Entertainment TV Devil’s Playground is the best local drama in years
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Devil’s Playground is the best local drama in years

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The TV binge is a relatively new cultural phenomenon. Setting up on the sofa or perhaps even in bed for six, eight perhaps twenty three hours of one incredible television series.

“The writing is exemplary. The production quality world class. This is a show that Australia should love, embrace and be proud of.”

Australia are punching above our weight in terms of participation. Our much-publicised title as global piracy champions is a strong indicator that as a nation, we are curling up under the doona and watching entire series without moving. Possibly without blinking.

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On the flip-side, we have been pretty darn lightweight in terms of producing the preferred narcotic for the TV binge addict. The American cable networks – HBO, AMC, Showtime etc – have led the way, the BBC has led a respectable British contingent and the Scandinavian countries have produced quality hits such as The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge.

Original star Simon Burke with co-star Morgana Davies.
Original star Simon Burke with co-star Morgana Davies.

We’ve been mainlining dramas and some comedies from around the world, but Australian Made has proven a troublesome tag. There have been some comedies whose box sets have gotten a work out, mostly from the ABC, chiefly those involving Chris Lilley. In terms of dramas, the offerings from John Edwards and his team – the various Packer mini-series, Puberty Blues, Offspring – are worthy of consideration for filling a day, as are series such as The Slap, Love My Way and Redfern Now.

As far as the “Golden Age of Television” that Kevin Spacey so famously and accurately articulated, we have been playing catch up. Pacing the field but not really a challenger. Until now.

On Tuesday, Foxtel launch Devil’s Playground on ShowCase. It is a channel the broadcaster officially dubs “the home of HBO in Australia,” their premium drama offering in this Golden Age.

Devil’s Playground will be the only Australian series they run on that channel this year. That is because it is quite easily the best drama Foxtel will produce this year.

In fact – and surely if there’s a place for hyperbole in journalism, it’s in entertainment – we can go one step further. Three steps in fact:

Devil’s Playground is the best show Australia has produced this year.

Devil’s Playground is the best show we have given the world for many years.

Don Hany and Jack Thompson.
Don Hany and Jack Thompson.

And most importantly for potential bingers looking to fill a weekend: Devil’s Playground is Australia’s first jewel in the Golden Age of Television.

“I have to concur with the sentiment,” agrees Don Hany who plays Bishop Vincent Quaid. “It did feel different. The scripts initially were nothing short of compelling. It could be received in a different way. It does potentially push us into an exciting place.”

Hany explains the effort that went into the series at script level by the competition it faces.

“Foxtel have that culture probably because they have to fit a show like Devil’s Playground in between House of Cards and Game of Thrones and True Detective.”

The series is a brooding mystery that begins with the disappearance of a teenage boy, expands quickly into an explosive personal and political thriller orbiting around the Catholic Church in Australia in the late 1980s.

“We are prepared for the church to really want to distance itself from the whole thing.”

It is a sequel to Fred Schepisi’s film of the same name, and Simon Burke reprises his character Tom Allen, then a teenage boy in a seminary, now a psychiatrist. He becomes the chief investigator in the mystery, and soon key to the first revelations of clergy abuse of children.

High-octane drama with world-class production values.
High-octane drama with world-class production values.

The cast is extraordinary. Hany and Burke are joined by the likes of Toni Collette, Jack Thompson, John Noble and Max Cullen. The writing is exemplary. The production quality world class. This is a show that Australia should love, embrace and be proud of.

Except of course, not everyone will. It’s a truth of life that if you aren’t angering someone, you’re not doing it right. For Devil’s Playground, the subject matter will repel some, the perceived attack on the church will offend others.

“I’m sure we’ll have our fair share of unlikers,” admits Hany. “There’s going to be people that find it very difficult to sit through. That’s just the nature of the subject material maybe.

“We are prepared for the church to really want to distance itself from the whole thing,” Hany adds, but notes that for a time they naively believed the quality of the production might win the church over.

“We were so engaged with what we were doing, and passionate about remaining faithful to an honest representation of clergy members and catholic life that we thought he church would embrace it. We thought they’d be like ‘this is great!’ Because there are so many good Catholics suffering as a result of all of the way this has

Annalise Phillips joins an all star cast.
Annalise Phillips joins an all star cast.

come out. There are so many good priests who can’t be left alone with children now and that’s ridiculous. That’s the truth for a lot of these people.”

That illusion was shattered for him when he saw a young girl fall off a swing in a playground where the production had set up their trailers. “I was close enough to her to bend down and see if she was alright. It looked like a nasty fall.”

He had forgotten he was in costume. In Catholic vestments to be precise. “I bent down and I heard this ‘don’t talk to him.’” The girl’s mother was rushing over “She said ‘get away from her!’”

“It’s pretty scary times. I think that’s why this is an important story to tell.

It is important. It is high quality. It is utterly engaging.

In short, Devil’s Playground is just fantastic, on every level.

Devil’s Playground airs on Foxtel’s Showcase on Tuesday September 9 at 8.30pm. 

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