Occasionally, a biographical miniseries about a famous Australian manages to lift itself above the extraordinarily low standard our commercial broadcasters have set for this genre of TV. Hoges: The Paul Hogan Story is not one of those instances.
Channel Seven reached a high point with its Peter Allen telemovie, Not The Boy Next Door, and now, a little over a year later, it’s reached the low point.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with seeking to tell the stories of culturally significant Australians on TV, but our screens have been entirely oversaturated with these stories in recent years.
They act mostly as nostalgic escapes, packed full of the fashions, hairstyles and music of the eras which they represent, as they bluntly trace a changing Australia through the story of their central character.
And there are plenty more in the pipeline, with a miniseries about Olivia Newton-John currently filming, with Delta Goodrem in the leading role. Whether Goodrem, primarily a singer, is up to such a task, will be the biggest question hanging over that one.
Paul Hogan is potentially a strong subject for this kind of storytelling. It’s a rags to riches tale of the most extraordinary variety. The transformation he made — from the rising comic who told his viewers in the ’70s to put $10 in their tax return so they’ll get some money back as a nice surprise, to the man who eventually became embroiled in a multi-million dollar tax dispute with the Australian Taxation Office — is entirely unique.
Hogan started out as a rigger working on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, before making an appearance on the amateur talent show, New Faces, at 32. He initially signed up to the show as a bit of a laugh with his workmates, but his brand of ocker humour touched a nerve with Australian audiences. Soon enough he was invited back to the show, then given a regular comedic spot by Mike Willessee as A Current Affair‘s “Man on the Street”.
This led to Hogan’s hugely successful variety comedy show, which led to Hogan’s hugely successful Australian tourism campaign, which led to Hogan’s hugely successful film Crocodile Dundee.
But the miniseries tells that story with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and never gives an insight into how successes or failures affected Hogan. When Hogan’s father dies, he exclaims: “He was 52!’, as if there were no less jarring way of communicating this fact to viewers. Later on, Hogan’s mother states that “Funny doesn’t pay the rent”, before we soon see that it certainly did for this larrikin.
None of the relationships matter much, there are no stakes in any of the performances, and Hogan comes across as a cipher. I don’t care much for Hogan’s style of performance, but he should never come across as this bland.
Josh Lawson, an actor who I’m yet to see in a performance any better than “passable”, is totally lost as Paul Hogan. He manages to find some of Hoges’s mannerisms and vocal tics, but seems constrained by them; locked into some bizarre, static, one-note caricature, rather than able to use those mannerisms to tap into the man’s emotional experience and evolution.
Instead, the performance is hemmed in by a truly appalling wig, and Hogan that never develops any depth. It doesn’t help that Lawson looks nothing at all like Hogan, and neither does Sean Keenan, who plays the young Hoges. The entire series is scattered with actors who look nothing like their apparent subjects, right down to small cameos, including Grant Piro’s brief and baffling turn as Dustin Hoffman.
Hoges had some pretty questionable material, and appealed quite deliberately to the lowest common denominator. But Hoges does nothing to celebrate his comedic skill, and ultimately feels like a throwback to a period of comedy that was wildly sexist and just not that funny. I don’t think that’s entirely true of Hogan’s work.
But the show has proven a big ratings success for Seven, drawing in 837,000 metro viewers. Not quite The Paul Hogan Show‘s 50% of the audience share, but still respectable.
Let’s see how many viewers return for next week’s conclusion.