No Award watches: Glitch

When Sergeant Hayes is called to Yoorana cemetery in the middle of the night, he makes a discovery that turns his world upside down – six people with no memory of their identities. Who are they and what has happened to them?

Sergeant Hayes and Team I See Dead White People
Sergeant Hayes and Team I See Dead White People

It took me a while to get around to watching Glitch, because I’m neck-deep in The X-Files right now, and frankly, season 7 is so dire that I’m slightly afraid that if I stop now, I’ll never start again.  But then came “Hollywood AD”, and I was like, “Right, we need a break.  It’s not me, The X-Files, it’s you.”

All eight episodes of Glitch were up on ABC iView until 27 August, but using AirPlay to stream to my TV didn’t exactly produce watchable results.  Luckily, iTunes has the whole season for $20, or $3.49 per episode (which works out at about $21.something if you buy them individually.)

Glitch: six dead people — from the wife of the local cop, who died of breast cancer two years earlier, to the town’s first mayor — climb out of their graves, alive and well.  It’s a premise we’ve seen a fair bit in the last few years, but Glitch didn’t jump on a bandwagon recently — it’s been in Development Hell for seven years, because Australian film and TV makers are terrified of speculative fiction.

We open with some classic Australian gothic: a town in darkness, flickering lights at the train station (I get a thrill out of seeing the PTV and VLine logos on the telly).  A farm dog has attacked some sheep and needs to be put down (not graphically, I mention for the squeamish).  The local copper is called to a disturbance at the cemetery; a sixteen-year-old Koori kid pulls his iPhone out and starts filming the naked people crawling out of their graves.

The ABC seems to have this new thing where, once a year, it produces a series which dabbles with the supernatural.  Last year, it was The Gods of Wheat Street, this year it’s Glitch.  Unfortunately, Glitch is the inferior product.

It’s not bad.  Let me just get that out of the way.  It’s even quite good in parts, as the mysteries of the returnees’ lives and deaths unfold.  It draws on the gothic potential of Australian history, from the execution of violent convicts to the sinister pharmaceutical company situated on the site of a former internment camp for Italians.  A man who may or may not be dead himself begins to stalk the returnees, and the doctor treating them might have her own agenda.  A teenage girl confronts her murderer.  An ANZAC hero comes to terms with his sexuality.  A Koori family meets their white ancestor, who knows their stories and their language and thinks he understands them.

That stuff’s all fantastic.  What lets Glitch down is the tedious white-bread love triangle between Sergeant “Let’s Keep People In The Dark For Their Own Good” Hayes, his no-longer-late wife, and his current wife, who is pregnant with their child.  The two actresses are great, despite Emma Booth’s tendency to speak in a husky monotone, but Hayes — played by Patrick Brammall, who is probably a very nice man who deserves better — just sucks all the charisma out of the room.

If you’re remotely familiar with speculative fiction, then you’ve seen this story play out before, and Glitch doesn’t add anything new or clever until the last two minutes.  The love triangle takes time away from the more interesting stories, like that of Maria, a devout Italian-Australian Catholic who died with her daughter in 1969.  Or Kirstie, murdered in 1988, her headstone damaged and defaced with the word “slut”.

Somewhat separate from the main story is that of Beau, the iPhone-wielding Koori teenager, and Paddy Fitzgerald, the town’s first mayor.  They’re kindred spirits, except that Paddy is a larrikin and Beau is perpetually threatened with juvenile detention.

At first, I thought their relationship was just a regrettable foray into getting some “ironic” racism onto the screen, but it surprised me.  I’m still not entirely comfortable with the way their story came out, but it was interesting enough that I’ve been turning it over in my mind since I finished watching.

Glitch ends suddenly, with two sharp narrative twists in the final few minutes.  The pacing was odd enough that I had to double-check that there weren’t more episodes, but it works as a standalone drama, a visual short story that could have been a masterpiece if not for the bloated love triangle.