SeaChange: articles

Floundering without Diver

TO criticise SeaChange comes under the heading of Un-Australian Activities. When Rob Sitch introduced two of the show's regulars, Kevin (caravan park Kev) Harrington and Tom (court clerk surfer Angus) Long, at the Sydney premiere of The Dish, he described them as “Australian television royalty”. No wonder Sitch and his colleagues were pleased to acquire Harrington and Long — not only are they fine actors but they come across as ordinary blokes, and audiences feel comfortable with that, even when they've been transferred from Pearl Bay to Parkes and resettled in the late-1960s (with Kev using the same barber, though).

Harrington and Long aren't the only good actors in SeaChange and, perversely, that has become the show's problem. The ensemble cast is too large, we're embroiled in a surfeit of relationships, there just isn't enough script to go around — a case of sequel sag. SeaChange worked best in its premier series, when it remained true to its “fish out of water” premise and Sigrid Thornton's Laura Gibson was the undeniable star. Laura's tentative relationship with her children and the sexual chemistry with Diver Dan (the much-missed David Wenham) underpinned the show — the rest of the cast were amiable eccentrics who danced around our heroine's flame.

Laura is no longer the focus: she's been reduced to near-parody via a series of doomed relationships with disappointing catches, most notably jaded journalist Max Connors (William McInnes, walking through his part as if he's as bored with it as we are with him).

Even though we have Shaun Micallef entering the fray as new “love interest”, Warwick, it's as certain as Heather Jelly wears frilly knickers that it's not meant to be (and in tonight's episode, Warwick's oddly missing, floral deliveries notwithstanding).

The success of village comfys such as Ballykissangel and Hamish Macbeth has been their core characters — strangers come and go, especially old love interests, but rarely stay more than one episode. Tonight, we have two more characters to muddy the mix — Max's father, Len (veteran actor Frank Wilson) and Laura's mother, June (a stately Carol Raye). But, happily, these newcomers bolster an episode that shows flashes of the old SeaChange brilliance. The red-jacketed Bob Jelly (John Howard, looking like a cruise ship social host reject) is back in form, trying to manufacture some local history so that he can run heritage tours of Pearl Bay — a place with little more than “a dead floral clock, a buggered dinghy and a windmill made out of beer bottles” to recommend it. In a scene to savour, the long-suffering Heather (Kerry Armstrong) makes a bushranger's outfit to assist Bob's dodgy project — and when he dismisses her, as usual, telling her he'll wear it to the next fancy-dress party, she blurts that she thinks not, actually, as she made it for someone with a normal-sized (insert her trademark catch of breath) bottom!

The episode's theme is ageing, and the producers are entering it into the TV category of the Human Rights 2000 Awards for positive portrayals and “promotion of harmony”. Kevin usually uses his van to ferry aged citizens but it's off the road, and Pearl Bay seniors are propelling their old bangers with alarming results. The community is forced to consider the needs of these “old fogeys” (thanks, Bob), the coquettish Meredith (Jill Forster)

strips off for an age-obsessed Harold (Alan Cassell) and Constable Karen (Kate Atkinson) slips in with the line of the night: “You get to a point where you think your parents can't surprise you but then, bang, they're sending you postcards from a nudist camp near Byron Bay.”

This is the quirky Pearl Bay we love. Win the worthy gong or not, it's a gem that could only have been improved if Laura had received a postcard from Diver Dan telling her to put the catch of the day on ice — he's on his way home.

By Susan Kurosawa
November 2000
The Australian