The Code TV review (ABC, episode 1)

Worried about what the government might be able to do with your metadata? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

I can’t think of any Australian TV thriller that’s as beautifully plotted as The Code. It’s a cynical and intelligent look at power and surveillance, and just how far it can reach across the country, right here and now. But above that, it’s packed full of irresistible, edge-of-your-seat revelations and an essential chase for truth.

In a fictional, remote town called Lindara, two teenagers are involved in a serious, suspicious car accident. At the same time, Ned Banks (Dan Spielman), a journalist working for an independent news site “Password”, is given an explosive story about a government MP from a government communications director. Ned plays executioner, running the story and causing serious harm to the MP’s career, but inside the file the communications director handed him, there’s a reference to Lindara. Ned is instantly suspicious — what does an accident out in the middle of nowhere have to do with Canberra?

With the help of his hacker brother Jesse (Ashley Zukerman), who has Aspergers, and Alex (Lucy Lawless), a teacher from the indigenous school in Lindara, Ned tries to uncover that connection, but finds himself up against something bigger and darker than he’d anticipated.

Along with creator and writer Shelley Birse’s complex but accessible narrative, the show benefits from slick cinematography and a distinctive visual style, thanks to director Shawn Seet (who directed many episodes from the various Underbelly series). He juxtaposes a espionage-saturated image of Canberra with the empty expansiveness of the outback (filmed on location in Broken Hill). Canberra actually comes out looking quite sexy as politicians and public servants throw their weight around the corridors of Parliament House.

Whenever somebody is browsing the net, or hacking into a system, we see screen details superimposed across the characters’ faces as they search. One particular hacking sequence, where Jesse realises he’s been discovered and hacked in return, is full of tension. A chase plays out across the internet that’s as thrilling as any action sequence you’ll see on TV.

It’s also well-acted across the board, but there’s particularly strong work from Ashley Zukerman and Lucy Lawless (yes, Xena!) in the first episode. David Wenham is also appropriately menacing in his brief appearance as the Deputy Prime Minister and Adam Garcia turns in an energetic performance as the editor of “Password”.

Much will depend on how the stories unfold and how the various, divergent plot points come together. But after the first episode, there are questions you can’t wait to have answered.

The premiere episode of The Code airs Sunday 21 September at 8.30pm on ABC. The series is made up of six one-hour episodes.

26 responses to “The Code TV review (ABC, episode 1)

  1. I dont normaly comment on film but here you go. When I saw the description I thought brilliant this is perfect for me I love this sort of thing and it is! Ive read the above comments about storyline and wooden acting etc and I none of that bothers me I would love to get into this but the camerawork is SHIT. Its too dark all the time, everything is in a shadow with a bright light directly at the camera and the way it pans around its just shit and unbearable. What a shame. Whoever let it go out like that ruined what should be a great series.

  2. Just saw final episode and loved this series. I was hooked from the first episode though it seemed a little flawed at first, but the show just got better and better! I loved how the apparent hero/villain setup at first was eventually broken down to expose almost every character as having some complex moral dilemmas of their own but ultimately capable of doing some good. That love can cause humans to do the most heroic but also sometimes the most regrettable and harmful things. Hope we see more of this type of thing!

  3. My whole family has been riveted by The Code until the final last night. That the young adults and the oldies all considered it unmissable once the first ep got us hooked may be testament to its appeal. What a show.

  4. Just watched the first episode on the BBC here in the UK.

    Not impressed.

    Contrived dialogue (based on the premise that drama is something to do with conflict and mystery: so the relationships are governed by barbed anger, surliness and enigmatic references to a back story which will be later revealed).

    Implausible storyline / character development. A teacher lifts a broken phone from a potential accident/crime scene involving a student and emails it to a complete stranger she has talked to two or three times on a mobile phone. It doesn’t happen.

    An Internet newspaper receives a video from an unchecked source and almost immediately posts it on the newspaper’s website. It doesn’t happen.

    We have drama like this on the BBC. Clichéd, contrived, shakey camera, cryptic, barbed-wire dialogue/relationships, telescoped storylines, masked by quasi sarcastic injokes between the characters and pseudo-real procedures/jargon conducted by professionals Poor attempts to emulate Swedish noir drama.

    Generally written by and produced by people who have no real understanding or knowledge of how real people react to real difficulties.

    God help the actors (all of whom seem professional). And God help the professionals working on such series (the technical teams).

  5. Just finished the last ep. To those with forensically negative comments. It’s a show written and produced by Australians with talent and skill to entertain us, and I have been entertained!

    Thank you. I enjoyed your story. I loved your camera and scenic work.

    I loved Ned’s commitment to his brother and how he endeavoured to help others navigate Jesse’s operating system.

    I liked Jesse’s growth into independence and intimacy. However, Jesse’s progression during such a time of trauma (ie. the torture/interrogation) would lead me to believe he was incredibly high functioning.

    I couldn’t wait each new instalment.

    Now “The Code” has ended I will have to take up Ukelele playing to fill the gap till the next Aussie drama surfaces via the ABC.

  6. The entire cast and show are stellar and each episode leaves you wanting more. The Code is a testimonial as to the qualitative productions Australia now makes and competes with in a global forum. Please make more….

  7. The show is pretty good, stop whining. Certainly better than the other tripe on TV. I suspect its also propaganda, but hey this Australia so that’s nothing new. I love the sinister undercurrent.

