Directed by Kevin Carlin
Outland, produced by the same people that made Summer Heights High, is a series presented through Inside Out, following the trend of the festival’s affiliations with TV channels across the commonwealth. For today’s screening we get a glimpse of the show’s first three episodes. It’s title sequence consists of a disco ball with planetary rings descending from the sky, the animation accompanied by music that references a whistle-y TV theme show of a science fiction show I can’t remember. What is this, a thin metaphor of how gays are like aliens, or a show about aliens disguised as gay humans? No, it’s slightly better.
Although he shares ensemble status with other characters, the protagonist is Max (Toby Truslove), a medium-sized Australian who is outwardly normal but neurotic on the inside. He’s on a first date with someone tall, racially ambiguous, and handsome, and this day becomes less perfect when his crazy friends inadvertently crash his place. There’s the ascot-wearing plus-sized one, the leather bear daddy with a Scottish accent (my favourite character), the dainty new kid, and the quadriplegic Aboriginal lesbian. From my experience most gay circles are clique-y where everyone hangs out with and sleeps with their mirror images, so throughout the screening I wondered why these people are friends in the first place. But they do have one thing in common, which is what Max is trying to hide from his perfect date – they’re sci-fi geeks.
The other episodes follow the same structure as the pilot. A newly-forged relationship between a group member and a neophyte hangs in the balance. A group member’s living quarters is discovered and chaos ensues. The writing also feels like high school drama class, with its secrecy and exclamations, and the actors never elevate the material higher than that. That is, if high school drama class scripts had vagina jokes. There are also cheesy special effects, like glowing blue light at a television set magically brought to life, etc.
Nonetheless it’s a sunnier story being told in this festival. It proves the mainstream appeal of Doctor Who, X-Files and other source material that used to be geeky for the old generation. The episodes are also laced with references to outrageous sci-fi shows that it doesn’t matter to me whether they’re real or not. This sense of discovery makes being an enthusiast or a ‘geek’ ok if not highly recommended.
Outland also has the usual heartbreak, bullying and occasional suicidal thoughts, but the comedy has a way of presenting these situations not as heightened plot points but hurdles to be withstood. And despite of what I think of the ‘rainbow’ cast, and that this show doesn’t seem to have enough women, at least it doesn’t have a ‘male model casting’ ethos. I wish Max ended up with his date but he chooses an obscure TV show over him, which is symbolically empowering and endearing. The normal looking actors are taking over the television set and having dating lives, as they do in their real-life counterparts.