Outland Open Thread: Episodes 1 and 2

The cast of Outland -- four apparently white men and a black woman using a wheelchair, looking off into the distance.

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.

Categories: arts & entertainment, fun & hobbies, social justice

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27 replies

  1. I wondered about how Rae got up those stairs last week too!

  2. Well, they sorta covered most of your caveats about Rae, didn’t they? “The jackpot” indeed.
    I also loved that there was a SPOILER
    *whole mob of women scifi fans in the lesbian separatist offshoot group.

  3. Hah! They had me at “Swancon”. It might take a long time to get here, but the parties are AWESOME. And I’m there. How many parties do you get to watch a sexy chick dressed up as Leela dance with K-9 to 90s house music? Yeaaaaaaah, boi.

  4. Haha, yes, they did address all my reservations regarding Rae very nicely! That’s exactly what I mean by the way this show uses comedy to ask us to reflect on this sort of stuff.
    And yeah, I kind of want a parallel show about the lesbian group now.

  5. It was lovely to watch all those Australian SF in jokes.
    I think that the Rae/stairs thing in the first ep was a homage to the Dalek issue. My thoughts went ‘How did Rae get up the — LOLperfectjoke!’
    Her flat in ep 2 is all big lifts, wide corridors and open plan space. Lovely to film in, I’m sure.
    Christine Anu rocks.

  6. What happens on the internet, stays on the internet.

  7. I identified way too strongly with the “do you want tea or coffee?” rant! #indecisiveMIL
    Vera, I reckon you might be right about the Rae and stairs thing. 🙂

  8. Yeah, I had the same thought as Vera.

  9. I am a friend of the writer John Richards and can confirm that Rae’s appearance at the top of the stairs was indeed a deliberate callback to the Dalek joke.

    • Marvellous to know, stephbg – that’s certainly what mr tog and I decided must be the case after last night’s episode. Thanks for dropping by!

  10. I’m very interested to know how other viewers find the fact that an able-bodied actor has been cast in a disabled role. It’s hard enough for disabled actors to convince casting directors, producers, etc, to cast them in roles as it is – it’s kind of a kick in the face when actual disabled characters don’t go to them either.

    • Grant, its something I noticed, but it’s also something I’ve seen time and time again. It’s business as usual, sadly.
      It’s also worth noting that for people who aren’t into the Australian alternative comedy scene, the cast is basically entirely unknown. Anu is by far the most famous name on the show. This probably also featured into her casting.

  11. Points to the actor playing Max, I find I’ve already forgotten to see him as the very different character he played in Laid. The bit where Rae talked to him about his inhibitions was sweet. Rae’s relationship with her ex felt very real (yes, Vera, what a sensational flat). I found by the end of ep 2 I was laughing really hard. Wish I was in a position to get all the in jokes.

  12. I saw the first episode and really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to catching up on the second via iView.

  13. Watched both episodes on i-view today. Will be watching them again with MyNigel because I think he will like the humour. I think the Max character is much nicer than his character in Laid as the useless boyfriend.
    I really like Christine Anu’s character, but I do get Grant’s point (and @stellayoung’s) that it wouldn’t have been difficult to get a good, wheelchair using, actress for the part.

  14. So the ep in Rae’s apartment is only ep2? Excellent, I have only missed the first.
    I’m still getting names of characters straight in my mind though.
    I almost spat my tea at the “You never forget your first rugby team” line. Made me snicker so. Add me to the list of relating to the coffee / tea rant.
    I think Anu plays Rae very well, but yes, I too get the point about an able bodied actor being cast in a wheel chair using role. (I really like that term Mindy, I will be using it from now on.)

  15. I thought the first episode was a bit flat mainly because I thought the scifi jokes were all a bit obvious and played out and the chemistry between the cast felt a bit off, although I did like the ‘how did she get up the stairs joke’, which I read as a Dalek reference. But, I really loved episode 2. I liked the way that they dealt with issues around gender and disability in a really explicit, but humerous way. And the way that they explored issues of consent in multiple contexts (not leaving, touching, looking at the picture, taking Max’s picture, posting an online profile), and in most cases emphasising that this was not ok through the actor’s reactions (and apart from the nude picture, without giving it happy endings to make it ‘alright’). But my favourite joke was the over the confusion between coming dressed as the bionic woman and the six million dollar man: ‘Really? How embarrassing.’

