TV

ABC’s ‘Content’ Is The Viral, Smartphone TV Show That 2019 Needs

'Content' is set entirely on a smart phone, and it's extremely good.

ABC Content TV show

Steve Jobs fought with his Apple colleagues to make sure the iPad and iPhone didn’t require a stylus.

Jobs got fired from his own company in the mid-80s. In Jobs’ absence Apple released a personal digital assistant: Newton. Guess what Newton came with? A stylus. The Newton is a distant relative of the Apple devices billions of people use today, but it was a huge failure at the time due to its high price and buggy hardware; the device was a punchline on The Simpsons.

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1998 his first order was to kill the Newton. From the death of the Newton up until the release of the iPhone, Jobs maintained the argument that a stylus wasn’t necessary because people already had ten on their hands. Jobs knew we’d instinctively figure out how to use the new tech because we were already equipped with the tools.

Content, the TV series set entirely on a phone, takes the same approach to storytelling.

The seven-episode series created by Ludo Studio (Bluey, Robbie Hood) understands how we use smartphones intuitively. It’s rare to stop and describe to someone how a smartphone works. You’d sound mad telling a stranger you spend a large percentage of your time talking to loved ones using emojis and gifs. If pressed, you’d never explain to someone how text messages work: you’d send them a text!

Content takes the mysterious art of phone usage and weaves in a story in an ingenious way.

#flipgirl

Content plays out in real-time on the phones of wannabe influencer Lucy (Charlotte Nicdao) and her responsible best mate Daisy (Gemma Bird Matheson). Lucy gets internet fame after she gets in a car accident while driving and live streaming. The clip goes viral and Lucy becomes known as ‘#flipgirl’.

Lucy’s obsession with her online presence puts pressure on her friendship with Daisy and the cracks begin to appear.

Each video call, tap, swipe, text, social post, search engine entry and notification push the story forward in Content. You get a lot of information about Lucy and Daisy in a short amount of time, often with minimal dialogue; at times it feels like you’re watching a silent film.

The strength of the format comes from the way drama plays better in apps and text message chains over video calls.

You hold your breath as the three dots pulse on screen as a reply is typed. Other times it’s the tension of witnessing Lucy Google things while she’s messaging Daisy. The unfiltered access to each phone means you get to see the thought process of each character as they compose messages and tweak their thoughts on the fly.

But what gets deleted is just as important as what’s sent.

Friends and Passwords

The in-phone experience is brought to life by shy kids, a Canadian team of animators who created everything you see on screen that’s not footage of Lucy and Daisy. You can tell Lucy is reckless the second she uses a simple numeric password to access her phone, whereas Daisy uses a complicated pattern; their personalities are defined by password options.

It’s this attention to detail in Content that’s astounding and there are so many layers to the show that it demands repeat viewings to fully understand Lucy and Daisy’s relationship.

The friendship is the heart of Content and it elevates the series above easy jabs at millennials and influencers.

Writer Anna Barnes lets you get to know the best buds in so many clever ways before pushing them to bizarre pockets on internet culture. Each episode is built around different online trends: mukbang videos, yoga Instagram accounts, dating apps and more.

The humour comes from Lucy’s mishaps and her desperation to be liked. Or maybe it’s Lucy’s attempt to not be lonely? The irony is that Daisy provides Lucy with the social nourishment she desperately craves from strangers.

Nicdao gives Lucy a nervous energy that peaks and crashes with the trajectory of her online fame. Lucy’s narcissism and desperation leads to the show’s funniest moments but there’s always a hint of sadness lurking. Matheson has to play it straight against Nicdao but her performance is vital to balance out the friendship.

Daisy may be mature and responsible but she’s living a more adventurous life through Lucy’s eccentric adventures. The duo are reminiscent of Abbi and Ilana from Broad City, and Maya and Anna from PEN15.

Content is the moment a phone is harnessed perfectly to tell a scripted story. The portrayal of screen life in film and TV isn’t new (see: Searching, Unfriended) but it’s exciting to be at the birth of a new format.

We’re mostly unaware of huge shifts in our culture when they’re happening. Only 12 years ago we met the iPhone for the first time and it drastically changed the way we communicate. In a decade from now we may look back on Content in the same way.

Content is currently available to watch on ABC iView and YouTube.


Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.