A death in the family

by Diana Wichtel / 12 July, 2008
It's hard to bury your disbelief along with Brian.

What are the odds of a woman having three best friends who are all amoral lunatics? Pretty good if you live in Auckland, observed one cynical colleague. Nevertheless, this is one of the stumbling blocks when it comes to burying your disbelief along with Brian and settling in to TV1's new local drama series.

The first episode of Burying Brian revealed that Jodie, a suburban mother of two, has had it with her useless, stoner, washed-up rock-god spouse. Brian, as played convincingly by Shane Cortese, keeps leaving the fridge door open. Lord knows, that brings out the homicidal tendencies in a woman.

After a night out with the girls, Jodie arrives home to a right mess. A fight ensues. She throws whatever is to hand. Brian slips in the wet patch by the (open) fridge door and is impaled on his own broken bong.

Does Jodie call 111? Don't be silly. She's worried she'll go down for the killing and have to leave her kids. She is not, apparently, concerned about the psychological impact on her children of one day discovering that mum rolled dad in a carpet and buried him in the reserve over the fence.

To be fair, Jodie (played with jaw-dislocating gusto by Jodie Dorday) does keep moaning, "I should turn myself in!" Cue the arrival of her scary-looking besties, who have an instinct for turning up when Jodie's in danger of doing anything remotely sensible.

Think Sex and the City meets Desperate Housewives in an Outrageous Fortune kind of way. With a touch of that anti-domestic violence campaign: It is not okay to leave the fridge door open.

The scene where they are driving around with the body and a dead dog run over in the general chaos recalls any number of on-the-road-with-a-corpse movies, including our own 80s classic, Carry Me Back.

Still, Brian is very slick, and like four overdressed lunatics with a body to dispose of, it moves right along. If the acting is cartoonish, at least it matches everything else. The best way to look at the series is as a sort of post-feminist parable. Poor old Brian is the author of his own demise, slipping in a gender-war wet patch of his own creation to fall on the shattered bong of his inadequacies as a husband and father.

The news is not good for the feminists, either. Whatever the deficiencies of men, if women ran the world it would be ... insane. And overdressed. On the other hand, the fridge door would always be closed.

There used to be a slot called Masterpiece Theatre on TV1, didn't there? It's gone now, possibly because our quality channel seems to go out of its way to avoid screening any masterpieces these days. Got to make room for The Rich List.

Masterpieces are still available, but you're likely to have to pay for them. Sky's Arts Channel has its share. Last month it screened Primo, which does as good a job as anything I've seen of staging the human condition as a one-man play.

Primo is Antony Sher's adaptation of If This Is a Man, Primo Levi's account of his time in Auschwitz. Levi was one of 650 Italian Jews sent there in 1944. Three survived. As you learn in Primo, survival came down to such things as shoes that fit and learning what your number sounds like in German.

Sher recounts the story in matter-of-fact tones in keeping with Levi's lucid prose style and enquiring chemist's eye. "Then, near the gate, a little band starts playing ... Maybe this is just some farce in the Teutonic style ..." The jaunty songs are, says Levi, symbols of the camp: "The perceptible proof of its geometric madness."

There are moments of humour: "He calls me Monsieur, which is ridiculous," notes Levi, when he's sent to work in a lab.

There's unbearable sadness. Levi is almost undone when a boy - not much more than a child and who has been in the camp for three years - gives him a welcoming hug.

In a world of unspeakable horror, offhand cruelty and daily massacres, it's a casual gesture that ignites rage. A Kapo named Alex gets his hand dirty and, without overt malice or even conscious thought, wipes it on Levi. "Today, on the basis of that one action, I judge him. I judge you, Alex." Sher delivers this with a ferocity that echoes down the years. A masterpiece.

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