KARL QUINN August 29, 2012
One of the two teams in Kabul.
Go Back to Where You Came From
Tuesday to Thursday, 8.30pm, SBS
What's it all about?
A second season of the three-part documentary series that last year took six ordinary Australians and asked them to walk a mile (or 10,000) in the shoes of asylum seekers in a bid to challenge their preconceptions on the topic.
This time around, we have six not-quite-so-ordinary Australians: former Howard government minister Peter Reith; columnist and comedian Catherine Deveny; former shock jock Mike Smith; actor and former swimsuit model Imogen Bailey; former rocker and aspiring Liberal MP Angry Anderson; and Allan Asher, the former Commonwealth Ombudsman who lost his job after penning questions for Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young to put to the government in question time. Roughly, a 50-50 split on the issue.
The first season was inspired, thought-provoking and, at times, cringe-inducing television that deservedly won huge ratings for SBS and major awards at home and abroad for production company Cordell Jigsaw. This season is even better.
The celebrity angle could so easily have gone wrong, but the casting is inspired. No one is here just to make up the numbers; even Bailey, who at first seems to have been selected just so the producers can show a photo of her on the cover of Ralph, quickly proves her relevance.
For eight years she was in a relationship with a Muslim, she tells us, and often found herself on the receiving end of a kind of inverse racism. More importantly, she's a skilled empath, putting Mike Smith on the spot over the disconnect between his hard-line send-them-back position and his heartfelt response to the plight of the refugee kids he meets in Africa.
As per last year, the six are split into two teams of three. Deveny, Reith and Anderson meet an Afghan Hazari refugee in Melbourne and then retrace his steps to Kabul, while Bailey, Smith and Asher get sent to Mogadishu in Somalia, the shell-shocked capital that the refugee whose Dandenong house they have visited had fled 20 years earlier at age 13.
For both groups, the danger is palpable. Deveny, Reith and Anderson arrive in Kabul just days after US troops have set copies of the Koran alight, and the natives are restless. Their fact-finding sessions are frequently cut short when their minders say "it's not safe here".
In Mogadishu, the Al Qaeda-aligned Al Shabaab is a constant threat on the ground, though the trio's escort, a former CIA man, assures them it's a lovely place to bring up a family. "I live here, with my wife," he says. No one finds it terribly reassuring.
As Deveny harangues Reith over his role in the Tampa crisis and the children overboard affair and Reith shows you can take the man out of politics but you can't take politics out of the man, it is Anderson who starts to melt first.
True, you have to wonder if the producers allowed their guinea pigs to think they were in more danger than they actually were, but the ends so clearly justify the means that I'm willing to forgive them if that was the case. I'm also quite ready to believe it wasn't.
In a sentence
Brilliant television that proves the contrived reality format can still work wonders in the right hands.
The look of sheer terror on Peter Reith's face in Kabul.
Mike Smith "bonding" with the destitute and desperate children he meets, then leaving them to their fates while clinging to his "no illegals" line.