Diana Wichtel: The GC and 20 years of Shortland Street

by Diana Wichtel / 19 May, 2012
We’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata.
The population convulsed with indignation, the commentariat up in arms, the end of civilisation as we know it confidently predicted… There’s nothing like seeing ourselves portrayed as preening, self-obsessed, sex-crazed idiots to get us going. No, not The GC. But it’s timely that this latest electronic outrage (Julie Christie, it seems, is back on form) arrives almost exactly 20 years after Shortland Street lurched woodenly onto the cut-price and slightly shaky stage set of our national life. As Marj trilled “Shortland Street Accident and Emergency Centre!”, we were not to know we were witnessing the birth of a dotty, enduring cultural institution.

The show arrived trailing the conventions of local television drama we’d come to fear. The new doctor was greeted with “Ah, Ropata!”, as if he’d wandered onto the set of The Governor. Everyone had sex with each other. Everyone was surly. Nurse: What’s your name? Patient: Tara. What’s it to you? Some – Dr Ropata, if memory serves – managed to be surly while having sex. I hadn’t watched the show for a while – life is short, Shortie is endless. But in honour of the occasion it was all aboard the omnibus for a catch-up. Chris Warner remains, his always impressive coiffeur unaltered by the decades. And the hospital is still beset by tragedy as Rachel McKenna can’t get a manicure appointment.

There are signs we are now, if not in Guatemala, at least in the 21st century. “Use the landline. It’s cheaper and more sustainable,” Chris Warner’s child tells him. But much never changes. The soap evil-bitch-du-jour is Hayley, instantly identified by her psychotic eye make-up. There’s still the soap odd couple – the Roy Cropper-ish doctor and amateur taxidermist, Luke Durville, and his lady love, sweet-but-dim receptionist Bella. Luke kills Bella’s mouse, Miss Tutu (long story). To make amends, Luke preserves the dead creature in dancing pose, wearing a tutu. Bella is horrified. Everyone is horrified. But in a way you couldn’t get a better symbol of the long-distance soap than this improbable artefact: stiff, strangely compelling, only marginally lifelike and yet impervious to the passage of time. Here’s to Miss Tutu and 20 years of Shortland Street.

As for The GC, sheesh, it’s only television. And as a sort of lovely 20th birthday present, this makes Shortland Street seem intellectually challenging. Tragically, even The GC’s model, Jersey Shore, would have to dumb down considerably to compete. The concept: a more or less real group of tattooed biceps cohabit with a clutch of bikinis in a “gangsta as” apartment on the Gold Coast. With this show what you see is it. Which is a largely interchangeable set of shots: car; bikinis; tattooed biceps; bikinis; bikinis; car. If this was America, Tame, Jade and co might be waiters/actors. Instead, they are scaffolders/property investors. They are not conversationalists. You have to wonder how bad the dialogue must be on what would have been hours and hours of film if this golden exchange was considered a highlight:

– Get ready for the party?

– Yeah, bro. A little bit of getting ready to do.

Humour is derived from the vanity of the boys. Rosie: “They take longer to get ready than us.” Jessi: “Hee hee hee.” But everyone involved seems to suffer from hazardous levels of self-esteem. Drama? Jade has anger- management problems. The girls come home and find he has broken some glasses in a jealous rage because Jessi has been trying on undies with a male model or something. Rosie rings him up. “Go seek mental guidance,” she advises. Sound advice to anyone involved in this. The biggest problem is that The GC lacks the courage of its trashy convictions. There aren’t enough cameras, so the only vaguely dramatic events so far – Jade and his alleged tantrum – happen off-camera. We all know on Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore, etc that everything is totally contrived, but they at least do viewers the courtesy of pretending it isn’t.

On the plus side, this is definitely a change from the usual ways Maori youth are presented in the media here. The show raises questions that will no doubt go unanswered about why 130,000 Maori feel more at home across the ditch. There is also the question of why The GC, which couldn’t be more commercial if it were set at SkyCity, received $419,408 in funding from NZ On Air. It was originally to be a documentary series called Golden Mozzies, about Maori families living on Australia’s Gold Coast. Perhaps NZ On Air could come up with some funding for a documentary that explains what the heck happened. Meanwhile, we are told the show’s more cultural elements will be revealed over time. I will not be holding my breath.

SHORTLAND STREET, TV2, weeknights, 7.00pm. THE GC, TV3, Wednesday, 8.00pm.
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