Satire is arguably the most effective method of cultural criticism that an artistic society is capable of. As Alexander Pope put it, the form can “damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, and without sneering teach the rest to sneer”.
Current Affairs programs, by the mid-90’s, had become a strange nightly beast on our television screens. More tabloid than journalism, few viewers truly understood the extent to which they were being manipulated. Enter the D-Generation, the same group that had been accused (wrongly) of creating ‘simplistic’, ‘lowest common denominator’ comedy with their cult classic The Late Show. Within one series of Frontline, they managed to tear down the apocryphal pretences that were surrounding the medium using satire, brilliantly ‘dampened with faint praise’.
Telling the story of struggling current affairs program Frontline (the fictional program would become much more successful in the second season), Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and Rob Sitch crafted a program that hilariously mocked the genre, while exposing the inherent deception.
Through the dealings of sappy, self-important host (with delusions of legitimate journalism) Mike Moore (Sitch), manipulating Executive Producer Brian Thompson (Bruno Lawrence) and two ambitious journalists (Kennedy and Tiriel Moria), the documentary structure let us into as high-impact an office as could possible exist. Manipulating interviews, tricking viewers, reporting stories with a highly subjective bent, Frontline had more similarities with A Current Affair than just the plastic hairstyles of the hosts.
Each episode packed with an enviable list of cameos (including a bewilderingly large selection of current affairs identities, lending an eerie legitimacy to the production) and built around an ingeniously circular narrative, this would be the last decent Australian sitcom until the arrival of Kath and Kim.
The 13 episodes on these two discs are consistently brilliant, dealing with issues such as hidden camera scams, foot-in-the-door techniques, chequebook journalism and even the Logies, and it’s far too easy to waste a whole day watching “just one more episode…”.
The video quality is an incredible let down. These discs are direct dumps from the original video tapes and the quality is so grainy, the colours so faded that this almost looks like a bootleg. The aspect ratio is 4:3, as originally broadcast.
The included 5.1 audio mix demonstrates some time spent on this release, which makes the video quality and lack of extras all the more bewildering. A largely unnecessary mix however, as Frontline relies on not much more than dialogue. It is nice to hear some bass kicking in the cool theme song, but otherwise there just doesn’t seem to be much point.
Extras? None! With the Working Dog team still creating television together, and following the wonderful Late Show release, where are the commentaries? Do Rob, Santo, Jane and Tom have nothing to say about this show? No featurettes, no interviews, no cut scenes. Nada. Very, very disappointing. This show, Australia’s wittiest ever comedy, deserved much more.
Overall, a stunning show which relied on a subtle wit and intelligent dissection of a media white elephant. The DVD release is a shocking disappointment. I would suggest holding out for 'Moore'.