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Flavoured Underwear Not Found Here

Ben Peek

For you see, if the Prime Minister were caught giving his aid a DVD player that he had purchased with taxpayer funds, the episode would have ended with the Prime Minister being chased down a hallway by a camera crew and a journalist screaming out, 'Is this what our taxes are for?'

There is an innocuous flavour to prime time television in Australia. Whenever I sit down in front of the TV, I inevitably find myself thinking about school; all those years of teachers taking our class to an assembly hall where we would sit on hard plastic chairs, or on cold wooden floors, and listen to a speech from the Police, or the Fire Department, or Career Advisors, or Church Officials, or a host of other men and women who gave us advice on how to live our lives. Don't steal, they would say. Don't light fires. Don't have sex unless you're in love or married. Believe in Jesus. Don't listen to your friends: take the advice of this stranger.

What is it about prime time television that brings back these memories? On a general level, I think it is due to the cautious nature of the shows as they work through the topics of drugs, alcohol (quite often two different things on TV-careers) and sex. Portrayals of these topics are influenced by the morals of the majority. Even shows that at first glance appear to not fall into this framework, such as The Secret Life of Us, which is an Australian drama that boasts an "adult" air, due mainly to its sex and nudity. The underlying themes of the show, however, is the search for Mr. and Mrs. Right, the perfect job that gives you meaning, and that if you persevere, you can find these things . . . which, when I stop to think about it, sounds awfully familiar to the speeches that I sat through at school.

With these thoughts in my head, I sat down to examine four shows from Australian television to identify just what it was that generated the school lectured feeling inside my head. The shows that I have decided upon are two locally produced shows, Rove Live and Blue Heelers, and two American produced shows, The West Wing and The Simpsons. It might appear odd that I have picked two American shows, but the purpose of The West Wing is to examine a show that is not succeeding in Australian prime time.

At the heart of The West Wing is Martin Sheen's character of the President of the United States. It is a character built from the morals that I mentioned, and who, with these morals, is capable of a Presidential Benevolence that most would be pleased to see within their elected leader. But the main service the character provides for the show is that through him viewers can feel a positive, "What If?"; as in, "What if he were really president?" Thus, through him and the other main characters in the show, each of them dedicated to upholding the idea of democracy, it becomes a theoretical defense of this ideology. It is a show that, at it's core, most people would be able to support. But in Australia, as I have said, The West Wing is not succeeding.

One of the reasons for this, I believe, is the respect for American politics and culture that is built into this "President", are characteristics that few would associate with the Australian Prime Minister. An example of this difference can be shown in a small incident from an episode that aired recently. In it, the Martin Sheen President gives his aid a DVD player, because the said aid has done something nice. It is a passing act; a brief kindness the show does not dwell upon but which demonstrates the President's awareness of those who are not as well off as he.

If, however, this had been an Australian produced show, the entire episode would have centred on this one minute conversation, and the fallout from it. For you see, if the Prime Minister were caught giving his aid a DVD player that he had purchased with taxpayer funds, the episode would have ended with the Prime Minister being chased down a hallway by a camera crew and a journalist screaming out, "Is this what our taxes are for?" The difference is one of attitude, and the serious, pro-democratic attitude is a very American characteristic, and for a show to succeed in prime time, Australia, although it may project sugar coated values that other shows do, I think that it must either be linked directly with Australian culture, or conversely, it must fall into a category that is not as reliant on cultural specifics.

