With ABC’s ‘Glitch’, Australian TV Finally Gets Genre Right

For decades, local TV has remained mired in drama and comedy -- some of it very good, but none of it especially adventurous. With 'Glitch', which premieres tonight on the ABC, that's set to change.

Glitch Season 3

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[Update, October 26]: ABC TV has now stated a second season of Glitch is in its early stages! “We are pleased to announce that planning is underway for series two,” they wrote on Facebook this morning. “Let’s head back to Yoorana and go inside Noregard Pharmaceuticals.”

In an accompanying media release the show’s co-creators Tony Ayres and Louise Fox acknowledged the show’s great reception and said, “We can’t wait to deliver on the promise of all those stories, keep all the thrills and spills coming and bring this drama to a satisfying conclusion.”

A release date is yet to be announced but, you’ll likely be waiting quite a while for that sweet, sweet closure.

Some years ago, a good friend of mine went on a stirring rant about the state of Australian film and TV funding, and its apparent collective aversion to genre filmmaking.

“Genre”, in the context of the Australian film and television landscape, can sometimes feel like “anything that isn’t a broad comedy about a wacky blue-collar family or a bleak drama about rape and drug addiction in the Western Suburbs”, but what he meant was genre filmmaking in the classic sense: horror, sci-fi, action. The sort of stuff we excelled at during the Australian New Wave but then apparently became embarrassed by in the late-20th century.

If the pickings were slim at the multiplex, then the state of affairs on the small screen was even worse, where Australian television appeared to only have three settings: crime drama, family drama, and “comedy”. Science fiction was relegated primarily to the children’s television landscape, where Spellbinder, The Crash Zone and Halfway Across The Galaxy And Turn Left explored the outer reaches, and Farscape (a distant memory from the turn of the century) provided the sole notable adult viewing option.

The genre tide began to turn in 2014 cinemas, with The Babadook, Predestination, These Final Hours and Son Of A Gun treating genre with respect and reverence; it was a year that rewarded the viewer’s investment, even if viewers didn’t necessarily reward those films with ticket sales. But while overseas television provided a smorgasbord of sci-fi, horror, fantasy and action, local TV remained mired in drama and comedy — some of it very good, but none of it especially adventurous.

Now, genre returns to (arrives on? Ocean Girl was almost three decades ago, guys) Australian TV screens in the form of Glitch, ABC1’s mysterious new miniseries. And boy howdy, it was worth the wait.

Strange Things Are Afoot In Yoorana

In the (fictional) Victorian town of Yoorana, local cop Sergeant James Hayes (Patrick Brammall) is called out to a midnight disturbance: it seems someone’s been playing funny buggers in the cemetery.

We know from the previous scene, shot from the perspective of schoolboy Beau (Aaron McGrath), that said disturbance was — in the sage words of Ghostbuster Winston Zeddimore — the dead rising from their graves. Six former members of the Yoorana community have clawed their way out of the ground and appear to be in fine health.

James and local doctor Elishia McKeller (Genevieve O’Reilly) usher the disoriented people into blankets and install them at Elishia’s consulting rooms, where she confirms that they are, indeed, alive. Not only that, but one of them is Kate (Emma Booth), James’ late wife, who died two years earlier after battling breast cancer.

Some of them have been dead for over a century. Some, like devout Catholic Maria (Daniela Farinacci) see their return as a miracle; some, like brusque teen Kirstie (Hannah Monson) can’t quite believe they died to begin with. “Is this Hell?” one character asks upon his return to Yoorana.

That’s really all you need to know going into Glitch; the questions as to why these people are back, and how long they have to “live”, form the mystery at the heart of the six-part series. Having watched the first two episodes, I’m no closer to knowing what on earth is going on, and I’m totally hooked.

The Golden Age Comes To Australian Television

Directed with sensitivity and grace by Emma Freeman — from a concept by Tony Ayres, and written by Louise Fox, Kris Mrksa and Giula Sandler — Glitch is beautiful television. The cast is terrific, hinting at a vibrant future for Australian television, as “film actors” migrate to the smaller screen as they have in the US and UK.

Shot by Simon Chapman (who also lensed the under-loved Griff The Invisible), the show presents a uniquely “northern Victorian” world, one that producer Ewan Burnett described at an AFI/AACTA screening of the first two episodes as “Australian Gothic”. It’s a nice counterpoint to the usual urban setting of similar tales.

But then, it’s not a zombie thriller, per se; rather it is, in a manner of speaking, a “resurrection drama” — that slightly less camp subset of the genre that tends to be fertile ground for exploring more existential questions than capitalism and/or xenophobia (for which straight-up zombies are better suited).

In that sense, Glitch is very moving viewing, and its fine cast masterfully grapples with the awfulness of rebirth: Why has this happened to them? Why did they die in the first place? Do their families and partners still love them, and are they even still alive?

Towards A Genre Future

Glitch will soon be joined in the genre ranks by another ABC1 series, the Goalpost Pictures and Pukeko Pictures co-production Cleverman. Commissioned by the ABC Indigenous Department, the series will star Deborah Mailman, Iain Glen, Jack Charles, Frances O’Connor and Hunter Page-Lockard, and concerns a futuristic clash between humans and nonhumans.

The show went into production in April this year, but the phrase “otherworldly dreaming creatures also emerge into this ‘real world’ dystopian landscape” means I’m already pumped for its release.

It’s difficult to predict what the reception to Glitch will be: are we ready not just for a low-key genre piece about love, loss, grief and the meaning of life, but one that (at least as far as the first two episodes are concerned) doesn’t have any explosions, winking self-aware jokes, broad “Strine” caricatures or stupid jokes? I hope so. For the love of god, Australia, it’s time.

Glitch premieres on the ABC tonight at 8.30pm; immediately following the TV premiere, all six episodes will be available on iView.

Clem Bastow is an award-winning writer and critic with a focus on popular culture, gender politics, mental health, and weird internet humour. She’s on Twitter at @clembastow