MICHAEL IDATO July 17, 2012
Bronzed bodies, spectacular ocean vistas and excruciating conversation feature on The Shire.
In 1972, when the first episode of the sex-and-sin soap Number 96 aired, they called it the night Australian TV lost its virginity.
Four decades later, as the boobs-and-bods reality show The Shire took its opening night bow, Australian TV underwent a lobotomy.
Welcome to reality TV, American style.
The Shire is the creative offspring of Laguna Beach and one of its British relatives, The Only Way Is Essex. As you would expect from a shallow gene pool, we got a bouncing, bronzed baby and a few unexpected side-effects.
If the ratings are anything to go by, Australians are still making up their minds whether they like it. A national (capital city) audience of 941,000 people tuned in to the first episode. Most of them were young, so from Ten's perspective, at least the cash-registers were ringing.
You would expect those numbers to lift a little once other elements - online viewing, seven-day PVR data and so on - are factored in. But to give it some context, it's not much more than the 928,000 people who watched the first episode of Being Lara Bingle.
In real terms, and given there was so much noise around last night's premiere, Ten would have been expecting more from it. Not much more, mind you, but a debut figure of over the one-million-viewer watermark would have been preferred to declare it a smash hit out of the gate.
So, what to make of The Shire itself? Bronzed bodies, tick. Spectacular ocean vistas, tick. Excruciating conversation so bad it makes you want to pop both your eyes out with a teaspoon, tick.
In the first minute we saw a car with fluffy dice, a sea of headless torsos and a girl walking a ferret. Proof, if you needed it, that this was a show planning to tackle the big questions.
Try this one on for size. "Would you want to be born with brains or looks?" (Hint: the correct answer is "Either, as long as it's not in the Shire.")
The narrative, such as it is, is knitted together using handsome, everyman Mitch. He's just a knockabout lad, with a couple of knockabout mates (Simon and Andy) and couple of knockabout ex-girlfriends (Gabby and Kizzy).
Episode one sets up the mildest of love triangles - Mitch/Gabby/Kizzy - though it arrives with the subtlety of a semi-trailer at a party hosted by Rif Raf, the local rapper. Lucky Shire, with its local rappers. My neighbourhood only has a milkman.
Everyone seems to compliment Rif on his awesome house. And he's too polite to mention that it's his mum's, who only that afternoon was asking mum-type questions about how many people he had invited while serving coffee out of her Versace coffee pot. (Pants? Tans? Is there anything Donatella can't do?)
Then there's Beckaa, a glam girl who doesn't seem to know anybody else in the cast except an old guy who picks her up at the airport in a limo rental. He does whisper "thank you Pascal" to the driver in an attempt to imply the inside of a limo is their natural habitat, but the HC rental plates tell another story.
Thankfully, after she's unloaded about shopping and her nose job, we discover the old guy is actually her father. Which is still slightly creepy. But it's a whole lot less creepy than the alternative scenario which, let's be honest, ticked through everyone's minds for about 25 seconds as they held hands.
And then there's Sophie and Vernesa, the Bratz dolls of this Ken-and-Barbie cast, a couple of overly-painted chatterboxes who suffer from a chronic fear that if either of them stops speaking, both will die.
The practical upshot of that fact is we are blessed with conversational exchanges such as this:
Sophie: "Sometime this week we'll organise something."
Vernesa: "If someone told me that I'd had to live without my lips, I think I'd wanna die."
They're off to the fat melters, a magical place where a fat melting invention actually melts fat.
"God people are smart," says Vernesa of this marvellous invention which has, though some freak of logic, somehow escaped the notice of Australia's pre-eminent diet experts, A Current Affair and Today Tonight.
And no, Vernesa, people aren't smart. I give you Exhibit A. (In case you're still not getting it, I'm referring to you.)
Ok, we'll stop now. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.
The big question? Does Ten have a hit on its hands? The answer is nearly, but not quite. It needs to be doing modest business on the good side of the million-viewer watermark for that.
But it's a noisy nearly-hit, and in a room where everyone's talking, silence is death. The fact that most people will kick the show doesn't mean much; the "reality" genre is engineered to create conversation, not adoration. And a hater, in commercial terms, is probably worth one and a half genuine fans.
With launch figures and demographics similar to Lara Bingle's, we can probably expect the show to track much in the same way hers did. A slip to 800,000, then some stabilisation around the 700,000 mark. The downside? We'll have to wait until next week to find out.
There's a next week, I hear you scream? Oh yes, there is. Thirteen of them in total. Unlucky for some.