It is in the Australian rural cop drama Blue Heelers, however, that a similar positive, "What If?" scenario is acted out. The small police force of Mount Thomas give the Australian audience an image of a close knit group of men and women who are there for everyone, who will listen to young and old alike, and who are, at the end of the day, the proactive policing force that you find at schools, telling children to stay out of strange cars, and to otherwise do the right thing. Blue Heelers does not have the gritty urban face of cop dramas like NYPD Blue, nor does it have a sense of moral ambiguity which can be linked with the crimes in the show. Indeed, the crimes that occur within Blue Heelers are not of an overly important nature to the narrative. One such example is an episode where a teenager is hit and killed by a truck. The boy's death is blamed on his girlfriend, who was there at the time and apparently pushed him in front of the truck. The narrative of the show did not focus on how to prove she was there, or prove if she had something to do with his death; rather, it focused on her emotional turmoil and her unhappy home life, which, it turned out, lead to the couple going out to commit suicide on a road by leaping in front of trucks. But the crime was secondary, a tool which allowed the officer to help the girl, to make a difference in her life. The "What If?" scenario in this situation thus conveyed the positive theory of the good work of the police, a scenario which, coupled with the Australian rural setting, appeals to the prime time audience, and which has kept the show running since 1994.

Yet in Rove Live, no positive "What If?" scenario is conducted between the viewers and the show. Hosted by Rove McManus, the show is a mixture of interviews, comedy, and music. It goes for an hour, and of a quality, as summed up in a recent episode: McManus driving around the streets of Adelaide with a nine year old boy and buying McDonalds; an interview with country/rock singer Chris Isaak; three minutes of program advertising for the Harry Potter DVD, as two grown men (Rove and comedian Adam Hill) tried to pull the case from its box, and succeeded in doing so only when Hill said, "Eye of newt, wing of bee, release this frigging DVD." Frigging, of course, being the polite way of saying fuck, which speaks directly into where Rove Live sits in the world of innocuous Australian television: the top.

Rove Live subject matter is careful, neutral, in that it does not go near religion, politics, or anything else that might divide viewers. And if such a topic does arise, McManus is quick to smooth over any wrinkles of unhappiness that might emerge, such as when comedian who appeared on the show with an anti-religious act. Everything within the show carries an air of faint buffoonery, which suggests that a pie in the face gag is not far from appearing on the show. But, the question must be raised, is this the natural response to McManus's demographic? The show is aimed squarely at a late teen audience, and guests such as pop singer Mandy Moore and the evictees from the game show Big Brother clearly play into this. The blandness of the show is therefore the end product of having an entertainment show aimed at a market that is still in school. That Rove Live reminds me of the innocuous information given out at school should not, then, be a surprise. Neither should it surprise any other viewer to find McManus and Hill struggling with the PG rated Harry Potter and not, for example, the R rated Taxi Driver.

The Simpsons is the last show that I will look at, and the reason that I have decided on this show is due to the success it enjoys. At the current moment, the show screens every day of the week, and three of those days play more than one episode. Like Rove Live, the show begins with a youth demographic, but in its success here in Australia, it has captured a much wider audience.

At the heart of The Simpsons is the ideal of the family. While it is often promoted as a "dysfunctional" family, I've been long of the opinion that this is not the case, and that in fact, the family forms what can be considered an almost perfect family. There is no doubt in a viewer's mind that each member of the Simpson family would never betray another member, and the majority of episodes are structured around the family togetherness. Any deviation from this forms the narrative of the entire episode, such as when Bart gets a Big Brother to replace Homer. At no stage within the series has the Simpson family ever been broken up, and divorce and death, when it does happen, happens across the street, or next door, but never to them. The family is a safe distance from these acts, and thus, at the same time, is the viewer. This, when coupled with family ties and slapstick, pop culture referenced humour ultimately removes the show from running the risk of insulting or turning off the majority of their viewers. Of the shows that air in Australian prime time, The Simpsons is the most innocuously flavoured.

Not all Australian television is like this, yet three of these shows are massively popular. The memory of cold wooden floors and the speeches from school appointed authority figures are always in the back of my mind whenever they appear before me. I have the same experience if I watch an episode of Friends, or the Australian soaps Neighbours and Home and Away. In the end, however, what does this mean? Is it a problem that lies in the heart of television? Is it a problem that rests in mainstream life? Is it even a problem? To the last question, I answer yes, because for the differences these shows do have, the air of similarity is greater. It is an air which all these shows have, and which says to me in the same way that was implied by the authority figures at school: If you can't identify with these morals, then what's wrong with you?

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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