One of my fondest comedy-related memories is of a show called Let The Blood Run Free (1990–1992), which I also saw sometime around the early-nineties, in those “formative” years. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, this medical soap-opera spoof was the work of a comedy collective known as “The Blood Group”, and apparently grew out of a live cabaret act. Growing up in England in the 1980s you became achingly familiar with Australian soap operas… in fact it’s still jarring to see ‘Jim Robinson’ (aka Alan Dale) crop up in shows like 24 and Ugly Betty with an American accent and a bad-ass attitude! Technically, Alan Dale is from New Zealand, of course, but let’s not get side-tracked. These shows were in our blood, and they were the only window we ever had into that strange country on the other side of the world, which seemed so much like our own… but on a very, very sunny day. It was a revelation to discover that they also made comedy shows “down under”, and that they could so mercilessly mock their own pop-culture. The cheapness of the sets, OTT acting, and absurd plot twists were all part of the fun in Blood, stretching soapy genre staples to breaking point.
It seems mean to single out one character or cast member, since it was clearly such a communal creation, but my favourite was always Lynda Gibson as ‘Matron Dorothy Conniving-Bitch’. Her name is obviously a fairly crude bit of on-the-nose characterisation, which is mildly amusing on the page… but the way she literally spat out the “Bitch” part when introducing herself really took it to another level. The venom and spite she injected into her own surname was astonishing. She also had an endearing habit of saying “Plot, plot, plot! Scheme, scheme, scheme!” while she was plotting and scheming…. and, as far as I recall, saying “Sneak, sneak, sneak!” while she was sneaking up on someone! With her claw-like finger nail, overactive eyebrows and explosive slapstick temper, she was the perfect cartoon villain brought to life. I still laugh just picturing her in my head. The “baddies” clearly had the most fun on-set, and were the most fun to watch at home, but the entire cast had spunk to spare… as it were. The closest Brit equivalent would be The Young Ones, which was also a classic, but had different influences and intentions… it was more about destabilising the comedy establishment than simply having a raucously good time.
Blood was also genuinely innovative, featuring a cliff-hanger at the end of every episode, and offering viewers the chance to decide which direction the plot would take next via a phone-in. I doubt that anyone else would have the balls to try it now… or the creativity to pull it off week after week, for two whole series! Of course, I was watching imported repeats, so I didn’t get the chance to “interact” with the show, but I still salute the cast’s temerity.
Sadly, it wouldn’t be one of my blogs if we didn’t eventually come to a whiny question, so let’s cut to it: Why are our screens so inundated with American imports, but bereft of equivalent Australian fare? Why do so many companies import Region One DVD discs, but so few import Region Four discs? I can’t help feeling that we are closer, culturally, to Australia than we are to America, even if the opposite is true geographically. There’s no denying that America makes great television, but I’ve also really enjoyed the Australian comedy that I’ve seen, from shows like Blood, Kath & Kim, and the Brit/Aussie co-production Supernova, to feature films such as The Castle and The Dish. I follow the various cast members’ previous credits on IMDb, and there’s a whole wealth of programmes that we will never get to see. And not just comedy, but also dramas such as Somersault and heartbreaking history lessons like Rabbit-Proof Fence. It’s frustrating that we should be weaned on their soap operas, but never allowed to wade beyond the shallow waters of Summer Bay…