It’s no Neighbours, but Australian Politics, or Auspol to its die-hard fans, is the one soap that viewers just can’t seem to quit.
Now in its 112th season, Auspol first debuted in 1901 as a slavish Australian adaptation of the genre-defining classic, British Politics. It took an alarming 50-something seasons until Auspol came into its own. Standard soap opera scandals — illegitimate children, workplace corruption, frenemies and nemeses — now have some unique local twists, as stand-out episodes like ‘Governor-General’s 15 Minutes of Fame’ and ‘Prime Ministerial Knifing’ richly prove.
Like all soaps, Auspol would do well to learn about the law of diminishing returns. Recent episode, ‘Prime Ministerial Knifing’ (retitled in certain postcodes as ‘Knifed! That Guy We Didn’t Actually Care For Got Massively Knifed and Now Just Look at Our Disingenuous Sorrow’) made for riveting viewing in 2010. Audiences were far less impressed when the same storyline was lazily recycled in 2012. And let’s not even mention the number of times I have sat through variations of that Platonic ideal of tedium, ‘Cabinet Reshuffle’.
Perhaps the greatest problem with Auspol though, to borrow from Chekhov, is its repeated willingness to introduce a gun in the first act and just refuse to fire it by the third. Time and time again, Auspol invests its audience in story arcs that never lead anywhere. Take the infamous launch of the ‘carbon tax’. It’s been half a season since it launched, so just where the fuck is the disemboweling on an apocalyptic scale I was promised when it did? And when will resident eccentric, Bob Katter, finally reveal that the sentence “my obsession with bananas is non-sexual” is just not something that he can utter with any real conviction?
Then there’s Auspol’s diversity issues. Despite widespread critical acclaim on its debut, early Auspol skewed poorly across many key demographics, with large numbers of women, ethnic and sexual minorities reportedly left totally alienated. Auspol has made some creditable nods towards improving casting diversity, if at times oddly choosing to shower screen-time on rather niche groups like faceless men and lawyers who “just want to give something back”. Yet sadly, producers continue to ignore the audience’s raging interest in no-nonsense lesbians of Asian origin.
These days, Auspol is struggling with dwindling ratings, with many baying for a swift axing of controversial lead, Julia Gillard. (Gillard fans might be comforted by the thought that characters in a soap never really die, they just scheme silently in the wings.) However, the juggernaut that is Auspol shows precious little sign of network cancellation. Well, not until they air that episode of “Climate Change: A Failure of Meaningful Action” they keep previewing.