White Fever all through the night

Not quite a sitcom and not quite a drama, White Fever, categorised on ABC iView as ‘Comedy’, ‘Offbeat’ and ‘Feel-good’, is lots of things but not really a comedy. Co-written by and starring Ra Chapman (Wentworth), White Fever is inspired by Chapman’s experience as a South Korean-born adoptee, raised in Australia by white parents. Chapman is one of more than 3,500 people adopted from South Korea to Australia, and White Fever draws on her experience and those of other South Korean adoptees she has met.

As Jane Thomas, Chapman explores the identity and sexuality of a Korean adoptee with issues. Jane is only attracted to big, hairy white guys, kind of like her adopted father Jack (Greg Stone) and worries that her “type” is problematic. Should she try dating Asian guys, or is that, as a fellow South Korean adoptee suggests, “like kissing yourself.”

As the show proceeds, it becomes clear that Jane’s preference for white guys comes from her childhood spent in the country town of Mount Whiteman (geddit). Internalised racism is a strong theme in White Fever, and there are some pithy scenes involving big, hairy white guys Jane dates, and Jane’s adoptive family, in which both their fetishisation of and racism towards Asians are brought to the surface. A birthday meal, at which Jane’s adoptive family are shown as both loving and caring but also insensitive towards her heritage and her search for her birth father, is indicative of the internal conflict driving Jane throughout the series.

Hera (Cassandra Sorrell), a fellow Korean adoptee and vlogger/influencer, who discusses the concept of “white fever,” a preference for white boyfriends and white culture, in her videos, becomes a sort of mentor for Jane, but Jane finds confronting her inner demons hard.

Jane’s “white fever” plays out as a fever dream. Hyper-real, fast-paced scenes in which multiple friends and associates throw potential or actual home truths at Jane, drive her into a sort of mania, leading to some questionable romantic encounters with both white and Asian guys, an episode where her cute, blonde-haired childhood doll Cindy (Susanna Qian) comes to life, and some not entirely necessary K-Pop sequences.

A Korean-Australian woman glares at a blonde doll which has come to life
Ra Chapman as Jane Thomas with Susanna Qian as Jane’s childhood doll Cindy

Along the way, Jane loses her long-standing friendship with Edi (Rosehaven’s Katie Robertson), after she knocks over her wedding cake, and recalls suppressed memories of participating in an egging of Mount Whiteman’s Chinese restaurant, owned by the mother of the only Asian guy she genuinely seems to fancy, childhood friend Yu Chang (Chris Pang).

White Fever does include some elements which suggest a comic intent – puns like Mount Whiteman, some hyped-up performances, a cast which includes Mad As Hell’s Roz Hammond as Jane’s adoptive mother but this isn’t a comedy. Its bigger influence is theatre, hence the multi-dimensional characters, and how Jane’s inner life and traumas often play out through monologues, or long, dialogue-heavy scenes. (Unsurprisingly, the idea from White Fever came from Ra Chapman’s previous theatre work.)

As for what we think of White Fever, it’s perfectly fine for what it is – a light, surreal, theatrical drama about identity. Our main beef is that White Fever occupies a timeslot which was previously for comedy. And this would be fine if lots of comedies were being made and screened on the ABC at other times…but they’re not. Drama has always been and continues to be well-funded by the ABC. But where’s the money and the timeslots for sitcoms, sketch shows and topical programs which aren’t The Weekly?

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