  8. ummmm…googling yourself a couple of times a day an expert does not make, EXPERT. lol

    Anyway, after 3 eps here’s my 60 -second analysis (for what it’s worth) of the prior posts: Lucy Lawless is deffo not ‘flawless’ as an Australian, previous comments on stereotypes are ironically just fueling the stereotypes, the great Australian masses are so used to consuming US tripe that investing more than 20 minutes in the first episode of any show is considered too much, and finally…just for the record, it’s actually not bad. Not great, but not bad either :)

  9. Well, strangely I didn’t agree with quite a number of the comments above. I think the reviewer was on target and profiled some of the more interesting aspects of the show. I particularly liked the way the camera guy / director showed the computer screen shots rather than forcing you to peer over the shoulder of the actor to work out what was on the screen. Makes the viewing experience much more enjoyable. I thought they got the balance with the ‘hacker has Asperger’s’ pretty right and it highlights the thin line between brilliance and madness. I think some of the comments like ‘billy the fish’ just show their need to be intellectually cutting! Can’t wait to see their work on the screen, but then, we will never know because they hide behind anonymity.

    1. Bruce, I didn’t say I didn’t like it. It’s just that for something that’s being marketed as a cutting-edge political thriller, it DOES rely on a lot of soapy plotlines to keep it moving. Whenever I see all that melodrama in a TV show it implies the writer does not have confidence in the foreground story. By all means flesh out characters to make them interesting, but when every instance of character development is based around the question “who are they banging?” then it makes everyone look like they stepped out of an episode of Wonderland. Here’s hoping things will get better – I realise it’s only the first episode, so there’s still plenty of time to open up the characters.

      And the ultra-hip shots of superimposed internet sites is going to get pretty tedious pretty quickly.

  10. There’s a lot of soapy will-they-won’t-they stuff in the storyline. You’ve got Lucy Lawless having a tiff with ex-hubby Aaron Pedersen, then there’s the polly banging his assistant. Then there’s the journo and the polly’s assistant with their romantic past that is still simmering away. And don’t forget the Aspie hacker whose GF pashes him and he, well, let’s just say he has an interesting reaction.

    Oh yeah, then someone dies. And in between there are a ridiculous number of shots of people using the Internet.

  11. Damn …

    I REALLY wanted to like this.

    But it just reiterates some of the basic flaws Australian film and television makers continue to perpetrate over and over and over …

    It clunks and drags to a point that is painful and embarrassing for a drama aimed at adults.

    Seriously, half of the first episode could have been chopped out with no damage to the storyline.

    Don’t drag out a story line for the sake of dragging it out.

    Slow does not automatically equate to tension.

    And yes, I’ve got to agree with Alan S above that the dialogue is clunky and obvious and the acting wooden.

    It feels like YOUNG ADULT DRAMA which is where I presume most involved cut their teeth and have never graduated out of.

    All that aside, the Director of Photography has done some amazing stuff with the visuals.

    Pity that’s all the show has going for it.

  12. I thought the first episode was really well done. Yes, the hacker has Asperger’s – why not? He plays it well. The plot is intriguing and, in the current climate, plausible. Very plausible. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  13. First episode was brilliant. Going to front up for the repeat on Wednesday night it was that good. Can’t wait for next weeks episode.

  14. Again the ABC bored us to death with promotions for a new show at every programme break but was it worth the hype? Judged by the 20 minutes I watched it – no. The characters are stereotypes and the acting wooden. Is it the script or the acting or the direction to blame? I can never decide with Australian dramas. I probably didn’t give the plot long enough to develop and it may be OK – though 20 minutes should be sufficient to drag you in.

    Redfern Now set the pace for realistic drama. It had a well developed script, competent acting and great attention to detail. It also employed Jimmy McGovern to do a lot of fine tuning. Perhaps the ABC needs to do this for all series.

    1. No, you didn’t give it enough time. The acting was certainly not “wooden” and your reference to Redfern Now is predictably patronising

  15. Sounds promising but one test will be how plausible Jesse the hacker is. Too many writers seems to use the hacker with the off-centre social skills as a get-of-jail-free card, the wizard who can pull digital rabbits out the hat of doom like some love-child of Harry Potter and Lisbeth Salander. That Jesse has Aspergers is not a good start, but we shall see.

    1. Agree generally with your comments, Jim but looking forward to seeing 1st episode tonight. A new, quality Australian drama on the ABC is a rare event these days and is to be savored. As much as I hate to admit it the outsourcing of programming functions proposed by the Abbot government might have some merit if savings can be used for more quality local shows. At present the four ABC channels are a wasteland of duplication and repeats, a situation not helped by the loss of first run BBC dramas to pay TV. How many channels do you need for childrens’ cartoons! And why is the HD channel used solely for news?

      1. The opening credits are excellent. The photography is absolutely brilliant. This series shows what talent Australia actors can display when they’re dragged out of the slap stick comedy slums. The only unbelievable part in this first episode was Tim & Alex discovering Clarence’s girlfriends uncovered body while at the same time a crane was lifting the crashed vehicle out of the gorge. Surely the body would’ve been removed by police or the coroner before the vehicle was recovered. Nice aerial shot though. And I have to agree with John’s sentiments on the the ABC becoming a waste ground for repeats. Make more brilliant stuff like The Code and we won’t have to endure the de ja vu feeling every time we switch to the ABC.

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