them on the side of niceness, if not the law.

Then there's the neat cameo from Kate Fitzpatrick, as Scooter's boss, Ambrosia, who's seen only via a computer screen, but is no less effective for it. With the raising of an eyebrow, Fitzpatrick ensures she means business. Even Scooter understands her.

By Michael Shmith
March 18, 2005
The Age


The trio of pals making up a feisty threesome.

Scooter steered

Jonathan Shiff’s new series continues to provide strong role models for youngsters, reports Nicole Brady.

Walking through the Moonee Ponds bowling alley that is now a temporary film set, Jonathan Shiff makes a sweeping arm gesture at two tables of young extras, heads bent over school books.

“Homework,” he says. “As a parent, it makes the heart glad.”

Among his many guises as story-teller, children’s television producer, entrepreneur, manager, it seems that being a parent remains integral to the tale of Shiff’s success.

His interest in making television for children was born out of frustration at the poor quality of television program’s his young daughter was watching.

Along came series such as Ocean Girl, Thunderstone, Cybergirl and Wicked Science, programs for which Shiff has won many national and international awards.

His daughter is now 19 and Shiff is about to launch his most ambitious project yet, Scooter Secret Agent, a comedy spy spoof aimed at children aged between about six and 12.

It is a high-octane, stunt-filled, dynamic series shot on location throughout Melbourne and featuring a range of new actors alongside established stars such as Kate Fitzpatrick and John McTernan (G.P.)

The action revolves around the orphan star Scooter (Martin Sharpe), a clumsy pizza delivery boy who assumes the identity of a secret agent. Briefed each episode by agency boss Taipan (Fitzpatrick), Scooter solves crimes with the aid of whiz-bang gadgetry and his two sidekicks, Melanie (Talia Zucker) and Katrina (Charlene Tjoe).

Scooter is a complete klutz but the girls are smart and sassy and, in the case of Katrina, sceptical and technologically brilliant. They balance his world and act as foils to his highly physical comedy.

“In thinking up the characters of Scooter I really wanted the central character not to be Joe Cool. He is an irrepressible heart, where no matter how scared or frightened or socially inept or clumsy he gets, he is still an irrepressible heart. It is a good analogy for how a lot of children growing up with self-esteem issues feel: ‘No matter how clumsy I am, I have a heart of gold’,” says Shiff.

“It sends a strong empowering message to kids and offers a different image to the American idealised kid who is the super-capable, super-cool Tom Cruise of Mission Impossible.”

Sharpe, 17, who plays Scooter, was having the time of his life when we met on set last year. Going to work as an actor and learning how to execute stunts is a heck of a lot more fun than school.

“There’s a lot of running away from stuff and tripping over. Some weeks I’ve gone home exhausted after a day of parasailing or something,” he says during a break in filming.

The stunts are classic Shiff and add an exotic dimension to the 26-episode series.

Costing $10 million to make, the series was financed by local investors such as Channel Ten plus international television companies. It has already been sold overseas, with the show dubbed into many different languages.

In an early episode much is made of Scooter’s car, a Lotus, and chase scenes involving it, a Rolls-Royce and Puffing Billy.

“I love it, it’s so James Bond,” laughs Shiff, who says corners are cut in other areas to afford lavish scenes such as these.

There’s plenty of homage to Bond films and also Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame, plus the genius of Get Smart. Its production style also recalls police dramas from the 1970s, such as Charlie’s Angels and Starsky and Hutch.

Shiff explains the idea is to introduce fresh reference points to young viewers who will probably not have heard of the shows.

“We wanted it to have its own confident visual style.” Adults will get the references, he says, and hopefully have a laugh.

It is interesting that Scooter, like so many other leading children’s characters, is an orphan. Shiff explains the show was written that way because he did not want to delve into family dynamics. This is a larger-than-life series, not one anchored in life’s day-to-day milieu.

The two lead girls in the series are refreshingly vital and intelligent. Melanie has a massive crush on Scooter but remains objective about his failings.

Katrina, a great cynic, is the cool one. With pink-tipped hair and groovy dresses. it is not a surprise to hear that focus groups reported she was the one everyone wanted to be.

In creating the characters, Shiff reckons it all comes back to his daughter. Though she is now over children’s television, it remains important to him to feature strong, clever female characters.

“I’m doing it for my daughter, I’ve always wanted her to know that girls can do everything, too.”

Scooter Secret Agent screens Fridays on Channel Ten at 4pm.

By Nicole Brady
January 27, 2005
The Age

TV Reviews: Scooter: Secret Agent

Scooter: Secret Agent, Ten, 4pm

Scooter (Martin Sharpe) is your regular Aussie schoolkid, until a case of mistaken identity sees him sent on a series of secret missions. So he becomes a juvenile James Bond - apart from his innate clumsiness. Meaning this comic series for young viewers hopes to blend Spy Kids and Buster Keaton. Today, Scooter must battle a gang intent on stealing the world's oldest piece of chocolate.

Sadly, there aren't enough laughs or twists to sustain interest. Though the young actors are very good and the dialogue has flashes of inspiration, the episode lacks imagination and wit. It's great to see kids' shows being developed locally, but it's unfortunate when they arrive coated in mediocrity - unlike Scooter, who ends up coated in chocolate.

Then again, I am three times the age of the target demographic, so maybe I'm wrong.

By Sacha Molitorisz
February 11, 2005
Sydney Morning Herald