Death of a Salesman

If you’re telling the life story of someone famous, it might seem obvious to occasionally mention exactly why they became famous in the first place. But that’s the kind of rookie mistake that separates unpaid bloggers from Australia’s telemovie elite, because while we sat through four hours of Hoges wondering exactly when it was going to get around to exploring why he struck a chord with Australian – and global – viewers, what we got was an illustrated Wikipedia article listing a string of business deals. It was like being cornered at a shit party by a sweaty newspaper ad salesman and having him dump twenty-seven years worth of stories about ripping his customers off in your ear.

Of course, once you remove the sheer charisma of Paul Hogan, which the casting of Josh Lawson in the lead does with brutal efficiency, how else do you explain his mind-boggling success? If they didn’t show a succession of canny business deals where advertisers, television executives and movie types all basically threw money at him for no obvious reason, people might start to wonder exactly what Paul Hogan did to deserve a two part telemovie.

Obviously not the people who remember Hogan in his heyday, of course, and that’s around 90% of the audience for this. The whole point of this movie – and every other one of these historical telemovies currently infesting the commercial networks – is to remind old folks of a time when their pop culture was the only pop culture. If you’re watching this, you’re already interested in Hoges, and the only reason you’d be interested in Hoges is because you have (fond) memories of his comedy in the 70s and 80s so why waste time telling people what they already know when there’s the “story behind the story” to tell?

Here’s an idea: maybe because that way you’d have a decent show? As it stands the first three quarters of Hoges is about a guy who manages to strike a series of huge deals on the basis that he has skills and abilities we get next to no evidence of. Again, a fair chunk of the problem here is that the secret of Hoges’ success was a massive amount of raw charisma and that was always going to be impossible to duplicate. If they found someone with the charm of Paul Hogan they’d have found the next Paul Hogan, in which case why waste him in a shitty telemovie? While the casting of Josh Lawson’s come in for a fair amount of flak – and rightly so, because while Lawson is a good actor with a lot of screen presence, his presence is a very different one to Hogan’s amicable charm – what else could the producers do?

(it’s interesting that the one example of these telemovies that gets praised for its accuracy is Molly, which was based around a central character with next to no charm who could be impersonated by pretty much anyone willing to slap on a hat, a wig, and a stumbling vocal style. Clearly the moral here is to aim low and broad: the Ozzie Ostrich telemovie should be a classic)

Or as Hoges says in the show: “Who cares what the critics say? We don’t make movies for them.” But the whole point of these telemovies is to provide context and background information on a story you’re already interested in… you know, like critics do. Behind-the-scenes stuff is always “critical” information – it helps you make a judgment on a creative person’s work. This telemovie by its very existence is saying that in 2017 Paul Hogan is important enough to devote four hours of television to his life story: if that’s not a critical opinion then we’ve wasted our lives here.

So then, how does it stand up as criticism? Pretty fucking soft, as Hoges himself might say: what’s the point of devoting a hefty chunk of a seemingly endless show to the notoriously bitter Hoges / Noelene breakup if you’re going to present it as the most amicable break-up in human history? In Hoges Noelene tells Paul when he turns up for Christmas after the break-up “We may not be married any more, but you’ll always be the head of this family”; in real life she says she didn’t speak to him for seventeen years. Little bit of a gap between the two there. Even Leo Wanker’d have trouble jumping that canyon.

And then once the soft soap breakup was over, it skipped over all the interesting stuff. What happened to the string of flops Hogan made in the 90s? Where’s the dodgy tax schemes and endless battles with the ATO? We couldn’t even get a tear-jerking mention of John “Strop” Cornell’s current struggles with Parkinson’s disease? Guess we needed a few more scenes where Hoges got someone to pay him a bag of cash for work we never saw.

But it’s not like we can blame the writers. Remember the scene when Noelene said this to Linda while they were together watching Hogan at the Sydney Olympics?

“I had him when he was young, virile and handsome. He’s still got a good butt and good legs but she’s got him in older times when all he wants to do is sit around the house and not go out. I was the one who had the best years of his life”.

Oh wait, Noelene actually said that after the divorce. Guess that’s one way to capture a character’s voice. Though it’s a step up from Linda saying “I’m a Julliard-trained actress” in part one like she’s reading from her IMDB biography:

Actually, let’s go ahead and blame the writers – they’re the ones that thought having Noelene grieving over a broken cup (it symbolises her broken marriage!!) was the kind of thing Australian drama needs in 2017. Not to mention dialogue like “There’s a whole generation of kids – stand-ups – who think you’re a legend”, which really demands concrete examples. And what about that scene where Hogan was befuddled by a crazy futuristic Japanese toilet! Good to see scriptwriter Marieke Hardy hasn’t lost her comedic touch.

Look, Hoges wasn’t as shit as it looked:

…but that’s only because nothing could be as shit as Hoges looked.

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