Last week saw the premiere of a new Australian comedy, Outland, penned by John Richards and Adam Richard, which focuses on the lives of a club for gay sci-fi geeks (or “science fiction enthusiast homosexualists” as club member Rae would prefer). It’s the perfect show for anyone who can relate to the line, “There’s a dalek in your sugar bowl.”
And so I announce the inaugral HAT Outland Open Thread — it’ll go up every week to coincide with the initial broadcast on ABC1: Wednesdays, 9:30pm AEST, but if you miss it, it’s repeated on Thursdays at 10:30pm on ABC2, and it’s also up on iView for two weeks from the date of the original broadcast — which means that you still have time to catch up on the first episode, if you missed it.
Since we didn’t do an open thread last week, this one can be used for the discussion of both Episode 1 and Episode 2.
And what did I think of Episode 1? My (spoilery) thoughts are below!
Episode 1 is all about Max’s struggle to come out to his new love interest, Dylan. While he has no issues with the fact that he’s gay, he’s rather embarrassed about his love for sci fi — and the other members of his sci fi club, who turn up on his doorstep just as he and Dylan are about to embark on (as the website describes it) “a close encounter of the intimate kind”. Shennanigans (and panic attacks) ensue.
I found Outland to be a wonderful, funny examination of queer sci-fi geekery. The in-jokes were plentiful (and I’m sure I missed more than a few), and the characters were endearing in spite of their flaws. This show doesn’t make them out to be saints — like most people, they are sometimes sexist, racist, ableist, etc — but in general, I found that the comedy was used to ask people to reflect on those things, rather than perpetuating them, and it manages to do this without coming across as didactic.
There are also obvious resonances with Russell T Davies’ Queer as Folk, although Outland is much more lighthearted. The use of surrealism in certain scenes is reminiscent of Davies’ work, while Max’s decision not to pursue a relationship with Dylan (because Dylan didn’t know that daleks have been able to levitate since 1989) seems to be an echo of Vince from QaF deciding to break up with Cameron when Cameron was unable to name the actors who portrayed all seven (at that time) doctors*. I thought that these touches were a nice tribute to a man who has done amazing things in terms of the representation of queer characters, not only in sci fi, but in TV in general.
Nothing, of course, is perfect. Women are under-represented in the core group of characters, perpetuating the myth that female sci fi fans are rare. Indeed, Rae, portrayed by Christine Anu, is the only woman in the group. She is also the only central character who appears to be non-white*, AND the only character with a mobility-related disability — so it would seem that the otherness has been heaped upon her in spades. Anu rises to the task brilliantly — her portrayal of Rae is rich and nuanced — but still, I do wonder why there couldn’t have been another woman, and I also wonder — how did she manage to get up all those stairs out front of Max’s house? Daleks may be been able to levitate since 1989, but I’m pretty sure that no one has invented a levitating wheelchair yet. So it seems like the show is sidestepping the accessiblity issue there.
I did really enjoy the treatment of Max’s panic attacks though. As someone who is not a stranger to anxiety issues myself, I appreciated the way that his friends just treated it as “Oh, it’s one of these things that happens to him,” — they didn’t make a huge deal out of it, but Fab, in particular, did support him through it. They didn’t respond perfectly to the situation — but they did their best. I’m also glad that it was treated humorously — simply because on a personal level, I find that being able to laugh at my anxiety helps an awful lot (but perhaps others will feel differently).
Over the next five weeks, each subsequent episode will focus on a different character. This week will be Rae, followed by the straight-laced and far-too-rich Toby, the highly intelligent Andy who likes to share fisting stories, and the dalek-dress-wearing Fab. And I’m guessing that the sixth episode will bring all their invidivual stories together.
For now — have at it! Boldly discuss where no woman has discussed before!
*Back then, the Eight Doctor didn’t count.
**Other core characters may be non-white, but they haven’t identified themselves as such.