Filthy Rich’s empty calories prove TV drama still lacks a recipe free of unappetising female stereotypes.
Is it you or is it me? It may not be a good sign that the first episode of our newest local drama, Filthy Rich, gave me scary flashbacks to the debut of our oldest. Eight minutes in and there’s a scene involving people in activewear having sex.
In 1992, Shortland Street’s Doctor Love, Chris Warner, in a white coat, beeper at the ready, could lurk at the back of an aerobics class perving at a room full of women without getting arrested. Suzy Aitken’s gym instructor couldn’t resist his sweet-talk – “Fancy a workout?” – and the rest is history.
In 2016, it’s a woman calling the shots, though she’s an old-fashioned, sexually voracious soap bitch. Filthy Rich’s Brady Truebridge, apparently conducting some experiment on the detrimental effects on the libido of Wendy Petrie reading the news in the background during “cardio”, has to give her personal trainer a rain check when Wendy announces Brady’s trophy husband, tycoon John Truebridge, has taken a dive from a city tower. In the approved manner for such scenes, he lands on a car – more photogenic – in a hail of no doubt ill-gotten cash.
That first Shortie episode had lines so violently boring – “This is another examination room!” – as to seem, in retrospect, positively avant-garde. It was full of angry people.
Nurse to patient: “What’s your name?”
Patient: “Tara. What’s it to you?”
Filthy Rich’s Brady is also angry. She keeps shouting (viewer discretion warning) “You’ve got to be shitting me!” Even she can’t believe the plot. It seems her husband had, along with her cartoonishly evil stepson John Jr, three illegitimate heirs.
“The bastards”, as Brady prefers, each inherit an inconvenient share in the Truebridge empire. There’s Garth, from the West Coast. He and his stoner mate Zac write off the car on the way to Sodom and Gomorrah … I mean, Auckland. Garth ends up in a coma.
For obscure reasons, Zac decides to impersonate Garth. He rocks up to casa Truebridge looking like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant – they do things differently on the West Coast – and moves in. Joe Tamatoa, an idealistic community worker – at-risk youth, boxing – doesn’t want a bar of the Truebridge fortune. The third heir, Savannah, works at a strip club because this allows for endless strip-club scenes. Not gratuitous at all. When Savannah gets a job at the Truebridge gym, she teaches pole dancing. Sigh.
Other dispiriting female stereotypes – get the whole set – include a battered woman and an underage minx out to seduce Zac/Garth. Points for some deathless lines of indigenous dialogue – “The media will be all over this like flies on gourmet shit!” – but it’s all a little … unpleasant. John Jr is so evil he tricks his new half-sister, Savannah, into incest. Even Brady is appalled. “You’re trying to screw her, too,” points out John Jr. “I just got there first.” Soap paternity storylines being what they are, it may turn out they’re not really related, but still.
No one is happy about any of this except nudist Auntie Nancy, another vaguely misogynistic trope: the soused, sexually voracious ageing woman. Happily she’s played by Elizabeth Hawthorne with the insouciance of one who’s seen everything local television can throw at an excellent actress in prime time and gives zero figs.
Also good: Josh McKenzie, who seems to specialise in sociopaths (he played one on Shortie) as John Jr. He doesn’t so much chew the scenery as pile it up in the middle of the room and set fire to it, but with charisma.
Filthy Rich is, so far, Gloss without much gloss, Billions with fewer billions and Revenge without much at stake. There’s nothing new, and unlike Outrageous Fortune or even The Almighty Johnsons, nothing particularly us. The series is like most of its characters: calculating and a little heartless. Empty calories.
Filthy Rich, TV2, Monday & Tuesday, 8.30pm.
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