  16. I’ve finally caught up with the first two episodes. I thought they didn’t fully address the fact that Rae is the only woman in the group, in fact I thought it was a bit of a lampshade effort. It’s possible it will get better in later episodes, we’ll see.
    I did very much like the unicorns in Rae’s episode, reference both to her membership of the wild unicorn herd (geek/fan of colour) and seemingly a Blade Runner reference that didn’t get followed up unless I missed something. And Simone’s things mirroring Sarah Jane Smith’s (which I wouldn’t have noticed without Tansy Roberts’ help).
    I’m wondering about the way Max’s flat is all blue and Rae’s flat (and her accessories) is so red, and I’ll be watching future episodes to see where that might go.

  17. I think the issue of Rae being the only woman is alluded to – this was her “team” when people chose sides in the split, and all of the people on the other “team” were women. Rae expresses a bit of dismay at this when she realises.

  18. That’s what I meant by lampshade effort (caution: TV Tropes links): the writers noticed that they’d created a core cast of four men and one woman, and then made up an explanation for why: “all the other lesbian SF fans are in the other group”. That’s not IMHO a good reason for yet another smurf show.
    It reeks to me of “well, we can think of lots of sweet bumbling gay man jokes, sexually adventurous gay man jokes, flamboyant gay man jokes, and technosavvy nerd gay man jokes, but we’re not going to have enough lesbian jokes — unless we make her black and put her in a wheelchair! That’ll get us enough lesbian jokes!”
    Given this is a feminist space, I’m really interested if anyone can explain to me why “all the other lesbian SF fans are in the other group” satisfies those of you (who are satisfied by it) who’re otherwise bothered by the fact that the core cast is four men and a woman. Because, obviously, it’s not remotely satisfying to me and I’m trying to understand where the difference comes from.

    • I hear you on the Smurfette thing as a problem, it would have been very nice if perhaps the tech-expert guy had been a geekgirl instead. However, they’re not treating Rae as a Smurfette in my eyes. She really does not seem to be just the token girl.

      It reeks to me of “well, we can think of lots of sweet bumbling gay man jokes, sexually adventurous gay man jokes, flamboyant gay man jokes, and technosavvy nerd gay man jokes, but we’re not going to have enough lesbian jokes — unless we make her black and put her in a wheelchair! That’ll get us enough lesbian jokes!”

      Can’t agree. I’m sure that they always meant the show to have both gay and lesbian characters and in-jokes. The non-nerdy, non-gaygaygay jokes in the show are about navigating relationships – of course one of the characters would have to be coping with a break-up, and the fact that they’ve made it Rae means that the episodes with exes interactions are all about women, which is a very pleasant change from what we normally see.

  19. AotQ – I hadn’t given it a thought, beyond wishing that we could have the lesbian version to. Time to do some musing on that, thank you for pointing it out.

  20. Aqua: Like you, I’m waiting to see how it pans out. Pilots are notoriously awful, and sophomore episodes often slump – so mostly I’m thrilled that I already like it, and that I’m getting pretty solidly attached to at least two of the characters (Rae and Max, with a bit of love for Andy (“That’s a wonderful use of chiaroscuro!”) We have gone from a male-heavy first episode, to a Rae-and-Simone centric second episode with three lesbians on screen and a fair few lesbian jokes. I don’t know where it’s going from here. But I love love LOVE that Rae is fierce and cranky and intensely competent, and I fistpumped at that laser-glare-of-death look she gave when someone touched her wheelchair and tried to move her.

  21. I was wondering if they do each group member in turn – Andy’s turn next – will there be as much of Rae and I would really like to see more of Simone too. I think the characters have a lot to offer but it would be disappointing if all we get of Rae is occassional sizzling one liners.

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