Groundhog Day In Pearl Bay

I am a big fan of the SeaChange series that ran at the turn of the millennium, and have watched it many times, revisiting it like a favourite snuggly piece of knitwear when in need of comfort in life’s rough and stressful stretches in the twenty years hence. It always made me laugh, it always warmed my heart, and it was so quintessentially Australian. Nothing else I’ve watched has poked fun at our little Aussie idiosyncrasies in quite the same way, or had a heroine quite as simultaneously dysfunctional and endearing as Laura Gibson.

So it was with huge excitement that I heard a sequel was being made. Tuesday morning, by chance, I caught Sigrid Thornton and Kerry Armstrong in an interview with the Today show and heard the first episode of the new series was screening that night. Ecstatic messages were immediately sent to my husband at work, and similar messages came back. Hooray!

Alas, sadly, the first episode of the new series fell drastically short of expectations at our house. We feel that the new series looks both pale and like an imitation, instead of like a worthy sequel to its brilliant predecessor.

The first deep dismay came with finding Laura Gibson had apparently become a crude parody of her old self, retaining nothing she had learnt in her three years at Pearl Bay. Instead of building on her erstwhile character growth in the twenty subsequent years, she appears to have regressed nearer to infancy, and now there is nothing remotely likeable or endearing about her anymore, at least in the first episode.

On a side note, my husband and I both had cognitive dissonance over the lack of smile lines and character in the face of a woman who is now 60. Sigrid Thornton is without question very beautiful, always has been. Still, there was something unsettling and unreal about the lack of facial expressions and stretched-tightness around the eyes and cheeks as we were watching Laura emoting her way around the town. It seemed as if she had been replaced by an animated shop dummy from Dr Who’s classic Spearhead From Space – some sort of inorganic copy of the real person. It makes for a rather unfavourable comparison to Pearl Bay’s beloved Meredith of yore, who was deeply beautiful without looking like she’d stepped off a cosmetic surgery table – because while beautiful young people are a work of nature, beautiful old people are a work of art resonant with life experience and gentle wisdom.

It is sad to think that thus are the pressures on women to preserve their youthful appearances, and sadder still to think what that says to the next generation of young women watching, about what beauty is and about how they should be. It seems to me that everyone could benefit from (re-)reading The Velveteen Rabbit.

Speaking of Pearl Bay, apparently all its remaining inhabitants have been successfully hypnotised and then translocated into an alternative universe they still believe to be Pearl Bay, even though it isn’t. Unfortunately, viewers don’t have the benefit of this alien hypnosis, nor does the suggestion that climate change resulted in not just completely different vegetation, but a completely different geological history, and a completely different town layout, help us to suspend our growing disbelief.

Not just Laura, but each of the old characters returning from the original SeaChange series – Kevin, Bob, Heather – are stuck in the same tragic time warp where they appear to have completely stagnated in their human development since 2002, and become hollow caricatures of themselves. Granted, they were cartoony in the original series, but a cartoon of a cartoon is like a photocopy of a photocopy – not very lucid, and not very original.

And it’s not remotely believable. Max some no-goodnik and Laura abandoning Miranda and Rupert when pregnant with her new child are inconsistent with the character growth of these people in the original series. The basic premise of the 1999 and 2019 pilot episodes is exactly the same – neurotic workaholic in the aftermath of an imploding dysfunctional love life arrives in Pearl Bay to become the local magistrate. This isn’t SeaChange, it’s Groundhog Day.

What is completely lacking from the pale imitation that is the start of the new series is warmth, wisdom and a sense of real humanity. In the absence of these, comedy becomes farce. I wasn’t laughing watching any of this, and I wasn’t caring one bit about any of them – it has descended to the cringe-inducing level of Are You Being Served. Neither the pedestrian scriptwriting nor the overblown acting were helping any. Nothing sparkled – not even the music. I really hope it improves, but given the foundational flaws of the first new episode, I sadly doubt it’s going to rise to even half the heights of the original series. Perhaps, like The Matrix, they should have left it well alone. I hope I am proven wrong.

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