a review by Nalini Haynes
The press release sums up the characters in Outland thus: ‘There’s Max (Toby Truslove), insecure and looking for love; the sexually-adventurous, muffin-baking Andy (Paul Ireland); Rae (Christine Anu), the moral centre and unofficial head of the group; the high-camp, high-maintenance Fab (Adam Richard); and the wealthy but socially-inept Toby (Ben Gerrard). It’s an odd, and often precarious combination of personalities.’ Rae is not only the woman and Torres Strait Islander, but she’s also in a wheelchair.
This group of people are quite comfortable with their sexuality but some are much less comfortable with being sci-fi geeks and with being seen with the other, more exuberant, geeks. In the premiere episode Max has a date that goes very well until it is revealed that his date is anti-sci-fi and wants to come in for ‘coffee’. Max claims his immaculate flat is a mess and rushes inside to hide his precious SF collectibles, but there’s not much he can do about the artwork on the walls. This artwork includes a very large image from Close Encounters on the wall behind them that Max tries not to look at while his date appears oblivious to the origin of the image. This initial episode sets up the series well, showing established relationships developing with the change in circumstances.
Circumstances have changed for the group because they were part of a larger science fiction club, split after a messy break-up between two members and someone being set on fire – accidentally, of course. Thus each week they meet in each other’s homes, opening themselves up to discovery and more intimate friendships than existed previously.
‘Geeks in the closet but gays out’ is a definite theme of this series, a universal theme with which a broad cross-section of the community can identify. There are times when we all have something that we’re in the closet about, whether it’s geekdom in general or liking something that is considered to be less than respected: like train spotting as John Richards mentioned in his interview. Storylines are not limited to daleks going upstairs or other geek jokes, however: the characters have underlying depth explored as the humour entertains the audience.
Rae was given a nude photo of herself with a request that she allow the photographer to exhibit the image in the second episode. Rae was very concerned about exposing herself in public like this. I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll just say this: there were a number of issues that were raised and discussed in varying depth. The nude photo is never actually shown to the audience, but the way it was handled cinematographically was simultaneously comedic and powerful not to mention compelling.
I have two criticisms to make of the series so far. Firstly, all of the men are white and appear middle-class, while Toby is just stinking rich. This doesn’t reflect the cultural diversity of Melbourne, the city in which the series is set. However, if, in a second season, they replace any of the characters, I suspect I will personally incite a mob to riot. I’d like to see a few characters added to the mix to bring the cultural diversity the show needs, rather than replacing characters. Some of the love interests could certainly be from diverse backgrounds, although I think Rae’s ex being white to Rae’s Torres Strait Islander was excellent.
My second criticism is that Max lives up a steep flight of stairs, established early in episode one. In spite of this, Rae managed to appear at the top of the stairs in her wheelchair with no apparent difficulty or assistance. I’m not convinced that Rae’s kitchen was wheelchair friendly either: the benches and layout appeared to be somewhat traditional rather than wheelchair accessible. The makers of Outland should be applauded for including a wheelchair user but they need an advisor. Some of the difficulties faced by people in wheelchairs could be a source of both humour – as in how ridiculous is it that this need isn’t met – and the difficulties can be part of the ‘heart’ of the show.
Skeletons in the closet, relationship issues and the science fiction culture make this a must-watch program for anyone who is sufficiently motivated to read this review. I personally identified very strongly with these characters even though I don’t identify as part of the LGBT* community. My rather conservative husband enjoyed the two episodes we watched and declared that the series has universal appeal. I’m giving Outland 4.5 stars, but only because I think 5 stars mean absolute perfection. I also predict awards.
*LGBT means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transsexual
Originally published in Dark Matter 7.