You can hear the jaws dropping


ABC-TV, Monday
Reviewed by Dave Riley

This is true: my jaw dropped during the first episode of Frontline and I still can't pucker up. In my prepubescent foolishness, I once kissed the TV screen during The Mickey Mouse Club in the hope of transferring my affections to a mouseketeer. Now, many years later and handicapped by such a southerly mandible, I can only dream about the gesture.

Frontline is really sharp satire, pitched just short of the boundary and within the confines of, at least, my good taste. The gang of verbal hooligans who clubbed together as the D-Generation in the '80s to pester us with their undergraduate ratbaggery have given up free form skit comedy to explore a set piece.

Theatrics and comic histrionics have been constrained in order to muster a frontal assault on that contemporary ideological plague known as infotainment.

Now Jana Wendt and Derryn Hinch, Real Life and A Current Affair get their just deserts. The characters in Frontline are amalgams honed brutally close to the bone.

In the cynical world of television news journalism, forget the malarky about ethics. The story that matters is the one that rates by beating the other networks to it.

In its way this isn't the matter of mirth. And many viewers will not find much to laugh about in the seductively real world of Frontline. But this is no mere take-off of personal mannerism and style. Frontline is too focused to be so easily satisfied. This is pitiless satire that seeks the jugular, determined to bleed it of its hypocrisy.

It would not be so funny except for the Mike Moore character (played by a surprisingly restrained Bob Sitch). This Mike's "Moore" is a likeable, naive journo who "prefers the gentle touch". As the anchor for Frontline, his on- and off-screen pathetic foolishness contrasts sharply with the calculated machine shop newsmaking that surrounds him.

Whether he is launching into an ill-considered polemic on Macedonia (to prove he is not a lightweight) or disowning chequebook journalism, the real world soon catches up with him. As Mike wonders if it is the Greeks or the Macedonians who make the dips, it passes him by.

No doubt many youthful followers of their past effort, The Late Show, will be disappointed that their comic heroes have dropped the revue formula, and even some of their colleagues. But this attempt to foster more form in their humour is not the same thing as adaptation. In return for the loss of a sometimes abrasive arrogance and a few snappy ad libs, the Frontline formula sharpens the team's cutting edge.

While the program dismisses its precursors in satire as "undergraduate smart arses", the team behind Frontline exhibits all the confidence of a crew that has paid its dues. Written, directed and produced by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and Bob Sitch, Frontline has all the attributes of a classic.

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