Bitchin' Channels

A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: 'Hope and Wire' fills in the blanks

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A scene from the opening episode of Hope and Wire.
A scene from the opening episode of Hope and Wire.

Well Hope and Wire was never going to please everyone.

Before it aired the usual rumbles could be heard: "A waste of taxpayers money" said every third caller to talkback. I even heard Rodney Hide on Radio Live grumbling like an aftershock about the cost.

"Spend the money on the America's cup", said no one, although a few suggested that the money should be spent on roads, or trains although I doubt you could buy a traffic island or a caboose for 5 million.

"Too soon" said the nanas. Others, some from Christchurch, welcomed the idea, at long last everyone would get an idea of "what we have been through".

We just didn't know the extent or the impact on people's lives. For me, half a dozen visits in the years following and the housing of some refugees helped fill in the blanks.

For those who lived through it, the impending series created a mix of anticipation and possibly dread - hope and, yes, something cold and metallic.

But what could not be doubted was that this was going to be important TV, not just another entertainment, not just another "sudden death cook off."

After watching last night, I admit a few conversations in the house, that may have used the words "shall we keep watching - we have a Fargo recorded?"

I'm glad I stayed the distance. Fargo, as good as it is, can wait.

There was much to admire in Gaylene's Preston's vision of the disaster and most importantly, I now feel I have a much better idea of at least some of what went on.

The show succeeded in bringing the story alive. It moved me in unexpected ways, especially the scenes when the city was still intact.

Strong performances, especially from Rachel House and even a touch of comedy from Joel Tobeck stood out for me.

As did the story of the daughter's trip to the sexual health clinic, where she discovered that it "was only thrush". Other delight's included the great Kate Harcourt as the elderly woman sipping whiskey in her bedroom with a stoicism of another age.

Visually there were moments of great power. There were nearly seamless combinations of actual and recreated footage of carnage - including file footage I've haven't seen before. The earthquake scenes were visceral.

The decision to break the fourth wall, or to look and talk directly to the camera challenged me somewhat.

The oft heard rule of showing and not telling was broken and dragged the drama away even if it does succeed at making us collaborators with the characters rather than mere observers.

But the intent, to tell a sprawling story, to represent a raw and recent disaster called for an approach that somehow skirted the documentary and the dramatic.

The downside is that the drama loses out, not helped by some heavy-handed dialogue and some outdated stereotypes. But - despite the silly skinheads, the ranting socialists, the pearl-necklace wearing mum from Merivale - I'll be back for more.

By the end of the first installment, the most powerful moment of all emerged. It was a montage with music, images and sound, showing and not telling me that this story is raw, real and ours.

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