Puberty Blues – Pilot
I accidentally caught a few seconds of The Shire while I waited for this show to start and couldn’t help but think back to it throughout my viewing of this much publicized premiere. Both were made at the same time, both are set within the same Sydney shire, both tell stories of sex, drugs and drama among a few young people but only one of them purports to be depicting these things as they are in ‘reality’ and staggeringly that is The Shire ( which, Spoilers to all the Shire fans reading this, ended its episode with a scandalous breakup and the subsequent revelation of a potential pregnancy).
Of course the term ‘reality television’ has long since lost all meaning – those so called shows not just resorting to staging events but starting there – and so I say we give it a new one and re-apply it elsewhere. I’ve never been to any of Syndey’s shires, the seventies are as alien to me as much of the sci-fi they spawned and I’m not remotely close to being a teenage girl but I feel confident in saying that this remake of Puberty Blues by Aussie prestige drama producer John Edwards is about as authentic a depiction as you can get of all of those things, that despite being scripted and performed it is true ‘reality television’.
I want to point out that while I may have used the word ‘remake’ this show should not be at all associated with the spate of things that the US film and television industry churns out. Why? Well firstly when was the last time that you saw something old get remade in its original era? Puberty Blues the movie was set in the seventies because that’s when it was made and written, there would have been little resistance to ‘modernizing’ the content to keep it current for today’s children, had that been what the new writers wanted. Instead though they have made the program into a period piece of sorts: complete with music compilations, wonderment about computers, coarse language like “chink take-away” and fashions you wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead in.
This addition of time-travel opens up a whole new meaning in the main character’s forced reading of old Elizabethan novels by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Upon handing over Persuasion the protagonist’s mother remarks on ‘the pressures that those women were under’ and her daughter can only roll her eyes, holding up so many burdens of her own that the idea of anyone else’s being heavier is unimaginable. The show then is at once exploring what it was like to be a girl growing up back then in the seventies and showing how those struggles are both universal and timeless; saying to teens that other girls have gone through this before and more will go through it after you. A fine moral for sure, but not exactly a revolutionary one.
There are a lot of old-fashioned elements to this show, scenes and story-lines that are similar to those you would see on any old soap opera and since they are so similar to what we all already know their beating in of the points becomes rather heavy handed at times (See: the abusive father storyline). There are also a number of plotlines devoted solely to parents and scenes that show their perspectives which seem a little out of place despite the pedigree of the people playing the roles. I get that some of the shows audience will be people who remember the original and people who remember the era, now probably parents themselves, but there is perhaps too much of this stuff if the show is primarily still meant for an audience of young girls.
There are though just as many, if not more surprising elements in the show, none more so than its frank discussions about and even depictions of sex. When was the last time that you saw a blockbuster show (as this is by Aussie standards) in the eight-thirty block frame a blowjob like that? Now it’s nothing gratuitous, this isn’t porn by any stretch of the imagination, but the show is entirely unashamed of its sexuality and so it makes points out of things that most modern programs wouldn’t touch, or would skirt around shyly using suggestive imagery and silhouette’s. That it is an openly sexual show andone focused on female characters makes it doubly subversive; horny jocks is one thing, but knowing what schoolgirls say when they sit around giggling about the boys that make them gooey has always been another in the eyes of society. So bravo to the show for going there and exposing conversations that literally everybody has had.
The second thing that surprised me was the way that the show almost seemed structured like something out of the seventies. It jumps around skittishly from scene to scene, not bothering with blatant exposition and establishing shots, but then lingers where-ever it lands for an inordinate amount of time; there is no MTV style ADD-editing here. Strangely there is also no real story to the show at this point, instead it’s simply a series of loose vignettes, days in the life of and little more. Personally I like this approach, it’s the antithesis of the tight done in one, three-act structure that most teen dramas implement, but I do wonder if it may simply be a step too far for some audience members.
As a director, appealing to me is normally all well and good but as a director of this show it may well mean you are making something of a misguided move. This isn’t and shouldn’t be a show stylized for adults. Those that grew up in the seventies have had their chance, they’ve used their Puberty Blues already and so this one needn’t serve them too, instead it should speak to girls like the two that it stars. This is a generation that doesn’t spend their summers bumming around beaches but surfing the web. They’re also a group being raised into the image of shows like The Shire, shows that don’t reflect any kind of reality i’m familiar with, and so it is up to the likes of Puberty Blues to save them, so to speak. And if it doesn’t do that, well it looks like it will at least be a lark for the rest of us.