Mercado on TV: Paper Dolls gets off to a great start, but Faraway Downs is a hot mess

Paper Dolls

Plus Disney+ lands a hit with The Artful Dodger – a co-pro from Curio and Beach Road

This week lots of Aussie drama with Paper Dolls and Faraway Downs. But first The Artful Dodger (Disney+) has done a magnificent job in transporting classic characters Dodge (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Fagin (David Thewliss) to an Australian setting. With such incredibly crafted characterisation from Charles DickensOliver Twist, a sequel should be sacrilegious, but incredibly, it’s crazy good.

Disney+ got off to a rocky start with its first local drama, The Clearing. That was depressing and pointless, but The Artful Dodger is wild and fascinating. The cast is incredible, and many of the Aussies are unrecognisable, given it took a moment or two to recognise some of my favourite actors, like Susie Porter and Luke Carroll.

The Artful Dodger

The Artful Dodger

While not quite buying that the Artful Dodger is now a surgeon, it’s worth remembering that the character is a charmer and a conman. The operating room scenes might be too gruesome for some, but hang in there for Miranda Tapsell, Damon Herriman, Damien Garvey, Kym Gyngell and Andrea Demetriades. How on earth are we going to pick the best Aussie drama for 2023 after a late entry is this good?

Produced by Beach Road Pictures, The Artful Dodger is a co-production with Sony Pictures Television’s Curio Pictures for Disney+.

Paper Dolls (1984, YouTube) was once a fabulous short-lived 80s nighttime soap about the modelling industry starring Morgan Fairchild and Lloyd Bridges. Now Paper Dolls (Paramount+) is about a fictional girl group from a reality TV show, but who are they kidding about the fiction?

Harlow is based on Aussie girl group Bardot, and reality series Pop Rush is meant to be Popstars (Seven, 2000).  Former Bardot member Belinda Chapple is an executive producer of Paper Dolls and it would appear she has lots to say about the music industry, and she has a lived experience to draw from.

Ditch Davey is suitably sleazy as the label boss and Emma Booth is sensational as the record executive dealing with the teenage girls in her charge. Although its origins are very clear in the first episode, future instalments may go in a different direction as each member of the group gets their own individual backstory. Paper Dolls is off to a great start, can’t wait to see more.

Now to Faraway Downs (Disney+), allegedly a TV series, but actually just a longer director’s cut of the movie Australia. Hacked into six episodes, of varying length, there’s new scenes (to be expected given there is so much unused footage) and there’s a new ending. Sadly, the end result is the same.

Australia was a hot mess of a movie, and Faraway Downs is too. It’s pretentious, lacks authenticity, and it fiddles with history. Baz Luhrmann, who is clearly obsessed with 1939 Hollywood classics, inserts The Wizard Of Oz into Faraway Downs before the film has even opened in the US. Who knew that a remote open-air cinema in Darwin was the first in the world to see it. LOL. 

Faraway Downs

Luhrmann has always claimed he was making a local version of Gone With The Wind, and that’s a ludicrous take given how cartoonish it is. Last month he told SXSW Sydney that his aim had been to “take the melodrama but flip it, and tell it from this First Nations child’s point of view”.

While Nullah (Brandon Walters) is indeed the best thing about Faraway Downs, it’s questionable as to whether the GWTW narrative has really been flipped when Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman are playing white heroes. What I’d rather see is a juicy making-of that tells the real story behind the scenes, because that’s a melodrama waiting to be told.

Welcome to TV Gold: Mediaweek’s weekly TV podcast

Listen now on your favourite podcast platform for 30 minutes of TV reviews and recommendations every week from Mediaweek’s Mercado on TV columnist Andrew Mercado and editor-in-chief James Manning.
We want your comments, feedback and questions – [email protected].

This week: Paper Dolls, The Artful Dodger, Faraway Downs, Stock Aitken Waterman

Three of this week’s shows under review are Australian dramas and the fourth is a UK documentary that owes much to Aussies. The dramas are Paper Dolls (Paramount+, series), The Artful Dodger (Disney+, series) and Baz Luhrmann’s reimagining of his movie Australia, now a six-parter, called Faraway Downs (Disney+, series). We also recommend the brilliant two-part documentary Stock Aitken Waterman (SBS On Demand) and also the second seasons of Annika (ABC iview) and Julia (Foxtel/Binge).

Listen online here, or on your favourite podcast platform.

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