Watching: The Hollowmen

I caught The Hollowmen last night - the new show from the people at Working Dog who have previously brought us The Late Show, The Panel, Frontline, The Castle and Thank God You're Here.

I'm a believer that you need to give any new show a few episodes to find its feed - the first episode has a lot of work to do in introducing characters and scenarios and setting "the vibe" and the following shows then build on this to develop something which is either great, average or mundane. It takes time to flesh out characters and they are a core part of what makes a show work.

Working on this principle, I'm happy to give the show a bit longer to get going - I liked what I saw last night but I don't remember actually laughing at anything. It seemed partially as though in their focus on covering important social/political issues (the government response to childhood obesity), they didn't quite have time to bring the funny.

I could see where it was meant to be funny - Santo Cilauro's role as the team pollster allowed him to rephrase focus group comments into bureaucratese but even this seemed a little forced and repeating the gag a few times didn't make it work any better. There also seemed to be a heavy focus on finding laughs in the nuances of language used in the halls of power but I got the feeling that this would be a lot funnier to insiders than most people (myself included.)

The show is played very cynically, very subtly and very drily and I suspect it was far more accurate than we'd like it to be. At the same time, this could be one of the reasons that I found it almost a little disheartening - which may be why it wasn't as funny as I'd have liked. Shows like The Games and Yes Prime Minister have both managed to skewer similar territory very effectively, with equal levels of cynicism and yet drag a lot more humour out of the experience.

As I've mentioned, the characters are a key element in any show and need to be given time to develop - as yet, they all seem a little grey and samey. Rob Sitch and Santo Cilauro seem to have dragged large chunks of their Frontline characters into the show - Santo still has that timid, dorky but likable thing going on and Rob is still a bit hopeless - though much less self important now. (Not that this is a huge problem, I liked both of these characters but am already a little tired of Sitch's new shtick of never having a pen).

Lachy Hulme as the head of the Central Policy Unit seems the most likable, everyman kind of character - trying to actually come up with good policy in the face of organisational disfunction and Merrick Watts (of Merrick and Rosso fame) puts in a good show as a wily advisor in the department. As yet, the rest of the characters are really yet to emerge - but as I say, all in time.

I was a little surprised that it's such a hugely male dominated environment - figuring the upper levels of the Public Circus would be a little more PC and have a few more senior women but then again, these guys would have done their research and maybe it's how it is.

I liked the way the show just dived right into the action, assuming that viewers would be cluey enough to work things out as it went along and was able to really dig into a social issue - again, I have to draw conclusions to Frontline in the way that this was done. (Which is great, as I loved Frontline).

I just hope it can be as funny as Frontline, because after a point, cutting as it might be, it could well turn out more depressing than entertaining.

If you like politics and social issues, smart tv, Frontline, The Games, Yes Minister or even The West Wing, give it a go.

You can watch full episodes online at The Hollowmen website at http://www.abc.net.au/tv/hollowmen/#/watch (But the video player only seems to work in Internet Explorer - hmmm).